Pop politics

In Tuesday’s Journal, there was a detailed account of Stephen Lewis’ moving speech about the HIV/AIDS crisis, which took place at St. George’s Cathedral in Kingston this past Sunday. Amidst a undeniable call to action from all persons listening, Lewis’ particular comment on how more
celebrities than politicians were present at Toronto’s International AIDS Conference, got me thinking.

In a decade where Arnold Schwarzenegger can win elections, and Bill Clinton can trump the tabloids, it seems to me we have reached a point in time when the line between celebrities and politicians has blurred.

To be clear, when it comes to raising awareness for social causes, I think we would all agree that any press is good press, whether it comes from someone like Stephen Lewis or Bono. In fact, there seems to be no end to the good that can come from celebrity awareness. The publicity, the sheer magnitude of money that celebrities can donate and their ability to reach audiences to which the average politician might not appeal, are all undeniable reasons why celebrities can be an asset to a particular cause. The place where the seemingly flawless marriage between celebrities and social causes starts to split, however, is really three fold. First, celebrity awareness becomes tricky when the cause at hand is not something like raising money for AIDS research, but—is heavily political and has two clear sides, such as who should win an election. Celebrity influence becomes sketchy in this instance because their power over the general public is enormous. We are no longer a society that votes because it is our right and responsibility to do so, but because P Diddy told us to “Vote or Die.”

An even more pressing ramification of celebrity social and political activism is the emergence of a culture of lazy opinions, relying on public figures to make our minds up for us. It seems that there isn’t an election that goes by without some sort of celebrity following, and I believe that there’s a strengthening mentality, especially among young voters, of trust in the celebrities they admire, even in the political realm. Looking up to celebrities for their latest fashion trend is one thing, but that mindset should not be applied to political issues.

Last but not least, to borrow from the lecture of Stephen Lewis, we mustn’t forget that the trouble with the world focusing on celebrity leadership is that even though we may praise them for their effort and enerosity, perhaps we are becoming a culture that is graduallyaccepting “non-governmental organizations [as] a substitute for government interaction.” In the battle of whether celebrities help or hinder social causes, I think I can safely say that although sometimes it seems easier, and even logical to wish that Oprah would run for president, let us not allow the bright lights of Hollywood to blind us from real political support that is mistakenly missing from the forum of social activism.

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.