Should politics be influenced by the agendas of celebrities?

Against, By John Jones

Stormzy’s performance during Wednesday night’s Brit Awards was one of the most politically-charged that the ceremony has ever seen. After performing his hit ‘Blinded by your Grace Pt.2’, the grime artist launched into a venomous rap in which he took aim at Prime Minister Theresa May, to whom he asked ‘where’s that money for Grenfell? What you thought we just forgot about Grenfell?’, before branding her government as ‘savages’. Across social media, both fans and critics of Stormzy’s music were quick to praise him for using his platform to promote such an important issue, and helping to hold the UK government to account.

However, whilst I too respect Stormzy for utilising his status to encourage political participation amongst his fans, I am also acutely aware of the issues that come with allowing celebrities to influence our perceptions of political figures. Of course, the rich and famous are perfectly entitled to a political view and their involvement is not only justified, but important in spreading key information to the otherwise politically disinterested. However, the perception of this very information is where the danger lies. More specifically, those that largely rely on the celebrities for their political education are inevitably at risk of blindly following their hero’s views, without critically engaging with issues and formulating their own opinions in line with their values.

As a result, a generation that offers so much potential for meaningful political engagement, may become sheep who hold a certain political approach simply because it corresponds with that of their favourite star. Celebrities explicitly encouraging their followers to hold a certain view, and voters subsequently doing so, is problematic for democracy. It ignores the necessity for engagement with opposing arguments which is crucial in the formation of a rounded political standpoint. In order to combat this worrying trend, a broad outlook and healthy scepticism must be applied towards the political arguments of celebrities, just as it should be towards those of senior political figures.

Having a personal political opinion is of the highest importance, and we must not let our views be determined solely by those of the stars that we look up to in other fields. Again, this is not to say that celebrities should be censored when speaking out on political issues; they have as much right as anyone to openly share their views, and are fortunate enough to hold a dominant social standing from which to spread it.

Rather, I am suggesting that, when those who are typically most invested in celebrity culture are young and impressionable, it would be more constructive for famous personalities to encourage political participation in general, rather than feeding their fans with their personal ideologies.

Such an approach was taken by fellow grime artist JME during last year’s election campaign, who, whilst heavily endorsing Corbyn, placed greater emphasis on the importance of youth engagement with politics, and encouraged those who had never voted, like himself, to make their voices heard. For me, this is the role that celebrities should play in politics; promoting political education and involvement in general, rather than forcing their ideology on the politically naïve. If we sacrifice our freedom to formulate our own political views, and allow our decisions to be defined by the opinions of celebrities, then that is a significant step back for critical political engagement.

For, By Meg Sharma

Stormzy was highly praised for using his performance at the Brits to highlight problems in our government. He criticised the Prime Minister, saying ‘Yo Theresa May, where’s the money for Grenfell? What you think we just forgot about Grenfell?’ as well as tackling perception of black people. He then set up a petition calling on the PM to build up a public trust in the Grenfell Inquiries. I am proud to say that I am inspired by Stormzy, and the way his words have influenced many to speak about and research into our political system.

For me, politics has always been rather inaccessible. Education in school was limited, and it was difficult for me to understand all the aspects of politics and the different parties. It meant I relied on my peers. If one of my best friends had a strongly minded opinion about politics, it would influence me, and I would often ask them about it and usually end up agreeing with.

Celebrity influence isn’t much different. The celebrities we follow are the ones we each admire, relate to and respect, so when they share opinion on a political matter being influenced by it isn’t a bad thing. In the case of Stormzy, it should serve as a good thing for most. His rap at the Brits reminded many people that Grenfell had been ignored by parliament. It also pointed out the hypocrisy of the Daily Mail and politicians.

Due to celebrity culture dumbing down images of celebrities, many dismiss their opinions and view those that follow them as sheep who are incapable of making their own opinions, but many speak out about politics and social issues. As celebrities are a huge part of our society, it is important that they talk about politics and influence the conversation.

When there are news outlets and social media accounts dedicated to celebrity news, as soon as a celebrity speaks about politics, they bring the conversation about politics to these outlets. This involves those who would usually avoid or not understand politics, particularly young people or those disengaged by the political system.

It is also important to consider that the politicians that are in power (in any party) are not very diverse. When Stormzy spoke up during the Brits, he made an important point about the racially charged hypocrisy that black people face, something that many would not consider or see the depth of. Many celebrities use their platform to raise awareness of these issues, and can be more relatable to fans because of this, and in turn their fans become aware of the issue and can speak out about it themselves.

One may argue that by being influenced by celebrities we are blinded by their opinion and follow it without thinking. For very young people this may be the case, but for those engaging in politics through a celebrity, it is more likely that they can make an assessment as to whether they agree and that’s their opinion. Furthermore, I would argue that someone being influenced by a celebrity and holding a political opinion when they would not usually be, is better than that person ignoring politics. A political opinion and the reasoning behind it will ring true with one’s morals and make sense to them, so even if a fan were following a celebrity blindly it is unlikely that they would follow their opinions unless they did agree.

Really, the influences of celebrities in politics isn’t much different from anyone else influencing a political opinion. Celebrities come in all forms, whether it’s sports personalities, comedians, journalists or musicians. Anyone can talk about politics, and it takes a degree of understanding to be able to form a political opinion and go on to talk about it, so any celebrity who can form an opinion they believe in should use their position to inspire and influence others.