Celebrity in politics

Antonio_de_la_Rúa,_Barack_Obama,_&_Shakira_(2009-02-02)Should celebrities get involved with politics? This is a question that greatly annoys celebrities. Surely, as citizens, they are as entitled to have political opinions as anyone else?

As entitled, sure. But they are also no more entitled to have their views taken seriously. Should they, in the words of Laura Ingraham, “shut up and sing”?

California, obviously, has produced more celebrity politicians than other states. Both Ronald Reagan and Arnold Sc

hwarzenegger served as governor and Sonny Bono as a mayor and congressman. Clint Eastwood was Mayor of Carmel. But, as in other fields, there are right and wrong ways of going about these things. 

P!nk is one of the most successful singer-songwriters of her generation. To her fans, everything she does is intere

sting, including, probably, what she has for breakfast. It seems obvious to her, therefore, that if she writes a letter to the president telling him what he should do about animal welfare, then the president should take this seriously. To the president, however, this is just another moderately well-informed opinion among the 300 million or so Americans. Since she is famous, she probably gets something other than a form reply. But the president, naturally, sees no reason to simply adopt her agenda.

Reagan, by contrast, worked for years with GE, traveling the US, talking about business and politics to the company’s employees. Schwarzenegger was a huge fundraiser for the Republican Party and served on the President’s Advisory Council on Physical Fitness. As with other Americans, celebrities have to earn their place at the top table. This is not a liberal vs conservative thing, by the way. Robert Redford and

Barbra Streisand stand out to this columnist as being two liberals who have invested enough time in their activism to be taken seriously. Redford’s name has been mentioned in connection with the US Senate, by the way, though with both California’s senate seats already held by the Democrats, his advancing years may rule him out.

This columnist first became aware of the Colombian singer-songwriter, Shakira, in 2009, when The Economist published its forward looking annual publication, The World in 2010. Her contribution was a thoughtful commentary on education in Colombia. She raises huge sums internationally to support education in the rural and mountainous areas of her native country. She is also an activist for human rights and, when other celebrities accepted invitations to appear at a birthday party for Ramzan Kadyrov, the brutal dictator of Chechnya, Shakira declined. 

Shakira knows how to campaign as well as engage in activism. She has an Obama-like feel for social media. She has twice as many followers on Twitter as Beyoncé. On Facebook it is closer, but Shakira still wins 68 million to 49 million. The main difference, however, is that Beyoncé’s social media feeds are in broadcast mode. She makes announcements to her fans. Shakira engages. She converses, retweets, and answers questions – mostly in English and Spanish, though she also speaks Portuguese fluently, along with some Italian, Arabic and Catalan. Her fame is magnified by her marriage to Gerard Piqué, a Spanish soccer star, and one of the most high profile athletes in the world, especially in Europe and South America.

Shakira may never enter politics. Certainly being president – or even education or foreign minister – of Colombia, would be a demanding and dangerous job. But don’t be surprised if she does.

Quentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at brandjacknews.com




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