Political Superstars: Celebrity Activism and Political Celebrities Part I

World-renowned actors and pop stars lend their names and status as celebrities to various political issues and positions. And some politicians achieve a status in society and culture similar to that of celebrities. Politics is becoming more and more woven into popular culture.

  • How can we explain such a development?
  • Do politicians have to use the same tools as everyone else if they are to get public attention?
  • How does this development affect people’s perceptions of politics?
  • What happens to the legitimacy of politicians, celebrities and politics?

2: Celebrities and politics

Some political leaders become international media celebrities. When Barack Obama travels around the world, he is received as a super celebrity . Some even believe that his status as a celebrity helped him win the Nobel Peace Prize . It is perhaps less controversial to claim (Kellner) that since his election, Obama has used his status as a global celebrity to advance his political agenda.

There are also several examples of the opposite development: celebrities who engage in international politics and diplomacy. Oprah Winfrey supported Obama’s presidential candidacy in her own talk show, and Bono and Bob Geldof hosted concerts in conjunction with the G8 summit in 2005. There are many examples of politics and celebrity culture merging in Western democracies. The blurring of the distinction between what is private and what is public characterizes today’s relationship to politics, media and power . The media, communications consultants and the public expect public figures to increasingly “offer themselves”.

Politicians who become famous and act like celebrities in the public sphere have nevertheless existed for a long time. In many ways, this form of political visibility goes hand in hand with the emergence of modern democracies in the West – societies that are often called media societies . Media society means that the media has a central place in the communication flows in society.

Particularly in the United States, but also in other countries, politicians have acted as celebrities and used this status both to be elected, to set the agenda and to have their political will put into practice. Politicians have thus taken over the celebrity world, at the same time as celebrities use their celebrity and celebrity status to determine the political agenda – also internationally. The first of UNICEF’s goodwill ambassadors, comedian Danny Kaye, was appointed in the 1950s. Since then, it has become more and more common for celebrities to get involved in international politics and front “the good news”.

Researchers on “celebrity politics” distinguish between

  • politicians who have used their status to hijack voters and
  • emergence of politicized celebrities who have become activists.

Celebrities have also often used their status to support politicians’ candidacy. According to WATCHTUTORIALS, this has long been widespread in the United States. There, Warren Beatty organized support for Democrat George McGovern’s candidacy for the presidency as early as 1972, while fellow actors John Wayne and Sammy Davis jr. supported Republican candidate Richard Nixon. Such marking of support is still relevant. The examples are several from the election campaign in Norway in 2013. At that time, profiled celebrities went out with support for various parties. Businessman Olav Thon supported FrP; singer Ole Paus gave his support to KrF; four major rock bands (DumDum Boys, Michael Krohn from Raga Rockers, deLillos and the remnants of the Valentines) lined up for a concert for the Green Party, while Lise Karlsnes and actor Frank Kjosås wanted a continued red-green collaboration.

3: When the media dominates politics

Many researchers believe that the balance of power between the media and politics and society has changed in the United States and Europe over the past fifty years. Politicians must adapt to the media to a greater extent than before. Previously, the media had a more ” sacred ” approach to politics. That is, the policy was considered important in itself. The media covered what the politicians wanted them to cover. In other words, it was the politicians who set the agenda.

Many believe that the situation has changed and that the media have a more ” pragmatic ” attitude to politics. Such an approach means that politicians, in order to gain attention, must satisfy the media’s focus on drama, conflict, topicality and individuals . This development is often referred to as the medialisation of politics . An important point then is that politicians and politicians have lost some of the initiative. It is largely taken over by the media. This means that the media has in many ways gained more power, while politicians have had their room for maneuver limited.

Some believe that this development represents an expansion of democracy : it has opened up new forms of political engagement and participation for the people. Some researchers believe that it will be easier for many to follow when politics is presented in a more popular and less rigid form.

Others think the outlined development represents a history of decline. They believe that politics is reduced to branding – that politicians and political parties become goods in a market in the same way as consumer goods. This may mean that those with the most resources – including money and access to celebrities or famous politicians – will find it easier to get attention about their issues and positions. Then celebrity orientation can represent a problem for democracy, because access to celebrities is not about legitimacy and representativeness in public opinion. Positions and cases then become goods in a global “market” – where it is not always certain that the most worthy case receives the most attention. These further believe that politics is so simplified that the information is largely worthless: Everything is reduced to entertainment, people get bored and stop being interested in politics and society.

Political Superstars 1

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