[Insert Celebrity Name Here] is Not an Activist: capitalizing on activi$m really $ucks

by Anna Godek

Art by Aurora Rojer

The question of celebrity culture and what role it should play in our lives is highly debated. Part of the reason that celebrities hold sway in our culture is that many of them are also artists whose work has the power to affect our lives and be meaningful. And art is certainly worth analyzing and discussing. However, we should also consider what exactly it is we are analyzing and whether what we are looking at really has enough depth to warrant analysis. And when it comes to scrutinizing celebrities’ political opinions or thoughts on feminism, your time is better spent elsewhere. Celebrities are not adequate political or feminist role models because everything they do is well-calculated to bring them more popularity and publicity. They don’t need to read theory to rake in the big bucks, so they won’t.

A simple Google search of “Taylor Swift and feminism” yields literally hundreds of thousands of results decrying Taylor’s failures as a feminist. She’s not intersectional, she’s opportunistic, she slut shames—the Daily Beast calls her “spineless.” My gut reaction? No shit. Expecting Taylor Swift, who is famous for writing and performing pop songs, to articulate flawless feminist theory is like expecting your linguistics professor to give a lecture on chemical engineering. The linguistics professor is undoubtedly an intelligent person, but that doesn’t mean you should trust what they have to say about chemical engineering. Similarly, celebrities may be great singers, actors, athletes, etc., but that doesn’t mean they have brilliant analytical minds or know anything about feminism, politics, or activism.

While it’s true that anyone, including celebrities, can have political opinions or be a feminist (and indeed we all should be), this doesn’t mean we should listen to them. There are people who devote their entire lives to these issues and have some real insight to share. And yet, these Swift-dissecting articles share a tone of betrayal and even shock—how could she, how dare she not get this right? If only these writers would spend some time analyzing the work of people like Judith Butler, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, or Simone de Beauvoir, to name a few, they would find themselves less frustrated and with much more substance to work with. Or, if they’re going to keep dissecting Swift, they should stop being surprised when she falls short. Basically, if Taylor Swift or any other celebrity keeps disappointing you when it comes to feminism or activism, it might be best to start ignoring them and looking to other, more satisfying sources.

In October 2015, Jennifer Lawrence made headlines for going public with her revelation that she didn’t make as much money as her male costars. Her statement was, at least initially, taken as part of the great fight for wage equality. But Hollywood actresses like Lawrence are some of the most privileged and wealthy women in the world, and acting like their effort to make even more money has anything to do with less privileged or working class women’s struggles for equality is misguided. Yes, technically, Lawrence faces wage inequality and she has a personal right to equal pay, but feminism shouldn’t focus on whether or not an already incredibly wealthy actress makes a few more million dollars, nor should it heap praise on her like she’s a hero. Instead, we should focus on the issues that working and lower-class women face in the workplace. Any kind of activism or feminism that concentrates on the ultra-rich has seriously lost its way.

Next time a celebrity attaches their face or presence to some cause or charity, remember the people who are truly disadvantaged, as well as the many unknown people who worked and volunteered on a daily basis to make that issue prominent enough that an A-lister would take some time out of their day for it. Those people don’t get the love or praise that celebrities do, nor do they have the immense wealth that makes it easy to take time out of their lives for a cause.

Furthermore, it’s always good to be skeptical of the genuineness of anything celebrities say or do. First and foremost, they are profit-driven products and will do whatever it takes to be popular and profitable. Whether it’s Ashton Kutcher making speeches about human trafficking, J-Law repping for wage equality, or another star making the obligatory anti-Trump statement, remember everything is a calculated PR move, which probably means that these celebrities should not be looked to as activist leaders.

Celebrities respond to what makes them popular, and we are the ones driving the demand, which means it’s up to everyone to decide how much emphasis our society puts on celebrities’ political opinions. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to discuss and think about what celebrities say or do, but it becomes a detrimental distraction from other issues when it receives a disproportionate amount of our attention.

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