Entertainment

Stars Are Just Like Us: They Know Nothing About Politics

As Kanye West reminds us, being famous isn't the same as knowing what you're talking about.
May 2, 2018, 10:05pm

Welcome to Evesplaining, politics writer Eve Peyser's column about why everyone else is wrong and she's right.

Kanye West has made it abundantly clear that he knows nothing about politics. In 2009, he told Reuters, “I am a proud non-reader of books. I like to get information from doing stuff like actually talking to people and living real life.”

Kanye has been living the shit out of real life as of late, introducing “new ideas” and “free thoughts” at a bewildering pace. He’s praised right-wing figures, gotten a Twitter shoutout from Donald Trump, and become a kind of conservative icon. The low point probably came in a bizarre appearance on TMZ Live on Tuesday where Kanye said, "When you hear about slavery for 400 years. For 400 years? That sounds like a choice.” Luckily, he was set straight by TMZ’s Van Lathan, who told him , ”Frankly, I'm disappointed, I'm appalled and, brother, I am unbelievably hurt by the fact that you have morphed into something, to me, that's not real.”

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Kanye's recent antics, in one sense, can be boiled down to typical Kanye antics. But his comments have understandably riled up a lot of people. The New Republic’s Jeet Heer wrote on Twitter, “This is hurtful… It's handing racists a weapon they can & will use against other Blacks, who aren't insulated by wealth & status the way Kanye is. Is it time to give up on Kanye?”

It is absolutely time to give up on Kanye—as a political commentator. In fact, it’s about time we stopped placing inherent value in the political opinions of famous people who know jack shit about fuck-all.

Celebrities have always wielded political clout—just ask Ronald Reagan or Arnold Schwarzenegger. Politics makes sense as a second career move for movie stars and their ilk. It allows them to have a second, slightly more dignified second act, and running for office utilizes a set of skills most celebs have, like smiling in front of cameras and not accidentally saying anything racist.

And a celeb’s fame shouldn’t disqualify them from running for office. Cynthia Nixon is running for governor of New York on a solidly progressive platform, calling for marijuana legalization and ending corruption in Albany. If you agree with her politics, it would foolish to discount her because of her stardom; at the same time, it’d be a mistake to vote for her solely due to your affinity for Sex and the City.



When celebrities get politics right, there’s no harm in applauding their efforts—but in the Trump era, when many a scared liberal has transformed overnight into a political activist, it’s important to refrain from elevating some rando famous’s two cents on the political controversy of the day. Case in point: The “about” page of the Palmer Report, a compilation of nonsense liberal conspiracy theories, thanks Debra Messing, Mark Ruffalo, Patricia Arquette, Rosie O’Donnell, and other Hollywood stars for sharing links to the website. Messing has found herself at the helm of Twitter’s celebrity resistance warrior community for tweeting alarmist political messages like, “We are going to war. Trump wants to play general and we are going watch our country’s security & place in the World be destroyed.”

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Should we scold celebrities like Messing for her fearmongering? Maybe, but it would be more productive to stop valuing Messing’s political ideas more than the ramblings of any other resistance warrior.

Celebrity ignorance is also on display nearly every time a male actor is asked about sexual assault. When Matt Damon was asked by ABC News about the #MeToo movement in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein exposés, he said, “There’s a difference between, you know, patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation, right? Both of those behaviors need to be confronted and eradicated without question, but they shouldn’t be conflated, right?” The backlash was swift, and Damon apologized, but it made me wonder why anyone gave a shit what Matt Damon had to say.

Or, to quote Dave Chappelle (who himself has some bad opinions), “Who gives a fuck what Ja Rule thinks?”

I’m not here to bury celebrity culture. I can’t, because it’s already buried all of us. Stars occupy a demigod-like status in our cultural consciousness: We read about their personal lives in the tabloids, watch them on a thousand different screens, and can’t help but hang on every comment they make. The pop culture and art you consume is inherently political; it unavoidably shapes your worldview. So when the people who create that culture stand up and express their views, it’s powerful: When the Dixie Chicks spoke out against the Iraq War in 2003, their message of peace was received with such fiery vitriol that their music was taken off airwaves. In 2005, the left celebrated when Kanye said, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In 2011, Hank Williams II got shitcanned from Monday Night Football because he compared Barack Obama to Hitler. (Now he’s back. Oh well.)

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So how do we, as a culture, grapple with the reality that sometimes celebrity have good opinions about politics, while other times they have bad ones? A good start would be not losing our shit every time a celebrity comments on politics. The more outrage and praise Kanye elicits every time he tweets about politics, the more legitimacy he earns. Whether you agree with a given celebrity or not, remember that they don’t know more than anyone. Stars, they really are just like us—they mostly experience politics as a set of emotional impulses and half-formed thoughts.

“I don’t have all the answers that a celebrity’s supposed to have but I can tell you that when [Trump] was running I felt something,” Kanye said in an interview with Charlamagne Tha God he posted on Tuesday. “It’s like the fact that he won…proved that anything is possible in America… Remember when I said I was gonna run for president? I had people that was close to me, friends of mine, making jokes, making memes, talking shit. Now it’s like, ‘Oh its proven that that could have happened.’”

Kanye’s not wrong—but if Trump proves that anything is possible, that’s terrifying. And let’s remember that Trump is above all a celebrity who leveraged his fame to defeat a host of unquestionably more qualified politicians. It’s not so much an ideology as a cult of personality. That’s fine if you’re stanning for Chrissy Teigen or Serena Williams—two of my personal faves—but dangerous when your instincts as a fan are guiding your votes.

With Trump in the White House and Hollywood becoming increasingly politicized, we are reaching a point where we expect our cultural idols to be political sages, and vice versa. This is a bad impulse—not only because many celebrities are politically ignorant, but because we shouldn’t idolize politicians and pundits to begin with. That might be an obvious point, but if we had that lesson learned already, Trump wouldn’t be president.

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