Social media and information sharing has helped create the illusion of a smaller world, social media and news outlets create a sense of proximity to those in the limelight. These increasingly cyber-based interactions have given way to a new era of pop culture and celebrity worship.
Popular social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat allow people to see a glimpse into the daily lives of the rich and famous. We are able to tune in all day and night as our favorite television and internet personalities, musicians and actors share their activities and opinions.
This can be a wonderful way for fans to connect with celebrities. However, the platform given to celebrities creates an illusion that they are experts on topics that they speak on and that the information they share is always true and impartial.
Impressionable minds can be easily influenced into holding certain attitudes and opinions simply because their favorite celebrities do. Fans may believe that a person’s status as “famous” makes them qualified to speak on politics, religion and global affairs.
There is no problem with celebrities using their platform and influence to spread awareness and speak up on issues of injustice and national concern. However, in a time where celebrities are becoming more outspoken and interwoven in political discussions, it’s important to remember that they are not always knowledgeable to speak on these issues.
The recent controversy surrounding Kanye West and his unyielding support for President Donald Trump exemplifies how celebrities with a large following can impact national discussions and understandings of politics.
Sept. 29, West appeared on “Saturday Night Live,” where he performed in a Make America Great Again hat — despite producers telling him not to wear it. He also ranted about his support for Trump, which ended up not being aired.
A week later, West shared a picture on his social media of himself wearing a MAGA hat which he captioned, “This represents good and America becoming whole again. We will no longer outsource to other countries. We will provide jobs for all who are free from prisons as we abolish the 13th amendment. Message sent with love.”
This message was met with public backlash and criticism, as the 13th Amendment was the first of three parts to the Reconstruction Amendments that followed the Civil War, abolishing slavery.
West was also criticized by numerous other celebrities and pop culture figures. Singer Lana Del Rey commented on his post, “Trump becoming our president was a loss for the country but your support of him is a loss for the culture.”
Other celebrities took to Twitter to address the post without directly contacting West. John Legend, the West family’s longtime friend, partook in speaking out as he tweeted, “I imagine there’s some comfort in imagining a future without racism and projecting that onto the present. Thinking if we just deny the truth, it doesn’t exist. If history is erased, we don’t have to deal with its consequences.”
These comments are also a reflection of pop culture figures influencing opinions on both sides, but if West is free to share his beliefs, then he must accept that he will receive opposition from other celebrities with different platforms.
While many of West’s fans have been critics of his political antics, it’s important to remember what a large platform he has and the potential influence he will have on impressionable minds.
The danger in this is that the increasing glorification of celebrities, such as West, gives the illusion that they are where we should be getting our news, information and opinions. But just because you are “famous” and have a large following does not mean your opinions are adding productive value to political discussions.
Celebrities are allowed to have their political stances and no doubt are allowed to share anything they please, but as viewers, we must remember that we don’t have to agree with and believe the same things as our favorite celebrities. Anyone can hold a political belief, but they are not experts on the topic just because they have an opinion about it. Actors act, singers sing and politicians and academics study policy and their implications. We must remember the difference of stakes in the conversation based on their knowledge about it.
The rantings of Kanye West are no different than the rantings of your uncle at Thanksgiving dinner, but where the difference lies is in West’s ability to share his opinions with the world. However, in an age where all we see on media platforms is the lives and words of pop culture figures, we must separate their opinions from objective stances and facts.