High-profile artists should be able to freely express their political opinions
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In the weeks following Donald Trump’s victory for the presidency, the divide in America has been slowly growing to unprecedented levels. The tension that had been mounting in the nation in the months leading up to Trump’s win over Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton had seemingly come to a head when the results came in on Nov. 8. The political discourse in the country exploded into levels of vitriol and fervor that encapsulated every corner of America. Most recently, however, the stars of Hollywood have become the de facto leaders of this discussion, and in turn, put themselves at the center of it.
Controversy erupted after eight time Golden Globe Award winning actress Meryl Streep decided to focus her acceptance speech during the 74th Golden Globe Awards towards a denouncement of President Trump and his comments during the presidential race. Although there was no explicit mention of Trump’s name, it was heavily implied that the comments were aimed specifically towards Trump’s statements on Serge Kovaleski, a New York Times reporter who has a restrictive condition that affects his joints.
“It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back,” Streep said.
Critics blasted her comments as one-sided, elitist, and bombastic, including Trump himself, who called Streep “one of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood” and a “Hillary flunky who lost big.”
In addition, rapper Kanye West also drew criticism for his lengthy, 17-minute onstage speech during a concert in California in which he bombarded Clinton with his perspective on why Trump won the presidency.
“It’s a new world, Hillary Clinton, it’s a new world. Feelings matter. Because guess what? Everybody in Middle America felt a way and they showed you how they felt,” West said.
In addition, West commented on how African-Americans should “stop focusing on racism so much.”
Many fans were seen exiting the arena during the speech and many even asked for refunds at the box office out of disappointment. Many of West’s detractors also noted how his comments on the African-American community’s relationship to racism contradicted many of his previous statements on racism as well as his support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
With many of these entertainers’ comments making headlines and furthering the divide in the country, many have asked whether it is even beneficial that these high profile artists make comments on their political opinions. The truth is, however, that the commentary provided by these artists are essential, perhaps even close to necessary, to the formulation of political discussion in America, no matter their political bias.
It’s no secret that these entertainers and celebrities are more visible than the average activist or politician. While celebrities like Streep and West are household names across the country, a study ran by The Washington Post in 2014 found that barely half of Americans knew what party their representatives belonged to.
However, individuals such as Streep and West have a platform from which they are able to draw attention to current, hot-button issues that could affect those who are not even familiar with them. Artists with large audiences, such as a pop singer or teenage actor, have a presence that many politicians and activists do not have. When artists speak out on their political beliefs, it at least provides encouragement for the American populace to inform themselves on important issues.
Many have argued that high profile artists should not comment on issues because their comments could outweigh those of the general populace and appear uninformed. However, in this era of social media, these artists are more connected with the “common man” than ever. The fact that apps such as Twitter and Instagram lets users interact directly with others allows all voices to be heard on the same level. Usually when artists make political statements, their comments are met with a reaction that is just as forceful as theirs. Because of this, political dialogues are being opened up like never before, and exposure is key for these dialogues. So why not have the ones with millions of followers open them up?
There’s no denial that some of these comments could come across as crass and obnoxious, but the conversations they spark are important nonetheless. No one should be barred from joining in the political discourse based on visibility or celebrity.