Reviewing celebrity engagement in politics


Grace Bannister (she/her) explores celebrity involvement in the world of politics

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Image by Antony Quintano

By Grace Bannister

The demands we place on celebrities are forever increasing: from having the perfect body, the best fashion sense, and now having a say in politics. But are we being fair in the heightened expectations that we’re placing on our favourite celebs, and should we always listen to what they say?

Perhaps I should start with a confession; as a self-declared “Swiftie”, I often find myself googling her opinions on political and social issues. Recognising my own interest in my favourite celebs’ thoughts on every topic under the sun does make me question the wider role of celebrities incurrent affairs and politics, and to ask not only how important their contribution is, but also why we care?

Pretty much every celebrity from Reese Witherspoon to The Rock has shared their views on the Israel-Gaza conflict. Furthermore, those celebs who have stayed away from offering an opinion on this topic have faced backlash for their silence.

Selena Gomez is one celeb who has remained largely silent on this is-sue – and it has not gone unnoticed among her fans and the online com-munity. While Gomez’s primary occupation is that of a singer, her role as a ‘UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador’ since 2009, in addition to being the third most followed person on Instagram, is seen by many to demand some kind of response to this crisis. Selena is typically quite vocal in discussing her political and humanitarian views, and has been widely praised for previous campaigns. She has been active in discussions on mental health, including her recent bipolar diagnosis, as well as on her chronic illness, lupus. Gomez also co-founded the charity ‘Wondermind’ with the aim of “destigmatising and democratising mental health”. As a UNICEF ambassador, she also pledged to advocate for “the world’s most vulnerable children”, and has promoted campaigns such as #SahelNOW in which she encouraged her fans to raise money for the Sahel food crisis in 2012.

So why the relative silence over this war? Given her activism in so many realms, her silence on the crisis confused fans, with many becoming increasingly frustrated at her response. Many felt that she was “downplaying her massive following” and ignoring her ability to raise awareness and funds for Palestinian families. On X (formerly Twitter) @parkwoodfilms asked “if a post can’t help change the world, why call yourself a philanthropist?”. People were especially frustrated over her alleged hypocrisy – from posting on issues such as BLM to the Ukraine crisis, why choose to remain silent on this? Others have asked if a celebrity with a following of over 400million feels helpless, what hope do the rest of us have?

Or is there actually some deeper truth to Selena Gomez’s response? Is she right? After all, what good would a post actually do? In reality, probably very little, but what it does highlight is the increasing problem celebrities face when they choose to cherry pick which issues they take a public stand on.

Why is it that we expect a singer or an actor to have opinions on politics, and to promote their opinions online? Particularly when their fame stemmed from something entirely different and unrelated! Doesn’t poorly informed celebrity intervention come with the increased risk of misinformation; an issue so often dis-cussed in the realm of social media.

Maybe we need to start closer to home with the pedestal we put celebrities on. Is it reasonable to expect celebrities to express a view on everything, and how realistic are we being if we expect to always agree with them? It feels to me like it might be time for a reset on both sides of this equation. From the fan perspective, we might need to pull back on our expectation of the ‘always on and always right’ celebrity, but not allow celebs to distance themselves from the real world entirely, and from their side perhaps a realisation that it can be problematic to ‘pick and choose’ which issues you stand for, and even more so to distance yourself from the real world entirely.

We also cannot ignore that many of these celebrities have outsourced their social media ‘brain’ and faith in, what they hope, is a good enough PR team to tell them what to post – alluding to a disingenuous intention for posting in the first place!

I can’t claim to have answered my original question about whether we are being fair in expecting so much of our favourite stars. Maybe Selena was right after all: a post from a celeb, any celeb, won’t change the world – but shouldn’t they try?