Celebrities’ comments on current affairs; ignorant or inspiring?
This year saw the arrival of the 77th annual Golden Globe Awards and it was hosted by Ricky Gervais. In his usual provocative style, he wasted no time in mocking celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and Felicity Huffman. But, as well as this, he made the sweeping declaration that celebrities “are not in a position to lecture the public about anything”. Whilst I agree that the red carpet is not the place from which to make political speeches, I would also argue that celebrity involvement outside the luxurious bubble of Hollywood can be an enormous force for good.
One of the foundations behind Gervais’ argument was that celebrities “know nothing about the real world”. Arguably this comment in itself might be a little unfair on celebrities who have experience “real world” issues such as family divorces, deaths and illness. However, there can be little doubt that the glitz and the glamour of events like the Golden Globe Awards is hardly a comparable arena to the disaster-ridden countries that many celebrities emotionally urge their audience to help in their acceptance speeches. Put another way, it is extremely hypocritical to talk about helping a country which has been hit by the horrors of famine whilst standing in a beautiful dress or suit and being able to return to your glass of champagne once your acceptance speech is over.
On top of this, Gervais also declared to his audience at the Beverly Hills Hotel that “most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg”. This implies that he does not believe celebrities have sufficient intelligence or understanding about “real world” issues to be able to talk about them. There is some evidence to suggest that celebrities might not have spent as much time in education as other people. For example, Brad Pitt abruptly dropped out of college to pursue a career in acting whilst Taron Egerton was very much “the class clown” at school. However, other celebrities like Phoebe Waller-Bridge successfully made it through sixth form. The one thing that these three celebrities have in common regarding education is that they all received a BA in acting from places like the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA). Although this is hardly surprising given their choice of career, it does raise questions about whether they have actually studied political issues enough to be able to talk about them authoritatively.
On the other hand, the knowledge which celebrities possess about certain issues might not matter too much. After all, Donald Trump was able to obtain one of the most powerful political offices in the world despite concerns being raised about his performance in school. What is more, celebrities have the powerful ability to mobilise people using their high profile and huge social media following. For example, Chris Hemsworth has 39.1 million followers on Instagram. As a result of this, a video which he posted on the site about the bushfires which are ravaging Australia has undoubtedly helped to raise the salience of the issue. Moreover, his pledge to donate $1 million to help tackle these bushfires might help other people to “dig deep”. Another good example of celebrities being able to mobilise people include Cardi B and Ariana Grande (who have 8.6 million and 68.9 million Twitter followers respectively) who are currently endorsing Bernie Sanders in the US Presidential elections. Their high profile and the huge influence they have over their fans could play a key role in encouraging people to turn out and vote. The red carpet does not feature prominently in either of these two cases, yet these celebrities were still able to make an impact.
Overall, celebrities can make a big difference by intervening in political issues. However, the red carpet does not seem to be the best place to make such interventions because it leaves them vulnerable to charges of being pretentious and out of touch (as Gervais seems to believe they are). Instead of using the red carpet to make speeches, celebrities should use social media and other platforms to have an impact. Celebrities can speak up about political issues everywhere else, but they should shut up when they’re on the red carpet.