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Celebrities And Activism – To Speak Or Not To Speak?

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Celebrities – they make us laugh, they keep us entertained, and they provide us with a nice distraction from our daily lives. But sometimes, they choose to do much more – they become activists.  Celebrities appeared to be considered the new faces of activism by many, campaigning left and right to bring about change within society especially in the last decade. This phenomenon has been dramatically amplified by the increased relevance of social media, as they have turned from simple means for entertainment into major tools for educating new generations.

However, whereas some think celebrities should speak up on social issues and use their platform for the greater good, others firmly disagree and think it’s foolish for fans to expect them to be activists. Let’s hear what both sides have to say.  

Using Your Voice (aka The Pros)

Some people think that yes – celebrities should absolutely advocate for social issues! It is their duty to be examples of ‘a good activist’ for their audience, and teach fans how to be better citizens of the world. To borrow a quote from Spiderman, ‘with great power comes great responsibility, and this idea perfectly applies to entertainers. They have wealth, influence, and a powerful voice – shouldn’t they use it to make the world a better place?

The magnitude of their impact has been especially amplified by the rise of social media, which are now focal tools for activism. They help raise awareness on an issue and increase its salience in the political and public agenda, educating anyone who is willing to listen. And that education doesn’t simply remain within the bounds of the Internet – when someone has become aware of an issue, they will get the word out and discuss it with those around them outside of social media. Hence, even more people will become increasingly educated. And if someone with 200 Million followers decides to publicly touch upon a topic on Twitter or Instagram… Think of how many people they would be able to reach with just one click. It is the duty of everyone with a big following to keep the needle moving and get as many people talking about what is important.

In particular, entertainers with a largely young audience should speak up and truly be good role models in the eyes of the public. When celebrities stay silent, they signal that it’s okay to stay silent. More young and gullible fans who look up to celebrities, might see them not talking about a certain issue, and become wrongfully convinced that it must not be that big of a deal if their fave isn’t talking about it. It is no secret that people look up to celebrities and make them pseudo-leaders, so they should ensure they are worth looking up to.

All That Shimmers Is Not Gold (aka The Cons)

However, disagreers are not scarce either. Plenty of people think that it’s not up to celebrities to teach or educate, as they are there to entertain and entertain only. Just like you wouldn’t ask your dentist to repair your car, you shouldn’t ask your favorite celebrity to be an activist – it’s simply not in their job description. They have no expertise in social issues – more often than not, they know nothing about this stuff! After all, with being an entertainer comes wealth and popularity, so it should be no surprise that the majority of them appear to be mostly detached from the issues that concern your Average Joe. Hence, just think of how dangerous it would be to ask them to educate others on things they can’t even fully grasp – rather than spreading awareness, they risk spreading misinformation.

Moreover, another argument often used by those who believe celebrities don’t have to be activists is that it is impossible for them to be aware of every single thing happening on the planet. After all, they are just people like us – they may have more money, but they have limitations just like anybody else. In fact, oftentimes they issue statements only after fans enlighten them on the topic at hand, and pressure them into doing that. And that’s how you end up with half-hearted press releases, written only as performative gestures so celebrities don’t lose face. Isn’t it better to let people who actually care and know, speak, and be heard?

Let Celebrities Be Celebrities

We must admit that plenty of them are not very educated on social issues, so they risk spreading misinformation.

Overall, it is safe to say that both sides have very good arguments. On one hand, it’s true that given the size of their platforms on social media, celebrities should use them to make the world a better place. But we also must admit that plenty of them are not very educated on social issues, so they risk spreading misinformation. Additionally, it’s also correct to say that the job of celebrities is simply to provide us with entertainment – it’s not to be the new activists of the generation.

We should maybe stop putting these people on a pedestal and expect them to be emblems of activism just because they have a large platform. Instead, we should let the true activists have a large platform. Luckily, multiple celebrities seem to have figured this out.

Last year, in the midst of the Black Lives Matter protests occurring across the globe, Selena Gomez decided to invite activists and scholars to take over her Instagram account for a day to educate people. Instead of speaking out herself and running into the risk of saying something incorrect, she let actual experts on the topic take the wheel. Thankfully, various entertainers followed suit.

That is the best way a celebrity can use their platform in a mindful and careful way. Of course, if one is actually vastly educated on an issue (either from research or personal experience), then they should feel free to vocalize their opinions! But let’s face it – those entertainers represent a small fish in the big pond, as most of them don’t know squat about these topics. Does it make sense for us to place unprecedented authority on the stances of celebrities beyond those of actual activists? It’s a rhetorical question – it does not make any sense. Perhaps, what we need to do is let celebrities be celebrities, and let activists be activists. 

 

Cover: Raj Nijjer

Edited by: Melike Cagla Alpay

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