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With the likes of Russell Brand and Eddie Izzard being increasingly seen in political spheres, should celebrities be endorsed to promote political engagement? Katherine Hardiman and Katie Wilson look into celebrity political engagement from each side of the argument.
AGAINST: KATHERINE HARDIMAN
Celebrities hold the keys to public attention. They have loyal and trusting fans that are strongly influenced by what they wear, do and believe in. Everyone has the right to his or her own opinions and beliefs, but when potentially millions of people will sign up to anything you say, should you weigh in on country-changing matters like elections or government policies? I’m not saying that celebrities aren’t intelligent; they often speak out about important causes that completely deserve the attention they get. But when it comes to who runs a country, celebrities shouldn’t be relied upon for political guidance because they can’t know what actions could realistically improve a nation or completely destroy it.
With that said, some politicians do use celebrities to promote their party. This isn’t a terrible marketing strategy as people would much rather listen to their favourite TV actor than some random person in a suit. This year, the Labour party have signed David Tennant and Martin Freeman on for their party political broadcasts, promoting Labour to millions. But shouldn’t party leaders, the people actually wanting to run the country, do the promotional work themselves? Isn’t it stingy to use celebrities as political vessels to rack up votes? People should vote for a party they trust in wholeheartedly, not just whichever one Dr Watson says is the best.
Certain celebrities preach their political agendas to the public, but they aren’t all the best role models.
Russell Brand, for instance, is known for controversy and demanding a political ‘revolution’ has become one of his calling cards. People don’t take him seriously, but in some interviews anybody could be convinced that underneath all the past addiction and eccentricity he has some kind of point. If enough people started agreeing with Brand and seriously start questioning the government system, we’d be in trouble. Words are powerful weapons but in order for any real progress, you have to know all the variables involved. You need to be a politician, not some wild-haired guy who’s had tea at Downing Street once so thinks that makes him politically informed.
Other celebrities are more hands on. Eddie Izzard has voiced his interest in being Mayor of London and this year Al Murray is standing against Nigel Farage in protest to UKIP… as his on-stage pub landlord persona. Yes, apparently that’s allowed. Izzard endorses equality and has the character believable of a leader, but what political knowledge does he really have? Next to none. Who wants somebody who hasn’t the first clue about politics in government?
Al Murray, putting both middle fingers up to UKIP, seeks to prove even a fictional person could win more votes than Farage. The wider message here is that literally anybody (even imaginary people) could run for parliament. How does that affect the public views on candidates? How can you know that any of them really have a clue? By placing doubt in the minds of the public, Murray only degrades the importance of voting and politics as a whole. Celebrities only make the grey areas of politics greyer and so can only serve to have a negative impact on the political system.
FOR: KATIE WILSON
I am of the belief that no publicity is bad publicity. Any kind of celebrity endorsement will engage some people, whether it be to agree or disagree with that person: some people are more likely to listen to the well- known voices of celebrities, even to just get them thinking about politics. Having seen Jo Brand on a Labour Party Broadcast, I was rather impressed that the party themselves had actually acquired such a big name to help them out- even better when she says she used to be a nurse and is talking about the NHS and wanting to keep it in public hands. Be this on an autocue or not, these are the kinds of people that connect with a different audience to those (what can be) boring, more straight- talking politicians…notice though, how my three examples are all comedians (intriguing); here are two more:
Russell Brand: A famous name, a comedian, an actor and generally famous as Katy Perry’s ex-husband, Russell Brand can connect with a completely unique and diverse audience. Brand has recently been seen as an activist and campaigner, actively sharing his anti- capitalist, hence radically left- wing views. With over 9 million followers on Twitter, Russell Brand has a rather large platform, and his use of social media does not stop there. His accounts are used to promote his YouTube videos- a series of videos aiming to be amusing and thought- provoking. “The Trews” series doesn’t focus simply on politics, covering a wide range of topics, varying from homophobia to the apocalypse.
Eddie Izzard: Quite well known as a celebrity Labour supporter, comedian Eddie Izzard can be seen as the face of celebrities engaging in politics- because admit it, not many openly engage. Although Izzard may not be as close to our generation as Brand, seeing someone familiar taking the time to follow campaigns and actively commit to supporting what they believe in is encouraging, no matter how old you are. Although not an active speaker on politics, Izzard’s political engagement acts in a different way to Brand’s- he is a more established supporter, and is himself interested in a career in politics- announcing in 2011 that he may run for Mayor, MEP or an MP in 2020. Having recently been spotted at various political events in the crowds, his interest is clearly genuine. His image is intriguing and presents something diverse, especially for a usually elitist, generic political demographic. Izzard is famous for his heeled shoes and wonderful nails, proving that diversity in politics is indeed welcomed, despite what some onlookers may think.
How can these celebs engage us?
Personally, I am convinced that the likes of Russell Brand can only have a positive impact upon the engagement of politics- for the younger generations especially. Izzard on the other hand, isn’t so much actively seeking to promote thoughts in politics, but is showing that engagement at any level is possible. His active interest is both intriguing and promotes thoughts about politics and his possible personal future in a political career. Not everyone can be politically engaged by the likes of political columns in newspapers or highfaluting speeches by political candidates. Brand is young, fun and ultimately more down to earth than the politics and other issues he discusses. He is a passionate speaker- and ultimately, someone with an accent not too posh to understand. As a celebrity, he is using his position in the public eye to spread some very thought- provoking ideas, making people interested in something that is actually relevant. Usually, we see the likes of pop stars and models presenting us with unrealistic images of what we should look like, showing us what kind of life we should be leading- which is utterly impossible and especially what we should be wearing. Brand does none of this. Himself, having a rather controversial past, shows what it is like to be someone with views, ideas and ultimately someone who is prepared to speak out.
Airing our views is what the election is all about. Education is what comes before this. In this huge five week lead up to voting day, we’re all being totally bombarded with facts, promises, pledges and manifestos, all promising to improve the country in their own way. Actually taking the time to consider the options is what really matters, and it is the likes of Brand; recently voted the fourth most influential thinker in the world by Prospect, who is showing that these matters really are worth thinking about.