Politics and Pop Culture: Do They Mix?

by Julie Edelstein ’22

Source: Designed by Julie Edelstein

Published Nov. 10, 2020

It can be difficult to defend a multi-millionaire. The world has become so accustomed to seeing its biggest celebrities as nothing more than entertainment machines, and it is often easy to condemn them for expressing any opinion deemed overly political. While these kings and queens of pop culture may be living in a metaphorical palace built by adoring fans, they are still people with human beliefs. 

The 2020 presidential election is unique for countless reasons. One of those reasons is its extremely high voter turnout. Campaigns on both sides have had the strong powers of social media and celebrity influencers behind them from the start, hoping to boost their candidate to victory. Former Vice President Joe Biden has been appealing to his supporters by setting up fundraisers hosted by America’s favorite stars, ranging from the cast of Hamilton to The Princess Bride. It is a smart move, but also one that opens up a particular question to debate: do politics have a place in popular culture?

Displays of political beliefs have been demonstrated through film and music for decades. They have also been criticized. In 1969, John Lennon wrote “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” in response to antagonization by the media following his protests against the Vietnam War with his wife Yoko Ono. In 2004, Green Day’s chart-topping record American Idiot directly attacked President George W. Bush, and the band was heavily criticized for being too political and not punk enough. Now, artists such as Donald Glover, Eminem, and Fiona Apple have been pushing anti-Trump messages through their music, while conservatives have been pushing back. 

The line is not drawn at music. This issue is tackled in television, where even the most heartwarming comedy shows such as Brooklyn Nine-Nine have been chastised for touching upon difficult topics such as LGBTQ+ rights and racism. It is also seen in sports, as basketball stars such as LeBron James were told to “shut up and dribble” by Laura Ingraham of Fox News network after protesting for the Black Lives Matter movement. 

There is definitely a strong possibility that the unending backlash directed against celebrities for delivering political messages is not a criticism of expressing beliefs in general, but instead a disagreement in beliefs. Even so, it is difficult to say whether these pop stars are justified in profiting off of the controversial topics that they promote. It can be argued that they use the power that comes with their fame to influence their fans into like-minded sets of beliefs. After all, their job is to entertain, not to instigate political discourse.

However, it should be unjust to set boundaries for art. Art is expressing beliefs with pride and not caring about whether people agree or not. Having opinions and perpetuating what one believes to be right is not something to be taken away from any citizen. If everyone is allowed this privilege to share and be heard, artists, entertainers, and celebrities have no reason to be denied. Signing a million dollar deal should not equate signing away your first Amendment rights.

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