It’s January. Election Day is ten months away. Yet the campaign has been underway for several months already. And as expected, I am already bored with it. I have no idea who I will vote for come November, and I likely won’t know until I actually cast my vote behind the little curtain of my portable voting booth. What I do know is that the face of Chuck Norris was grinning at me from behind Mike Huckabee when he congratulated himself on a victory in the Iowa caucuses last week. And I asked myself, "What the hell is Chuck Norris doing in Iowa? And why does he look like a life-sized plastic cutout of himself?"
I’m guessing you may be asking yourself a similar question right now. Namely, what the hell does this have to do with women in entertainment? Well, Chuck Norris’ plastic mug got me thinking about the role of celebrity in politics. Politics is one big popularity contest, after all, the likes of which many of us dreaded in junior high. So, does having a celebrity by your side actually get you anywhere in politics? Actually being a celebrity worked well for Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse "The Body" Ventura. But does having the vocal support of Oprah Winfrey and Halle Berry actually do anything for Barack Obama come election day?
There has to be something to this celebrity endorsement thing, right? It’s not like Obama is the only one with big name celebs lining up to offer support, usually in the form of money and publicity, which inevitably generates more money, which may or may not win someone the White House. Rudy Giuliani has the support of some 1970s pinup girls in the form of Bo Derek and Cheryl Ladd. No word on whether the rest of the angels view him as a perfect 10 or not.
But other than the possibility that celebrities will bring in more people to hear a particular candidate’s message, does an endorsement by certain celebrities carry any weight with the voting public? Are you more likely to vote for Bill Richardson because he’s got the support of Jodie Foster and Bette Midler, or for John Edwards because he’s got Bonnie Raitt and Madeline Stowe in his corner?
What about the reverse? Do endorsements by certainly celebrities actually do more harm than good? Is Mitt Romney scary enough on his own, or is it made worse knowing he has Donnie and Marie Osmond going to bat for him? Yes, I grew up watching them sing and dance with C3PO and R2-D2. Yes, I adored them as a child. I’m older now. I’ve outgrown Donnie and Marie. (Thankfully, the same cannot be said of my Star Wars fascination.)
Is Dennis Kucinich trailing in the polls because he has only been able to attract what some would refer to as “minor” celebrities like Ani DiFranco? (Maybe if Melissa and Tammy Lynn both officially jumped on his bandwagon, they could help him sneak up on the front-runners.)
Hillary Clinton didn’t come out on top in Iowa, but she’s still considered the leader of the pack in many circles. Does her celebrity posse have anything to do with that? Maya Angelou, Barbara Streisand, Carly Simon and Billie Jean King are all rooting for another Clinton presidency.
So is it the quantity or the percieved quality of the celebrities that carries weight in political circles? For example, I would put more stock in the opinion of Maya Angelou than Marie Osmond, based on my perception of their intellects. I know neither of these people. Marie Osmond could be a rocket scientist in her spare time and have secret knowledge of the inner workings of goverment at the highest levels. But based on my perceptions, I would trust the opinion of Maya Angelou over Osmond’s any day of the week. Doesn’t make Marie’s opinion any less valid, just not one I care to explore.
Which brings me to another side of this. What makes the opinion of a celebrity so darned important? If Brittney Spears suddenly regained her sanity long enough to publicly support one candidate or another, would anyone actually care? Yet, if it were to happen, her endorsement of a particular candidate would certainly make the news somewhere, much to the dismay of the unfortunate candidate. The opinion of a celebrity is no more or less important than that of anyone else, really. It’s just that the rest of us don’t tend to travel with an entourage. It’s hard sometimes to hear actual discourse above the celebrity chatter.
Thankfully, it turns out most folk make their voting decisions with the help of trusted family and friends rather than any celebrity. The Pew Research Center did a little poll to try to find out just what all this celebrity stumping was worth. The answer? Not a whole heck of a lot.
What do you think? Do you pay attention to your favorite celebrities’ statements when it comes to political candidates? Does an endorsement from a celebrity have any impact on how you cast your vote? What about those of you who live outside the confines of the good ol’ U.S. of A. — does celebrity play a role in your brand of politics?