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|Written by Ayat Ahmed|
|Thursday, 28 February 2008 19:00|
A phenomenon that has been spreading quickly over the past decade is the influence that celebrities and pop culture idols have in politics and elections. Over the past few years, the number of celebrities who advertise to encourage voting and advocate for certain parties has increased dramatically, especially in the United States. There are many contesting opinions about whether it is morally right for celebrities to be influencing politics and elections. Many believe that celebrities are taking advantage of their positions and are false prophets to the cause. Others have the opinion that any advertisement is good if it will raise awareness on issues.
One of the pop culture icons whose voice has been very prominent in recent elections is Sean Diddy Combs, or P. Diddy. P. Diddy has attempted to increase youth voting in the US by starting a group called Citizen Change. Citizen Change, founded in 2004, is a political service group who aims to "hip young people to the hustle of politics by educating them about the power of their vote." One method used by this group to increase voting statistics in the 2004 election was the "Vote or Die" campaign. Some opposed this slogan, stating that it clearly presented a false choice. Others accused the slogan of being unnecessarily violent in tone. In spite of the prevalence and popularity of the "Vote or Die" campaign in 2004, Citizen Change has been inactive since 2006.
Another group that began using celebrities to garner attention is the group Rock the Vote. Founded in 1990, Rock the Vote raises awareness through music and other subcultures. This non-partisan, non-profit organization states that its aim is to "build the political clout and engagement of young people in order to achieve progressive change in our country [the US]." Some initiatives that have been taken by Rock the Vote include web- based voters' registration, and organizing a forum for Democratic presidential candidates. One of their most well-known initiatives took place in 2004 when Rock the Vote launched a public service announcement featuring many prominent figures. Celebreities such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Benicio Del Toro and Justin Timberlake took part in the public service announcement, outlining the critical issues for the election and the importance of voting.
While groups attempt to maintain a non-partisan approach and simply wish to increase voter numbers, individuals have begun supporting or sponsoring one candidate or party over another. Where celebrities were once reticent about their political views and affiliations, they are now more vocal about whom they support in an attempt to convince their fans to adopt their views. This was exemplified in the current Presidential campaign, when Oprah Winfrey joined Barrack Obama on the campaign trail. Oprah had previously refrained from political endorsements, but changed her position during this election by giving speeches at a series of Obama rallies and holding a fundraiser at one of her estates to support his campaign.
There are many differing opinions on the growing trend of pop culture icons dabbling in politics. Those who support the interest celebrities are taking in politics believe that celebrities are helping to motivate people to vote. There is some statistical information that could be used to support this point of view. Surveys performed by the United States Census Bureau show voting rates in 2000 to be 54.7 per cent. This number fell to 42.3 per cent in the 2002 election, then increased to 58.3 per cent in the 2004 election, an election which saw a great deal of celebrity involvement. Critics of this trend accuse these celebrities of manipulating their positions in society and of being unqualified to adopt the role of political opinion leaders. Another line of critique is that such a focus on the election diverts attention from the issues and, as such, campaigns become nothing more than a popularity competition. Indeed, due to the influence they inherently have through their fame, celebrities owe it to society to be well informed, or to be quiet.
© 2008 Ayat Ahmed; licensee (Cult)ure Magazine.