Pop culture and politics blurring

Breanne George

Actresses Julianna Marguiles and Gina Gershon talk while at the America Coming Together rally in Akron in October 2004. The actresses and other celebrities went around areas in northeast Ohio as part of the Bring Ohio Back bus tour for the 2004 elections.

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

Celebrities from Madonna to Ben Affleck make headline news for supporting their favorite candidate in presidential elections.

Other celebrities focus on issues, such as Bono’s work to end AIDS and poverty.

The line between politics and pop culture is blurring as celebrities get involved in the political arena.

Political science professor Thom Yantek said celebrities occasionally get the public’s attention, but he does not believe they influence political decisions as much as they think they do.

“I would be sorely disappointed if that’s where a majority of Americans got their political beliefs,” he said. “That’s when we should start having licensing to vote.”

He said celebrities could possibly have an impact on younger generations who are not as familiar with the issues.

“Younger people pay less attention to politics and more attention to pop culture,” he said. “So it’s possible for them to show interest in a particular issue or candidate a celebrity is supporting.”

Ashley Brandeberry, sophomore political science major, said she thinks celebrities can help get younger people involved in politics.

“We need to get young people to vote,” she said. “The last election I noticed stars on MTV trying to get people to vote with the Vote or Die campaign.”

Celebrities also use politics for their own benefit. They know if they speak out in support of a candidate or issue they will get media attention, Teleproductions Professor David McCoy said.

“Every celebrity has an agent, so you never know if celebrities are involved in political causes just for visibility stake,” he said. “Is it calculated or heartfelt?”

Neal Casper, junior political science major and member of the College Republicans, said he thinks many celebrities are involved in politics for personal gain. Although celebrities have the right to express their opinions, Casper said he believes they are abusing their place in society.

“Michael Moore came on campus a week before the presidential election to tell us how terrible Bush is,” he said. “Interest groups can’t run attack ads within 30 days of an election. Celebrities should be held to the same standards.”

McCoy said celebrities have been involved in the political scene for over a century.

“During WWI, movie stars from silent movies were used to advertise war bonds,” he said.

McCoy said celebrity political involvement started with causes and noble reasons and began to shift to campaigning for politicians. The counterculture movement in the ’60s saw an increase in rock stars speaking out against the Vietnam War. While celebrities are using politicians, politicians are also using celebrities.

“Celebrities have popularity, but they may not have power,” McCoy said. “Politicians have power, but they may not have popularity. Both need each other for different reasons. It’s a mutuality they have.”

Contact student politics reporter Breanne George at [email protected].