Whether or not their message is effective, discomfiting or timely, every American has the right to voice their thoughts.
By Kristian Porter, Northern Kentucky University
In her speech last month at the Golden Globe Awards, Meryl Streep won much more than just her Cecille B. DeMille award; she won the attention of the entire nation, and she used it as an opportunity to speak out against President Trump.
“There was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart,” Streep said, referring to the video that showed Donald Trump making fun of a disabled reporter during his campaign. Leaving the audience with a powerful message, she said, “Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”
The audience erupted in applause, but there was backlash from viewers at home who believed that award shows weren’t an appropriate place to discuss politics.
A similar situation happened during the Screen Actors Guild Awards, when Ashton Kutcher opened the show by speaking out against the new immigration ban. “Everyone in airports that belong in my America,” he said, “You are a part of the fabric of who we are, and we love you, and we welcome you.”
The rest of the awards ceremony featured speeches from several actors using the time of their speeches to criticize the president’s new policies. “Stranger Things” actor David K Harbour encouraged the punching of Nazis, and “Big Bang Theory” actor, Simon Helberg held a “refugees welcome” sign while posing on the Red Carpet with his wife, Jocelyn Towne, who had “let them in” written across her chest.
Again, these acts of defiance were met with anger and criticism. Twitter was filled with antagonistic messages for the celebrities, saying they should just “stick to acting” and keep the politics out of the public’s entertainment.
Every award show, concert or public event is now preceded by a bombardment of “I hope this doesn’t go political” statements, most recently seen before Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl performance, where many assumed she’d use the time to speak out against Trump.
But, in such a stressful political climate, shouldn’t it be encouraged now, more than ever, for all American citizens, even celebrities, to actively participate in the democratic process? What makes them any different?
1. Freedom of Speech
The same amendment that allowed you to log on to Twitter and use your 140-character limit to tell Meryl Streep that she was abusing her platform gives her the right to speak out against President Trump.
Celebrities, just like every other person, hold opinions—as surprising as that may be. Just like you, they feel the need to react to the world around them, and, like you, they tell other people their thoughts in the hopes that their message will resonate with someone and change will happen or, at the very least, they will feel heard and understood. Thanks to freedom of speech, everyone has the right to shout what they think as loudly and as proudly as they like.
The real issue isn’t the expression of opinions; it’s the fact that you don’t agree with them.
You have to remember that the First Amendment is a two-way street. If you expect your voice to be heard, understand that it can’t silence the person next to you, regardless of whether or not you agree with their sentiments.
2. Not Quitting Their Day Job
A popular retort that I just can’t understand is the insinuation that celebrities should “stick to their job” instead of discussing politics. As someone who is employed, I can attest to the fact that my job does not make up my entire identity, and it certainly does not affect my ability to take a stance on political issues.
The problem is that many people can’t seem to separate the actor from the parts they play.
Acting is a career, just like any other, and those who have chosen that career path are human beings, not pawns for entertainment. Because they are in the public eye, there are some that treat famous people as if they can be controlled, as if their only purpose is to do what the viewers want from them.
Just as you temporarily left your job to exercise your right to post on social media, they can leave the office and speak out against injustice.
3. Using Their Platform
“But an award show is not the place for politics,” I can already hear someone shouting. Then what exactly is the place for politics?
Unlike average citizens, celebrities have a large audience that is always listening. They have the privilege of being able to express their opinions to millions of people, and have the power to influence and make real change.
It seems to me that, on stage in front of a huge audience (on top of millions of viewers watching from home), with a microphone in front of you and a few minutes designated specifically for you to make a speech is the perfect place to use your platform and let your voice be heard.
4. Politics Affect Them, Too
One of the main criticisms against stars being politically active is that they are somehow not qualified enough. They are too far removed from the “real world,” so they can’t be included in making decisions for the common people.
But what makes you, stranger behind the computer screen, more qualified to hold a political opinion than an actress? What exactly does it take to be “qualified?”
As an American, it is your duty to stay informed on what is going on in your country. If you do that, you are more than qualified to discuss politics (but remember, the beauty of free speech is you don’t have to be qualified).
While it’s true that the rich and famous don’t experience all of the issues that affect the lower middle class, they are still affected by what is happening. They are also on this ship and are just trying to see that it doesn’t sink. Issues like climate change and civil rights are blind to bank accounts, and all it takes is a little empathy to help lift up the voices of your fellow man.
And if you can’t understand how a celebrity could possibly understand the needs of the American people, I would like to know why you elected one to run the country.