Celebrities and advocacy: The perfect power couple


Ashu Ebot-Tabi, Reporter

Throughout the years, nothing like the ideas of fame and celebrity captured the American mind throughout the last 60 or so years. Viewed by a good contingent of the nation as an entirely “separate species of their own”, the American celebrity earns both global recognition and envy for all their work and its accompanying success. As a rule of thumb, however, the culture of this lifestyle frequently results in a decent amount of scrutiny for its negative effects. Substance abuse, mental health issues, and criminal activity all frequently result, a byproduct of the pressure of maintaining their status. Despite this, the notoriety that comes with fame also brings forth its fair share of boons, all of which can produce positive societal change.

The money that comes with fame certainly cannot hurt, with the top three highest earning celebrities (Taylor Swift, James Patterson, and the members of One Direction) in 2016 alone bringing in an average of $125 million: this would allow the famous to donate to needy charities. The status allows the celebrity to essentially gain or accomplish anything desired, and the legions of fans constantly showering them with affection and praise can and most likely will support any action they would take, for better or worse, and in our recent political climate, where advocacy sees tremendous growth among residents, it seems as if more and more celebrities realize the benefit of championing a cause.

Part in parcel to celebrity status includes the ability to connect to a wide audience: as a singer, that would comprise of listeners, viewers for actors, and fans for sports athletes. Take, for example, the 1985 charity single, We Are the World. The song grew out of the 1984 Ethiopian famine dilemma, and the need to raise money for an event deemed a crisis of “biblical” proportions at the time. With artists like Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, and even Dan Aykroyd performing, the song turned out a rousing success, raising over $10.8 million in its first four months, and capping off at $50 million a year later, and this success stems from the artists: most of the artists (including the three previously mentioned) peaked in terms of their fame, and their fan bases correspondingly maxed out in size. Undoubtedly, a fan of Billy Joel or Stevie Wonder would more than take up a chance to hear either artists sing alongside other 80’s icons; that idea then would compare to a Star Wars/Star Trek crossover today.

Beyond reaching a familiar audience, the famous can also shine a light on a touchy subject. Sexual harassment, for instance, long plagued Hollywood and the entertainment industry as a whole, with records dating the first instance of misconduct all the way back to 1921 with Fatty Arbuckle and Virginia Rappe; however, after the first wave of Weinstein accuser revealed their stories, media outlets nationwide reported on a reckoning nationwide wherein any past misdeed could come to light, now referred to as the Weinstein effect; names like Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, and Bill Cosby share tarnished reputations and ostracization by the public. The resulting #MeToo movement managed to bring this awareness to both the courts (through both the lawsuits against harassers and legislation passed after the fact) and foreign nations, as Parliament members in Britain resigned their positions due to scandals.

Even more important than raising money or awareness, these celebrities can evoke actual action. Pop singer Taylor Swift recently put out a post on social media encouraging her fans to head out and vote during the 2018 midterms. While the effort earned her criticism from more mainstream political figures, with one saying it would only impact the election if “13 year old girls” could vote, the post produced fruitful results: reportedly, over sixty thousand people registered themselves to vote in the upcoming midterms “in a single 24-hour period” after her post. Compare this number with that for the most recent presidential election (2016), where across both genders and all races, over 157 thousand people registered: not at all unimpressive to produce such high numbers in a less contentious and widespread poll. Even in cases where the law seems against the famous, their actions result in efforts for enacting change, like in the instance of the NFL national anthem protests led by Colin Kaepernick: in May, the owners of all NFL teams enacted a policy requiring players to stand during the anthem or wait in the locker rooms, all the while fining protestors. After the announcement, the policy earned scorn from fans and players alike, and eventually ended up suspended.

By no means do all celebrities have an obligation to use their platforms for advocacy: these people should do whatever they see fit, either for their careers or reputations, to maintain their fame. However, evidence shows how much good a celebrity can do by advocating for a cause. They can help the impoverished when conventional methods fail, bring light to issues too frequently untended or danced around, and energize everyday people and admirers alike to make a real change in the world—and that, just as much as a large salary and product sponsorship, should entice our celebrities.