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Pop Culture Figures in Political Activism

Josephine O'Brien

October 3rd, 2017

In today’s rough political climate, more and more celebrities are speaking out against current events, political issues, and institutionalized oppression. Celebrities being politically active is not a new concept today-- with the President of the United States publically attacking basic human rights and progressive ideals on Twitter daily-- and more pop culture figures are going public with their opinions. In fact recently, it’s been more descriptive of a celebrity’s character if they’re not speaking out. All types of celebrities - actors, athletes, comedians, writers, musicians, and more - have been using their voices to contribute to political activism and inspire their audiences to fight back against things they think are unjust.

 

Although celebrities from all walks of life are doing their part, some figures recently have been especially politically active. Rowan Blanchard, the 15-year-old actress of Disney Channel fame, has gained a large online following from her intersectional feminism and inspiring activism. Her instagram (@rowanblanchard), is filled with her speaking out on current issues and giving tips on how her fans can get involved; in 2015 she spoke to the United Nations as part of Emma Watson’s “He for She” campaign.

 

Another prominent figure involved in activism is Colin Kaepernick, the NFL athlete who began kneeling during the national anthem in August 2016 to protest police brutality and the killing of unarmed black people. Recently, his actions have gained more traction when, at an Alabama rally on September 22, Donald Trump insinuated that those who kneel during the national anthem should be fired: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b*tch off the field right now, out. He’s fired. He’s fired!’” he stated. Due to those comments (along with other spews of similar sentiment on Twitter), more and more athletes, captains, and owners are kneeling, both in the NFL and other athletic leagues; this has stirred a lot of controversy and restarted a heated political debate, with Steph Curry and Lebron James of the NBA publically speaking out against the President’s comments.

 

Jimmy Kimmel is yet another celebrity who has recently been speaking his thoughts. For him, it’s “Trumpcare” and all its failed iterations that hits Kimmel close to home. Jimmy Kimmel’s son has a serious heart condition, which led Kimmel to realize how important equal healthcare access is. Last week, when Senate Republicans introduced their latest legislation to repeal Obamacare, the Graham-Cassidy bill, in a monologue on his show, Kimmel slammed the bill and spoke out about how dangerous it is. He pointed out the facts that the bill would take millions off their health insurance plans, allow states to raise rates for those with pre-existing conditions, and raise premiums for most people around the country. Kimmel has become a force advocating for quality healthcare for all, creating the “Jimmy Kimmel test” (with Senator Bill Cassidy, ironically), which a bill would pass if it would provide the healthcare and emergency services a child with a condition like Kimmel’s son would need, no matter how much the given family earns.

 

I believe celebrities speaking out against injustice is important and necessary in 2017, however sometimes they do it problematically, or even worse, they stay silent. One example that comes to mind is James Corden and Sean Spicer at the Emmys last week. In a picture that caused a lot of controversy, Corden is seen kissing Spicer backstage. There has been a lot of outrage over this photo, with people saying that it is “normalizing” the politically dangerous Spicer. @redlightvoices on Twitter tweeted, “Good morning to everyone except whoever thought ‘softening’ Sean Spicer through pop culture participation would be funny and edgy.” This incident is similar to Jimmy Fallon’s 2016 Trump-Hair-Ruffling controversy, where, in a now famous interview, Fallon ruffled Trump’s hair. This caused a lot of backlash, and for good reason: the interview was soft on Trump, with Fallon laughing with the then-candidate and throwing easy questions. Since then, Fallon’s monopoly over late-night television has been disappearing as more viewers turn towards the more politically active Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel; his crown as the king of late night is slipping off of his head.

 

Another example of misguided political activism were many celebrities’ tweets after Neo-Nazi demonstrations in Charlottesville last August. A trending hashtag, #ThisisnotUS, implied that the horrific, racially tense events were not representative of what America is. Many popular celebrities tweeted the hashtag or posted something with a similar message. In response, many people were quick to write that the United States has had a history of horrible, racist violence along the lines of Charlottesville, that unfortunately, this is America, and what celebrities need to do is not deny it, but to lace up their shoes and try to change it. @MJStarLover on Twitter tweeted: “Lady Gaga & white people using the hashtag #ThisIsNotUS is the perfect example of them acting like America wasn't built on white supremacy.”

 

Pop culture figures speaking out against Trump and doing their part to fight institutionalized oppression is important, but we must make sure that their activism is not one-sided or fake and that they are truly doing what they can to make this country, and this world, be the best that it can be.