This summer, as I prepared to move to California, one of the things my friends at home always asked me was if I was “excited to see celebrities.” That’s right, not if I was excited for the weather, or my classes, or whether I would be homesick, or miss the snow, but if I was excited to see celebrities. My answer, which for some reason they seemed to think was even odder than their question, was no. I have never really understood the appeal of “celebrity sightings” go ahead and splutter incredulously at me, for that seems to be the general reaction from people, but I just don’t see what is so cool about it.
Despite my relative disinterest in the so called “stars,” I have to admit that my tummy did flutter a little bit two days ago when, between a message from my mom discussing Thanksgiving flights, and another from my dad making sure I was watching football, an email from Beyoncé Knowles appeared in my inbox (and it wasn’t even marked as Junk!!)
The message began with “Emma – I don’t usually email you” (I don’t know about other people who received the seemingly automated message, or if maybe I am just out of the loops and Beyoncé emails people all the time, but I definitely didn’t need her to tell me this), and it was inviting me to donate a little bit of money to be entered in a draw to win dinner with Beyoncé, Jay-Z, and President Obama. This email, which is definitely not the first sign of celebrity involvement in politics and election campaigns, got me wondering about whether their participation actually makes a difference.
To me, it seems that year after year the election campaigns are seemingly coming down to two things: funding, and public attention (to clarify, I am not saying that this is what wins the election, merely that these two factors play a large role in the campaign process), and what do celebrities and election campaigns have in common? That’s right, they’ve got plenty of money; and they are already centers of public attention, they come with their own fans and followers, and plenty of the public’s interest.
As a young voter, well aware that there are far too many of us who either don’t know or don’t care about politics and the upcoming election, the aspect of celebrity involvement in the campaigns that intrigues me the most is the way stars capture the attention of the public, and can play a huge role in getting us to the polls. As Jen Christensen for CNN said in an older article from May 2012, “say what you will about celebrities’ place in politics, but as America goes to the polls, there’s no denying that Hollywood’s civic-minded have made an impact on election interest.” Although you may not want to believe it, voters – and not only young voters – are influenced by what they see their favourite celebrities doing, promoting or advocating.
Need help making that connection? Think about an advertisement for a certain fragrance, pair of shoes, or mascara…and now think about the people in the ads that capture our attention and make us really want the product. This same tactic, rather than their own personal political interest, is what drives a large amount of voters to actually go out and vote.
If you don’t believe me, let’s take a quick look at some celebrity involvement both current and from the past, from both parties, that have had voters thinking about politics: Clint Eastwood’s speech at the RNC, Nicki Minaj’s verse on Lil Wayne’s “Mercy” Freestyle where she brings the election into her feature, the Saturday Night Live skits in 2008, DJ’s for Obama, and the Rock the Vote organization. The links above are just a tiny collection of the ways celebrities are putting themselves out there to encourage and engage people in the elections.
As if we don’t notice their involvement enough, popular magazines, newspapers and radio stations also feature the celebrities and their involvement in politics, or spreads about the election to entice their readers. An article in Vanity Fair discussing the conventions, a recent Cosmopolitan spread about the candidates and their campaigns, and list after list of “who supports who.”
Although I have only lightly scratched the surface of celebrity involvement in politics, their influence on election campaigns and voter interest, it is easy to see just how much participation there really is. Next time you’re reading your beloved Vanity Fair, or surfing YouTube to avoid homework (come on, we all do it), look for ads or signs of non-political figures trying to get you involved in highly political events. And does it work? Well I know I wasn’t the only one talking after seeing Clint Eastwood’s speech at the RNC, and the Yes We Can song and video (10) from the 2008 Election was circling the cyber world when was living outside the United States. So yes, I believe it does. People are noticing the elections as a result of celebrity involvement, for they have the power to draw non-politically-minded people into politics, and play an increasingly large role in the election campaigns.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go, Beyoncé’s waiting for my reply.