Actress Susan Sarandon found herself mired in controversy after her opinions on the 2016 election became public. A staunch Bernie Sanders supporter, Sarandon intimated that if Bernie Sanders was not the nominee, Donald Trump might be better for Americans than Hillary Clinton because he “will bring the revolution.” Fellow actresses Jamie Lee Curtis and Debra Messing tweeted their opposition to this statement, with Messing questioning if Sarandon’s position would remain the same if she were poor, gay, Muslim or an immigrant. Messing’s comment raises a larger point — that celebrities, who by and large are a privileged class, need to be more thoughtful and nuanced when it comes to making political statements. After all, they are empowered by the wide audience they are able to address.
Celebrity endorsements of presidential candidates are not a new phenomenon. For countless elections, prominent actors, musicians and celebrities have used their position in the public sphere to rally support for their candidate of choice. Frank Sinatra vouched for John F. Kennedy while John Wayne backed Nixon and Oprah Winfrey endorsed Barack Obama. It’s unclear to what extent celebrity endorsements — or endorsements from any other prominent figure — influence voters, but given how many Americans strongly identify with their favorite celebrities, it stands to reason that celebrity endorsements do have some clout. But fans who vote based on the opinions of their favorite celebrities must bear the same responsibilities as them. To vote for someone simply because a favorite singer is voting for them is a vote cast in ignorance.
The rise of social media has given public figures a new platform to quickly and easily communicate with their fans and speak their minds. As a result, more celebrities than ever are weighing in on political issues and candidates. This only increases the undue political influence that celebrities wield. It doesn’t matter who Kirstie Alley is rooting for in the Wisconsin primary, because there really is no reason to assume that any given celebrity knows anything more about politics than the average person.
All things considered, the role that celebrities play in politics is a complicated one. After all, Bernie Sanders released an official list of artists and cultural leaders who support him, which reads as an effective Hollywood who’s-who. This list is a powerful tool for drawing in potential voters, perhaps because people identify with their favorite stars and wish to emulate them in any way they can, either consciously or subconsciously. However, voters would do well to consider their own views and not follow a glitzy crowd of detached celebrities. The line between politics and popular culture can be fine, but it must not be blurred.
Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 4 print edition. Email Annie Cohen at [email protected]