With the recent transfer of power in the White House, many people from both parties have joined in on the political debate. Along with the common citizen, many actors, athletes, and singers have seized the opportunity to take a stand and voice their own opinions. Using their large following of fans, these athletes, actors, singers and other individuals in the limelight have utilized their sizable audience and influential power to reach the masses with their political beliefs. Some argue that these famous people should use the public platform to truly make a difference pertaining to the issues plaguing our nation. Others argue that these celebrities are simply blowing smoke and perpetuating the vicious cycle of uneducated politics. What are your thoughts? Should public figures exploit their influence to push political agendas on the rest of society?
My opinion is mixed on the issue. In some instances, I believe that these figures can use their position in the public eye to effectively bring light to certain issues. These individuals have great influence, and exercising this influence for the purpose of social efforts can be extremely impactful. I agree that the danger of spreading uneducated and emotionally charged ideas does exist. If these celebrities believe that they can offer an informed opinion on the issues in which they are passionate, by all means share your thoughts to enact the change you believe in. On the other hand, these stars must realize the power they can wield. Exercise some self-control and know when your commentary is meaningful or destructive.
However, stances on this issue have certainly been taken, and the controversy has existed for some time now. I will detail recent involvement on the part of public figures, reactions to the activism, and longstanding thoughts on the debate.
The involvement of sports figures in politics has become more prevalent in recent times. As CNN article notes, “President Donald Trump [has] catapulted heated debates over race and social issues into the mainstream, [and] many athletes are becoming politically active in a way not seen in decades.” In early February, Golden State Warrior Stephen Curry took to the political stage. After Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank referred to President Trump as a “real asset” to the United States, Steph spoke out as a figure who was not often involved in the political arena. Curry responded to the original comment by saying, “I agree with that description if you remove the ‘et’ from asset.” Although the reply received some laughter and acknowledgment, I feel that overall these are the types of remarks that should be avoided. I completely support productive statements that critique policies or values of a political head, but this seems like quite the opposite. It is unintelligent commentary with no substance. All Curry does is assert his opposition to the current president, but he fails to incorporate articulated reasons.
Fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, recent medalist at the 2016 Olympics, spoke out against Trump’s ban on immigrants from seven countries in the Middle East. Ibtihaj was the first female Muslim American to win a medal for the United States. Understandably so, she took offense to the current ban as it appeared to be aimed at the Muslim faith. She explained, “‘Even though I represent Team USA and I have that Olympic hardware, it doesn’t change how you look and how people perceive you […] the net is cast a little bit wider than we know. And I’m included in that as a Muslim woman who wears a hijab.’” As an individual personally invested in the issue, I would argue that her remarks are genuine, respectful, and meaningful. She employs her power after highly achieving on the Olympic stage to share her struggles as a Muslim and U.S. citizen.
The political involvement by various celebrities can receive approval and gratitude. In other instances, however, the decision to join the political discussion can be scrutinized and met with serious backlash. One example that probably comes to the minds of many was the public protest during the national anthem by San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick. During the 2016 NFL season, Kaepernick decided to kneel during the national anthem as a way to support the prominent Black Lives Matter movement taking the nation by storm. The act was not received well by many, and Kaepernick endured a wave of criticism. This is an example where the method of protest may not have been carefully considered beforehand, and the celebrity is arguably blowing smoke. With a different approach, the protest could have been more effective.
Actor Leonardo DiCaprio is another celebrity utilizing his stardom as a mode for political activism. If it wasn’t for his career in acting, DiCaprio talks about the possibility of a job in marine biology. Not only is DiCaprio famous for his terrific work on the screen, he has also made a name for himself in the environmentalist community. He even has his own foundation, which has raised millions of dollars for wildlife protection and environmental research. DiCaprio is a well-educated individual who is extremely passionate about a political issue. At times his involvement may be excessive (i.e. Paris Climate Change Conference), but it is genuine, educated, and respectable.
As Monica Hesse argues in her article for the Chicago Tribune, our members of society “conflate celebrity for credibility.” This is one perspective on the debate. Mona Elyafi elaborates on this stance in her article for the Huffington Post. She says that the issue boils down to our lack of effort as citizens in learning about the political processes, candidates, and topics. As a result, celebrities in the same boat can influence the opinions of the public without any credibility. These stars can divert attention away from the real problems. Patriot’s player Dante Stallworth argues otherwise. He has insisted that celebrities should lead the political discussion because they are the “role models” in society. From a purely constitutional standpoint, public figures can say whatever they would like; however, I contend that people in fame should proceed with caution when entering the realm of politics.
Steph Curry via thebiglead
Leonardo DiCaprio via IBT.