We hear political views expressed all the time – in the news, on social media or displayed through art and culture – and we are used to it, because normally, those views come from politicians or those involved in politics. But what happens when a celebrity gets involved?
It has become increasingly common for celebrities to share their political views, especially on social media. With the upcoming US presidential election, it is unlikely that one would dispute a celebrity’s right to encourage people to vote, but the suggestion of who to vote for is often fraught with controversy as some people believe that celebrities should not use their mass platforms to discuss their opinions on political affairs, in order to influence voter’s decisions at the polling station.
However, it can be an incredible way to educate people.
Celebrities talking about politics on social media can mean that these topics can infiltrate the online bubbles of people who actively avoid political discourse and, in turn, encourage them to do some research, form their own opinion and most importantly, take their place in democracy by voting.
Restricting celebrities from simply being allowed to encourage people to vote would also limit their freedom of expression, which, especially in the case of the US, is a guarded right. Unlike teachers, who are obliged to stay neutral, “celebrity” is not a specific job title with associated commitments, so should they not therefore be able to say what they believe?
The rise of political celebrity endorsements (and commentary about this) peaked in late September this year, when The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Harry and Meghan, addressed the American public in a social media video from their Californian home, encouraging people to vote in “the most important election”. This interview caused a storm amongst the public and political commentators, with huge disagreement about whether or not Harry should be allowed to express views such as these, especially whilst he retained his HRH status, with one palace insider saying that Harry had “crossed the line”.
However, as those who have seen the video will know, Harry did not endorse one side or the other, he endorsed democracy. That is completely acceptable, and arguably an important thing for those with public profiles to do. The video was viewed as politically charged by some commentators, as it is known that Meghan has previously spoken out against Trump. But restricting The Duke of Sussex from encouraging people to vote just because they can predict who his wife will vote for is ridiculous.
The UK tells a slightly different story. Here, it is less common for celebrity endorsements to spark controversy or backlash, perhaps because they are less controversial, or perhaps because the country is less polarised.
This does not, however, mean that celebrity voices are not heard in the UK. A recent ‘political statement’ that caused controversy was Diversity’s performance on Britain’s Got Talent, which portrayed a story about the virus. It was a depiction of 2020 as a dance routine, and, in the eyes of many viewers, incredibly moving. Diversity’s piece highlighted Coronavirus and the Black Lives Matter movement, reenacting the moment that George Floyd famously stated “I can’t breathe” before he was murdered by a white policeman with a knee on his neck. This performance received a torment of backlash from viewers, and over 24,000 Ofcom complaints. This response was due to the fact that it was seen as politicising a talent show, and ITV was seen as breaching impartiality.
Yet, pointing out the need for racial equality is not political. Politics are negotiable, questionable, and debatable. Racial equality and the right to life do not fall in any of those categories. The backlash against Diversity’s performance only reinforces the need for celebrities to be outspoken. We need to educate our country.
Often the argument against political celebrities is done in the name of protecting impartial news. But celebrities are not journalists, their comments are not a public service broadcast, and their job is not to report current events. They are private citizens who happen to be in the public eye, who often have a great deal of respect, and who want to use their platform to give a voice to the causes that they believe are important.
Image credit: Mark Jones