Today’s political climate is volatile, to say the very least.
Among the ludicrous politicians, heads of state, and political hopefuls there is another emerging trope in the Age of Trump: the “woke” celebrity. These celebrities seem to think it is their duty to let the public hear their political opinions, often denouncing politicians or policies that don’t align with their world view and encouraging their fans to vote a certain way. Though of course celebrity opinions are nothing new, the question truly has become: why are celebrity opinions so virulent, and so potent? What makes a celebrity more or less entitled to their political voice and political opinion?
‘Celebrity’ status has taken on a new meaning in the age of social media. Even the most irrelevant opinions are easier to share than ever before. This means that for many young people across America, it has become easier to passively form political opinions based upon the whims of the celebrities they idolize. Yet these idols are younger and younger, having achieved stardom by climbing that slippery ladder of talent, wealth, opportunity, and most of all, exposure.
What new starlet has no rabid social media following? What new rapper lacks a Twitter or Soundcloud through which he speaks his unfiltered thoughts? These same celebrities whose fans all but fall at their feet have barely begun to form their own coherent political opinions, and so are prone to spewing rhetoric rather than giving thoughtful, nuanced opinions.
While there are clear pitfalls to idolizing any celebrity, at least those who have recently attained prominence are—on some level—tenuously grounded in reality, as they became famous when anyone with Internet access can have their shot at stardom. ‘Established’ celebrities are worse, as they have spent more time accruing wealth and living in the spotlight and are therefore more removed from reality.
This brings us to the juxtaposition of two major stars: Kanye West and Taylor Swift. Both have ascended to the uppermost echelons of wealth and, by some measure, power that are afforded by musical celebrity. Their political opinions serve as antitheses of each other, while still highlighting the central problems with celebrities in politics.
Swift, who for a decade stayed conspicuously silent in terms of politics, has suddenly come out denouncing GOP candidates from her adopted state of Tennessee. This is a huge move as she joins the ranks of her center-of-left peers and disavows her former neutrality. This neutrality was an almost classic example of white, feminist privilege: Swift chose to ignore the inequalities and difficulties faced by others because they didn’t affect her and would narrow her broad appeal. Now, after the 2016 election and rumors of being beloved by white nationalists, Swift cast her lot with the liberal cultural elite and has transitioned away from her conservative faux-country roots.
On the other side of the aisle, Kanye West has declared his shared “dragon energy” with President Trump. Kanye stated that Trump is a free thinker, who is disrupting a calcified political system. But this is the same Kanye West who vehemently declared “President Bush doesn’t care
about black people” 14 years ago in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Politics have changed, but West has changed more; insulated from the world he grew up in for almost 20 years now, West takes pride is his disdain for reading and established thought and has thus equated incendiary statements with so-called ‘free thinking’.
What is common between these two stars, along with many others who have flooded the headlines, is one thing: privilege. These stars are isolated by wealth, profession, and their own social and political echo chambers. Members of the public should take their favorite celebrities’ political opinions in this context, ultimately rendering them irrelevant.