Should celebrities stay out of politics?

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Speed read

What's happening: On Wednesday, actor Chris Evans responded to the passage of Alabama's restrictive new abortion bill with a tweet calling the legislation “absolutely unbelievable.” The tweet received more than 100,000 likes and prompted thousands of comments, many of them thanking Evans for speaking out on the issue. The singer P!nk, on the other hand, faced criticism from offended followers when she weighed in on the same issue on Instagram.

There is a long history of stars expressing their views on politics — and an equally long history of public backlash to their comments. The growth of social media and the divisiveness of the current political climate have ratcheted up celebrity activism to a new level.

Kim Kardashian has become a prominent voice for prison reform. Alyssa Milano is a regular presence in the abortion debate. Leonardo DiCaprio has been a champion of environmentalism. More than ever, celebrities are getting directly involved in political causes.

Why there's debate: The public is divided over whether celebrities should speak out on political issues, a recent poll indicates. Nearly a third of respondents said stars should stay out of politics entirely. And yet, stars like Taylor Swift have faced criticism from fans for attempting to stay out of the fray.

On the plus side, celebrity star power can put a spotlight on a particular cause and bring positive results. Celebrity-led advocacy campaigns can also draw in huge sums of charitable donations for a cause. Whether that notoriety factor can lead to enduring systemic change is an open question. In some cases, celebs have undermined their own efforts by speaking out on issues they may not fully understand, and they have been called inadequate representatives of the average American.

Even those who agree with the causes celebrities champion have concerns about whether their presence does more harm than good. Celebrity intervention can make an issue seem more superficial and solvable than it really is, they argue. Famous people, some say, also tend to steal the spotlight from activists who have been dedicated to an issue for years.


Celebrity intervention tends to treat the symptoms of a problem, not the root cause.

"[W]e ... need to beware the promises and publicity of celebrity activism, which sparks short-term enthusiasm but can make the hard, long work of undoing systemic injustice less visible and even more difficult. Activism of this kind too often focuses on a symptom, allowing the system to stay in place while media portrays isolated stories as 'proof' of change." — George Johnson, NBC News

Celebrities have every right to speak about what matters to them.

"The reason many of us tolerate celebrity engagement in policy is because we know that behind their public images celebrities are real people. They are fathers, employees and employers and, perhaps most importantly in this conversation, taxpaying American citizens. And it is these things that give them a right — and the freedom — to be in on this conversation." — Eugene Scott, Washington Post

Celebrities steal the spotlight from activists who are doing the real work.

"The cult of celebrity has proven itself once again of derailing the true work of everyday people fighting to survive. It’s high time that we begin to refocus our attention on their efforts, and not the red carpet draw of those awaiting a close-up for being adjacent to the activism." — Ernest Ownes, Daily Beast

Famous people have a duty to use their platform.

"It seems to me if you are enjoying the fruits of our democracy you have an obligation to speak out when you see that there is injustice going on in this country." — Joy Behar, The View

Fan expectations make it difficult to remain apolitical.

"It seems that now more than ever, the American public wants and demands that public figures declare their ethical, moral, and political beliefs." — Aaron Williams, Uproxx

Activism is primarily a branding exercise.

"Cynics point out that personal celebrity causes offer another outlet for self-promotion — talk shows, impassioned speeches, international forums. All tools to polish their own personal brands." — Amanda Cassidy, Image

Donald Trump changes the level of impact celebrities can have.

"For one thing, appeals to pathos from star power work on Trump. The president has long engaged in personal politics, and he's uniquely susceptible to being swayed by celebrity. This isn't necessarily a good thing, but it's a real one." — Tiana Lowe, Washington Examiner

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