The rich and famous who hawk political views on issues that affect Americans living in fly-over country have run their celebrity privilege in the ground.
These one-percenters include Silicon Valley, social media, and dot.com billionaires; movie and TV stars; pop singers and musicians; professional athletes; news channel talking heads; late night network show hosts; corporate big-wigs; and entertainment industry VIPs in New York City and Los Angeles.
By virtue of their celebrity, they have the ability to influence elections and throw monkey wrenches into our democracy. But we’ve been more worried about Vladimir Putin and the Russians.
Celebrities have every right to their opinions, but no more or less than you or I. The worm turns on the fact that whatever they spout concerning politics, elected leaders, issues and elections is picked up by sympathetic mass media and broadcasted, printed, emailed, texted and tweeted ad infinitum as part of the national “nausea news” cycle.
Technology and entertainment fame have given them influence far beyond what is sensible and acceptable. I don’t think the framers of the U.S Constitution envisioned an estate of democracy called “Celebrity.”
The obvious negative potential of such a powerful realm is daunting. In league with the Fourth Estate (the press) and through modern mass communication venues, celebrities can criticize, lampoon, and condemn the other three branches into impotence or fawning acceptance of their views, while excoriating politicians and candidates who don’t agree and elevating those who do.
On the basis of adherence to liberal or conservative platforms influenced by the far wings of both major parties, we now suffer from a radically polarized government and electorate. Combine this with the impact of political action committees, non-profit special interest groups (and their fund-raising prowess), the shocking cost of running for office, “dark money” funneled into campaigns, foreign involvement, attack ads, lack of objectivity by media outlets, militant activism and now the celebs weighing in on everything from immigration and gun control to health care – well, maybe you can see why this old newspaperman is disgusted.
There was a time when federal communications law required not only “equal time” for political candidates on broadcast stations, but “fairness” in the presentation and discussion of controversial matters of public interest. Back then, Academy Awards presentations, late-night talk television programs and pro football games weren’t bully pulpits used by politically-motivated celebrities to influence public opinion.
On any weeknight after the 10 o’clock news, the network talk shows hosted by the likes of Steven Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, and Jimmy Fallon thrive on political activism. In fact, their ratings improve when they use their celebrity status to bludgeon (sometimes under the guise of comedy or sometimes in direct support of ideology) ideas and individuals with whom they disagree.
And they mostly agree with liberal positions, presenting their opinions – a mash-up of satire and politics – with a left-handed spin. There’s nothing wrong with liberal ideas; I hold several myself on various subjects. But my background is more conservative, and this is where I land on many of the current social issues, in addition to our nation’s fiduciary measures and foreign policy.
Confession is needed at this point: I was originally a Democrat, as was my late wife. In fact, she was what we in the South referred to as a “yellow dog Democrat.” My father belonged to a labor union almost all of his adult working life; my father-in-law was an attorney who leaned Democrat on the majority of issues.
But we were middle-of-the-roaders, interested in reconciliation and compromise in order to solve problems and achieve progress. Extreme views, espoused by the national parties over the past decade to placate their radical wings, thrust us and millions like us away.
I have moderate friends that are still registered Democrats who reject far-left groups and their stated extremist goals. Like me, they’ve witnessed a polarization in politics that makes zealots willing to fall on their swords and wreck the nation, rather than agreeing to disagree in order to pursue – together – fair and sensible solutions.
What the celebrities have accomplished, however, is to diminish the effectiveness of good faith efforts by moderate Democrats and Republicans to restore equilibrium and find realistic solutions for the good of the nation.
Let me add that a lengthy roster of elected U.S. House and Senate members consider themselves to be celebrities first and lawmakers later. You’re probably familiar with their tanned faces, perfect coifs and toothy smiles from press conferences and the Sunday morning political TV show circuit. After all, in order to aspire to become U.S. president, it really helps to become a celebrity. Ask Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.
Two other points: Many of the celebrities I’ve met over the past 40 years were not impressive thinkers. They were great when standing in front of cameras and reciting lines, but they had to defer to paid PR experts when the questions started coming fast and furious, with increasing degrees of complexity.
Nor have celebrities impressed lately with their explanation of the environment that allowed sexual harassment and sexual predation to become endemic in Hollywood, behind the scenes at TV networks and in sports. It would seem they need to get their own houses in order before they preach what’s best for middle America.
Late night host Jimmy Kimmel’s recently stated that “almost every talk show host is a liberal and that’s because it requires a level of intelligence.” What a bald and brazen example of hubris he displayed, another reason to be uneasy about the political influence of celebrities.
The inference, of course, is that conservatives and moderates aren’t intelligent enough to do his job. In effect, he also proclaimed that most Americans are not as smart as a liberal comedian whose audience is populated by like-minded sycophants apparently in need of IQ reassurance.
Let’s be frank. Most fly-over folks are abed or sound asleep when Kimmel and his ilk do their monologues. The late-night shows claim a small piece of the national TV market because of the time slots in which they appear. Their heavy-handed use of celebrity for the liberal cause buoys viewer numbers but alienates millions.
Even Kimmel’s recent booking of porn star Stormy Daniels to quiz her on allegations of a sexual liaison with President Trump did not scratch what the legendary Johnny Carson did during his career as a late-night TV host. Carson pulled in 6-9 million viewers a night with a show that steered clear of politics and celebrity opinion.
None of the current crop of late-night hosts claim those numbers, despite being more intelligent than the rest of us.