Celebrity Politics

About a month ago I had a take home exam/essay for my Political Communication unit at university. Now that I have gotten the marks back for them – I can happily say I got 100% for it all, as the guy that ran the unit was really impressed and even praised the fact I challenged some of the concepts and ideas – I thought I would post them all here in a string of short pieces without fear of TurnItIn flagging me for plagiarising my own content. I’ll quote the questions we were given and then have what I wrote underneath – there will be six in total. This one is about the role of celebrity politics, which I have written about at times before.

What is the difference between a ‘celebrity politician’ and a ‘politicised celebrity’, and do you think that ‘celebrity politics’ more generally can be successful in engaging citizens in politics? Why / why not?

The core difference between a celebrity politician and a politicised celebrity is that the former is an elected official in some capacity, whilst the latter uses their platform to engage with the population on political issues. Examples of celebrity politicians include Ronald Reagan (former POTUS) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (a Governor); others like Oprah Winfrey and Mark Ruffalo have actively campaigned for politicians, but never run for or held a political role.

Celebrity politics, to me, is a transparent and highly publicised tool of the increased mediatisation of the political sphere. It may work to generate positive publicity for a specific cause or candidate, but to the extent that it ‘successfully engages’ people is difficult to ascertain. As above, whether you agree with the message or not, attaching celebrity endorsements to a topic or candidate, in my view, only furthers people’s alienation from active political engagement by making it something to consume rather than actively participate in.

All US Presidencies have been devastating, but the Reagan era was one of the most violent and regressive of the lot, propped up by an image that in no small part was enabled by his status and skill as a performer. On the reverse side, however, celebrity endorsements likely have little effect on public opinion. It can be assumed that many in Oprah’s audience would have been more inclined to vote for Obama before her endorsement anyway, and many who praise celebrities for, say, supporting gun reform or reproductive rights, do so because they already held those positions, not because they were convinced in that moment.

Whether these celebrities really do believe what they preach or not, their role is purely for publicity in a media context. Ellen DeGeneres’ recent controversy involving Bush II is an example of how that can go negatively.


Read part 1 HERE

Read part 3 HERE

2 thoughts on “Celebrity Politics

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