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Politics and the Ego of Celebrity

Welcome to 2018: Taylor Swift is voting for a democrat and it is national news.

Listen, I’m not trying to be cynical. I recognize that Taylor Swift (finally) speaking out about the importance of voting actually influenced some young people to register. That is a very good thing. According to NPR reporting, people between the ages of 18-35 made up 31% of the electorate in 2016, yet have the lowest turnout of any age group. This is of course unacceptable, and I for one will be happy with any sort of motivation my peers get to turn out for the midterms. If that motivation comes from Taylor Swift, then so be it.

Celebrities have a massive amount of influence, particularly among young people. In fact, celebrities have been influencing elections since as early as the 1920s. This is not a new phenomenon, and Taylor Swift is one of the last celebrities to hop on this bandwagon. The Hillary Clinton campaign was practically star-studded, and celebrities on social media have been plugging the midterm elections practically since the day after presidential election.

All of that is great. Young people need to vote. Everyone needs to vote; it is one of our most prized privileges.

But celebrity culture is, for lack of a better word, really strange.

Alongside her political debut, Taylor Swift posted a selfie, which felt sort of besides the point next to her passionate message. Why did she need to be the forefront of this message? She is not the only celebrity that is guilty of this, of course. Celebrity culture is based off of marketing oneself, and thus celebrities do whatever they can to remain in the spotlight. I do think Taylor Swift was actually passionate about her message, and I respect her decision to put herself out there and tell people to vote. Nonetheless, I cannot help but wonder if part of the motivation for her and other celebrities is to make headlines, and make a profit off of the association between their image and political activism.

There is a level of narcissism associated with celebrity that, in dangerous quantities, can result in a reality TV star holding the highest seat in the American government. I fully acknowledge that many celebrities, like Taylor Swift, Tracee Ellis Ross, Chrissy Teigen, etc, use their platforms to speak out on important issues. I do not think celebrities should have no say in politics; they are citizens, too. But I do wonder about the spectrum of narcissism we all seem to be on, and the possibility of an inflated sense of self and a loyal fan base leading more unqualified celebrities to run for office.

We have all heard about Kanye’s plans to run for president in 2024. As fun as it is to joke about his run, or start hashtags begging beloved celebrities like Oprah or Meryl Streep to run for president, the idea of a celebrity with no political experience in positions of power in our government should be a terrifying prospect. Especially considering the high possibility that these celebrities could be successful because of the way we worship them.

Americans in particular are particularly obsessed with their celebrities. I’m not sure there is much we can do the change that, except try to be more aware. Taylor Swift did a good thing by finally trying to encourage her supporters to vote. However, I think it is important to remain aware of the celebrity “brand” and the way we as consumers can feed into ego, sometimes with dangerous results. Though I support the celebrities encouragement of political engagement, I urge my peers to motivate themselves in other ways, beyond the advice of those they idolize.

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