Written by: Sho Yamamoto, SFU Student
As a child growing up in a new country, I was faced with learning new customs of life. I was six years old, and although I understood a good amount of English, there were plenty of cultural norms to which I needed to adjust.
One of those customs came up a few years later during an election, when my mother told me not to tell other people who she had voted for. It was meant to be kept private. I may have been too young back then to know why, but the idea of keeping your political affiliation quiet is still around. People are worried of judgement.
But this idea has definitely changed in the past few years through a wave of public political engagement offered by celebrities. More and more, icons of pop culture proudly and explicitly show their partisan support for a particular political party or candidate.
This is exactly what my mother told me not to do! But it’s important that these cultural figures weigh in on important political topics. Even if their careers are built around our entertainment, it’s healthy to see them leverage their audience to talk about things in the real world, because there’s more happening in it than just their latest game or movie.
This isn’t an attitude everyone shares. Many — particularly those who lean politically right-wing — will often question or criticize celebrities who offer their voices in political matters, demanding they should stick to what they know. Much of their argument is that celebrities are meant to offer an escape from the real world, and not to bring politics into their art and image.
Of those remarkers, I would ask why the current president of the United States is a former reality TV star, and why California was governed by action star Arnold Schwarzenegger for eight years. Both have spent time in Hollywood before they entered into politics, and that attention can lead to real-world changes; some bad, but potentially a lot more good.
Celebrities don’t exist in a vacuum. We’ve already seen famous figures delve into the world of politics, so clearly, they have a right to give their opinions and rally their audience for a greater good.
Whenever someone in the spotlight takes a stance on a political issue, we’ve seen major backlashes. Back in 2003, the Dixie Chicks said they were “ashamed the president of the United States (then, George W. Bush) is from Texas (their home state)”, which led to radio stations banning their music. More recently, Taylor Swift has come out of her silence on politics by praising two Democratic candidates, and people were quick to denounce her choice.
Being a celebrity and having a political stance can be dangerous to your overall brand image. But celebrity goes beyond entertainment, and affects the real world in a way that most people typically can’t.
Looking back at my childhood, I understood that politics were a bit taboo to talk openly about. But now, celebrities are setting an example that we can and should be open with politics, and it shows that we shouldn’t feel shame about it. We should always be willing to have the conversation, and when icons in our culture promote awareness or real-world action, it makes people more open to talk and learn.