The triumphant return to music and record-breaking tour aside, you can tell Taylor Swift is still scared of the internet. When she posted her support of Democrats Phil Bredesen and Jim Cooper on Instagram she had already switched off the comments and featured only a blurred polaroid that, honestly, could have been anyone. She knew – because she’s Taylor Swift and Twitter is Twitter and politics in 2018 is less about words or policy than throwing bricks built out of 280 characters – that she would be starting something. Whether she knew that ‘something’ would be a defining debate about the nature of celebrity and political engagement, we’ll never know.
People want to hold celebrities ‘accountable’. Sometimes for their actions – the #MeToo movement being our proudest example of this – but often for their politics. That’s why we care so much about how celebrities vote. We want to hold them accountable – and to an extent, we can. We can hold celebrities to account in ways we could never hold anyone we actually know. I can refuse to ever stream another Kanye West track again; I wasn’t cool enough for Kanye to begin with. I can have my political cake, eat and tweet about it and face very few consequences. It’s harder for me to deny– or to completely avoid – relatives of mine with views I find objectionable or, say, lecturers who make off-colour remarks. There are consequences to voicing our political views completely uncompromisingly in the real world, so many people don’t try. Instead, they exert their power on celebrities.
Although, it’s often well-intentioned, abundantly so, yelling at someone you don’t know on social media won’t change their minds. Yelling at someone anywhere won’t do that. The only thing that really changes opinions we disagree with is education. You want someone to change their mind? Give them a reason to, other than fear of your hostility. When have people ever made sensible decisions while afraid? We can’t have those kinds of conversations with celebrities, perhaps we try only to avoid the difficulty of having them in our day-to-day lives. What’s more, boycotting celebrities is not doing the good we’d like it to. Monetarily at least, Kanye is doing just fine and the scores of billionaires whose politics we are opposed to are doing just fine. Our attempts to sanction them are unlikely to work – they just aren’t an efficient way of making change.
I would go as far as to say that making celebrities the object of all your political attention is a way of doing something you feel you must without suffering the consequence of it. Addressing problems close to home, that’s effective. Voting, donating to progressive causes and candidates are far, far more effective ways of affecting political change than avoiding a film or a single. What you do is always going to mean more than what you don’t.
All kinds of arguments are being made lately that people should not be influenced by celebrities. Social media is branding everyone ‘sheep’. It’s been decided that if not every thought in your head is original, that matters more than what those thoughts actually are. To be completely honest, it is nonsense. We are all influenced by others – it’s one of the greatest things about humanity. We learn from others’ experiences, we become more well-rounded by our ability to connect with others. Were we not influenced by others, the works of artists, poets, playwrights, of any creator would suddenly be announced null and void. We can’t be influenced by others? The tutor that runs my Shakespeare Adapted course will be thrilled by his sudden lack of marking. We are always influenced by others – by our friends and family, by the people that inspire us and by celebrities too. And if – as is the case – 60,000 people can be influenced to vote, to exercise the utmost way of creating change, then I say let them be influenced.
Image: Makaiyla Willis via Wikipedia