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What Does It Mean Now That All Entertainment Is Politics?

Celebrities aren't replacements for politicians, but that doesn't mean they can't use their platforms to further progress.​

by Sarah MacDonald
Feb 27 2017, 6:02pm

This article originally appeared on Noisey Canada. 

Image by Devin Pacholik

During her performance at this year's Grammy Awards, Katy Perry donned a pristine white pantsuit—symbolic of both suffragettes and Hillary Clinton—with an armband that read "Persist" (a nod to Senator Elizabeth Warren.) Perry, an ardent supporter of Clinton, is compelled to speak up; to lend her voice in an already cacophonous echo chamber of arguments to and about President Trump. Those who thought we'd lay waste to the trash fire and vitriol prominent in 2016 were wrong. The friction is harsher this year; further stinging as tension grows because Trump's bigoted, racist, and stupid malice, which rather than a just thought, was shit he said all along the campaign trail. Politics and celebrity have run into one another in this vein before—lest we forget Ronald Reagan, former president, was first a film star and Arnold Schwarzenegger before he became Governor of California was… Arnold Schwarzenegger. Not that long ago, before he was a chump dressed up to look like a politician, Trump was a full-fledged celebrity; he was also a (bad) businessman, reality tv show host, sometimes "actor", a guy who did this at Wrestlemania, and was just a general entertainment hog of which he still is. He used to comfortably fit into the realm of celebrity that neutered him (sort of) because he couldn't really act on the things he was yelling about. With the ascension of Donald Trump to the highest political office in America, the separation between politics, entertainment and, most important, entertainer is completely nullified. Now your favourite performers, athletes, and celebrities can't avoid politics, and neither can you, and that isn't a bad thing. Celebrities shouldn't be replacements for politicians but that doesn't mean they can't use their platforms to further progress.

Politics informs all mediums of entertainment now, especially with Trump in power. From music to movies to television to sporting events, entertainment and politics have merged in a particularly distinct way than before. Some people expect our celebrities to function as actual politicos; to show up for us in the ways that traditional politicians have failed to do so by being a voice and giving a platform to for cause. That is the reason why Trump was elected president; he saw economic and racial anxieties he could exploit. The left employs similar tactics, although theirs are less ruthless with causes far more worthy like appearing at the Women's Marches around the world; the entertainers and musicians vocal at Standing Rock or against the Keystone XL pipeline; championing organizations like Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, who initially helped squash the Muslim ban.

At this year's Grammy's, A Tribe Called Quest—without Phife Dawg but with the addition of a fired up Busta Rhymes and Anderson.Paak—performed "We The People." Busta said: "I want to thank President Agent Orange for your unsuccessful attempt of the Muslim ban. When we come together, we the people, we the people, we the people, we the people." Part way through, Muslim people walked the aisles of the Staple Center before coming onstage to show the very political act of being a Muslim human in Trump's America. Politics of religion and race were visible; it put an actual face in front of American viewers who may have been in support of the ban, saying that these are people, not terrorists. It was an act of support by the ATCQ, by (hopefully) the many musicians and pop stars in the the audience; that while the federal level may find comfort in exclusion as policy, that isn't necessarily a universal point of view.

During Super Bowl LI, the New England Patriots beat the Atlanta Falcons in a historic comeback. But it was also an important game because politics are even apparent in sports. The controversy began during a press conference in the Patriots locker room where football legend Tom Brady was overshadowed by a "Make America Great Again" hat in the cubby behind him. To the surprise of no one, Trump's favourite team is the New England Patriots—he is also a personal friend of Brady's. The game went from two teams competing at a major sporting event to two political factions competing all over again: the Patriots represented the Republican, alt-right, fascists; the Falcons as Black Lives Matter and leftist ideology. We live in a time now where people are throwing this political metaphor onto everything. That political narrative has followed the teams beyond the Superbowl. While Brady may be keen to celebrate the team's win in the White House with Trump—something major sports teams have been doing for nearly a century—some of his teammates would rather sit this one out. When the Patriots won, the metaphor was obvious: the alt-right had won and would celebrate at the White House, again. But that isn't necessarily the case: Patriot's Martellus Bennett's reasons for not going are likely skewing political. Athletes are far more tight-lipped about such topics, preferring to be more evasive. Unlike, say, Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry calling bullshit on Trump's ban, Bennett simply said, before the Super Bowl, he would not go simply because he doesn't agree with Trump, which is still a shrewd and effective form of politics.

In Meryl Streep's speech accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Globes in January, she eviscerated Trump's bigotry and ignorance. "Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose," Streep said. Entertainers are expected to make political statements, a la Meryl, especially during award season. Michael Moore used this platform during his Oscars acceptance speech, calling attention to George W. Bush's "fictitious" election results and rallied against the Iraq war. At the time, he got booed but now celebrities are getting more credit for saying less about a far worse president.

Politics were on display at last night's Academy Awards. Many celebrities chose subtle, yet necessarily specific ways to showcase how entertainment cannot be separated from politics. Ava DuVernay, director of Selma and this year's Oscar nominated The 13th documentary, wore a Lebanese designer's dress on the red carpet as a show of solidarity with a country on Trump's ban list. Gael Garcia Bernal, while presenting an award, took a moment to say "I'm against any form of wall that wants to separate us", in reference to Trump's decidedly stupid plan to build a border wall with Mexico. And while it was reported before the awards that Iranian director Asghar Farhadi wouldn't go because of the ban, his lack of presence was still very much felt when he won for Best Foreign Language Film. Moonlight's win for Best Picture over La La Land similarly mirrored the Super Bowl; that projection of political ideology onto popular culture was very present throughout the show. Gestures are one thing, but action is another. Though showing up and putting your proverbial money where your mouth is making more of a quantifiable impact, more obvious and immediate displays like tweets, statements, speeches matter, too. So it's encouraging to see celebrities use their platforms for all of the above.

While celebrities shouldn't necessarily follow the Trump model to power, our entertainers can play the same sort of game to leverage their platform for positive political gains for all, not just personal ones.

Sarah MacDonald is a staff writer at Noisey Canada. Follow her on Twitter.