How Far Can Celebrities Go With Political Endorsements?

Karla Villegas Pineda, Opinion Editor

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Society has long been influenced by the opinions of famous people. However, in the age of social media, their influence has a greater impact. When it comes to matters of politics, celebrities must be mindful of their fame’s reach.

Last week, the cast of Netflix’s “Queer Eye” was the talk of Twitter dispute. A resurfaced 2018 interview by INTO, an LGBT news and culture website, featured all five experts of the show critiquing various straight celebrities and famous individuals. The video itself was primarily meant for humor, yet the segment of the interview where the team critiqued Sen. Bernie Sanders was the cause of the dispute.

While most of the team seemed to be charmed by Sanders’s old man aesthetic, hair expert Johnathan Van Ness and culture expert Karamo Brown began to critique Sanders’ political alignment.  

“I am not about this, that hair, that suit, and, quietly, not about them politics,” Brown said. “Hillary all the way.” Van Ness quickly agreed with Brown. 

Van Ness, who recently went public with his HIV positive status went on to say, “and, Ronald Reagan, could he be bothered to mention HIV/AIDS? No, but he could be bothered to put some gel in his hair, and I just feel like that is a thing.” 

Many users on Twitter were outraged at the two members for criticizing Sanders, who has been a public LGBT ally for over 40 years.

Other commenters defended the two experts, saying Van Ness was exaggerating sarcastically about Reagan being a “better” politician than Sanders. 

Political views aside, the dilemma at the root of this dispute is one question: How far should celebrities go with being public about their political views?

Misinformed people put out information every day on the internet. The difference between a celebrity and an average person is one has a large following and potential influence over those followers. When a celebrity who may be misinformed publicly posts an endorsement for anything, they’ll reach more people. 

Celebrity endorsements have a significant impact, especially when it comes to the voting public. Their fans, especially young ones, often look to them for moral guidance despite not knowing for certain the true intentions of those celebrities.

Kanye West and Taylor Swift are two more examples of celebrities who took to social media for political endorsements. West, who endorsed Donald Trump after the 2016 elections has faced both backlash and praise. Swift received the same range of reactions after endorsing a Democratic candidate in her home state Tennessee’s 2018 midterm elections and sharing a link to vote.org, a non-partisan voter registration website.

Both celebrities impacted their audiences. In Swift’s case, after ending her Instagram post about her chosen candidate in the midterms, vote.org saw a spike in website traffic and voter registration

In matters of social justice, celebrity athletes have also taken to using their fame for activism. 

In 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began to take a knee during the national anthem before football games in protest of the repeated abuse and murder of black Americans by police. Los Angeles Lakers player LeBron James aired his thoughts on President Trump during an 11 minute interview in 2018, after which a Fox News anchor said he should “shut up and dribble.”

In the case of Kaepernick, his actions inspired football players at the professional, collegiate and high school levels to kneel during the anthem before games. Some of these players risked potential scouting or were reprimanded for their decisions to protest.

Celebrities are entitled to opinions in the same way any other individual is. However, they especially have a responsibility to be mindful of their words and actions because their fame inspires political activism.

 

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