Popular culture has become an integral part of politics. For many voters, especially young people, it is the only exposure to democracy that they have. A Tweet from a celebrity or a 5-minute interview on morning TV should not be underestimated in today’s society.
But what does this mean? Celebrities hardly ever represent any sort of political ideology. Importantly, they also rarely admit to supporting conservative views, either here or in countries like the USA. Does popular culture therefore distort the realities that we face in today’s political arena?
Politics comes in waves. Right now, conservatism is riding a high tide even more radically than in the ’80s. Immigration dominates the agenda, trade has turned inward, and cuts to services are rife.
Conservatism is prospering and there is no real end in sight.
Popular culture however, being the ever-growing mass of celebrities, stars and ‘social influencers’ would lead us to believe otherwise. In present-day pop culture, supporters of left-wing politics hugely outweigh those who back the right.
The question would then be, does it matter?
Actually, it is perhaps more important than you would presume. A personality vacuum in leadership, especially here in the UK, means celebrity involvement in politics can be hugely influential. 400,000 viewers watched rapper JME’s interview with Jeremy Corbyn (on YouTube alone) in the 2017 election campaign, and nearly five million people watched Stormzy call out Theresa May during his headline slot at the Brit Awards.
Other examples in the modern music industry are rife. You have singers like Paloma Faith bringing out radical lefty Owen Jones at her gigs. Then there’s Lily Allen proclaiming to understand the plight of the common man by constantly bashing the Tories. And Clean Bandit were playing at Corbyn’s Labour Live with new figures like Rag ’n’ Bone Man all coming out for the left.
The same can be said for other influential figures in the media — Russell Brand, Ross Kemp, Eddie Izzard, Ricky Gervais, Steve Coogan and James Corden to name a few.
I am not saying this representation of liberal politics in pop culture is wrong, it just simply isn’t honest. There is no balance in the popular arena, and it stops many from seeing two sides of the debate.
When you look at the flip side, who do we have sensibly putting forward conservative views? Piers Morgan loves knocking down social crusaders but is more intent on grabbing the headlines than actually articulating a debate. He also denies that he votes Conservative himself, nor would he vote for Trump in the US.
Made In Chelsea’s Georgia ‘Toff’ Toffolo is another prominent media conservative. Her support for the Tories was clear and forthright, and she has defended the political right on numerous occasions. Despite that, her involvement since capturing the nation’s hearts on I’m A Celebrity has been few and far between.
You then of course have the ‘shock factor’ far-right in the media, with Katie Hopkins being a prominent example. Although she stoked debate for entertaining TV, people like her represent mainstream conservatism about as much as John McDonnell. Thankfully, even the headline-hungry press have now abandoned her.
It is relatively similar in the States.
Pop culture icon after pop culture icon came out in support for Clinton. Celebrity backers of Trump were as rare as they come.
Pop culture’s anti-Trump rhetoric was one of the main platforms that carried him to the Oval Office. With every appearance, from Katy Perry at the DNC, to Beyonce and Jay-Z’s last-minute pledge to Hillary, Trump was able to paint the Democrats as a party who did not understand the real, forgotten, America. With every Clinton endorsement from wealthy A-Listers, Trump’s foundations were strengthened.
It has carried on since the election. Away from cable networks like Fox News, who is sensibly voicing the concerns of Trump’s base?
Celebrities such as Meghan McCain, daughter of Senator John McCain and commentator on ABC’s The View, does her best. For those who haven’t seen the show, imagine the presenters of ITV’s Loose Women decided to stop talking about bowel movements and focussed on important issues. As a country girl, McCain tries to tell the rest of the panel, packed with liberals like Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar, just what clinched the victory for Trump in true-red states.
Her efforts are often rebuffed by sound-byte statements from the rest of the panel, met with rapturous applause from the audience. She has pro-life, pro-NRA views that I do not believe in, but her understanding should not be ignored.
You then, in a similar way as we had Katie Hopkins, have radical commentators like Ann Coulter or Tomi Lahren in the US. But again, they tend to stick to cable networks or brief interviews on other talk shows.
The representation of the political spectrum in popular culture is painfully imbalanced.
While this might not necessarily be an overly negative thing, it simply is not reality. It is not a representation of a country’s views, and distorts the full picture because it ignores the appeal of conservative ideas.
So what exactly can be done?
Celebrities, ‘social influencers’ and stars are accustomed to scrutiny. They know the risk of falling popularity if they challenge the status quo. Perhaps we need a new commentator to start sensibly promoting conservatism here in the UK, in a way attempted by McCain in the USA.