L-R: Diddy, Beyonce, and Jay-Z at the swearing-in ceremony yesterday.
IN CASE you didn’t hear, a big show happened in our nation’s capital this week. Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi and Mary J. Blige provided the beats, Miley Cyrus and the JoBros elicited euphoric shrieks, Lindsay Lohan strutted around in her best skin-and-bones, and, oh yeah, I think we’re getting a new president or something?
All the gossip shows were dedicated to exhaustive coverage, sending their best—or at least, their shiniest—to Washington, D.C. Each starlet brimmed with inspiring rhetoric informing me solemnly that this is “a historic event,” a “momentous occasion,” the “dawn of a sacred dream,” all austerely pointing out the parallels between Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Obama. And they’re still diligently reporting on the momentous Inaugural issues: who came with who, who wore what, who sat where and what Oprah had for dinner last night.
Not to be a killjoy substance cop, but when did celebrities become the arbiters of national significance? Why would history need the validation of the beautiful people? Why should we care about their well-heeled presence at the inauguration? Why do we need superstar performances to attract interest to one of our country’s most solemn occasions?
Every presidential inauguration is an occasion for gravitas. Every new commander-in-chief is an unopened history book with pages of good, bad or unremembered days to come for the nation. Obama is a compelling, significant figure to be sure, and his presidency opens in a very troubled America. But every president faces challenges as serious as the ones Obama will see, whether or not they’re evident on the 20th of January. It is both comical and frightening that much of the media coverage suggests that this inauguration is made worthy by the celebrities’ attendance, rather than the other way around.
Of course there are other media outlets present besides the jackals of Access Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight, TMZ, et al. But the paparazzi blitz and the characters in its spotlight dominate the attention of a large portion of the American public—after all, even I was watching their reports, rather than the Evening News. And celebrity involvement was credited for helping to drive the iPod generation to the polls. What does it say about this nation if we’re voting because celebrities are visible and vocal—if we’re more mobilized by flawless bone structure than by war-torn nations and underfunded schools? It’s one thing for the rich and famous to tell me what colors to wear, how short my skirt should be and which diet to trust for a beach body. But should I listen to their opinions on who to trust as the leader of my country?
How many celebrities researched their positions carefully and thoughtfully, considering the arguments of ugly, fat experts as well as the charismatic presentation of the central figures? It’s not simple to differentiate the reasoned, responsible voices from the attention whores who eagerly jump on the bandwagon—and shouldn’t we be concerned about the influence of the latter? Celebrities command national and global exposure without even trying. Paris Hilton’s vapid quote blurbs reach more people than do the carefully planned speeches of our nation’s legislators or the well-documented reports of serious journalists. How can we tell which celebrities are vocal because they’re interested, and which are vocal because we’re interested?
If we are going to indulge and applaud Hollywood’s political activism, celebrities need to take seriously the responsibilities accompanying their influence over American votes.
Many American celebrities were sincerely interested and conscientiously involved in the 2008 election. I understand their excitement about the potential of Obama's administration. Of course Oprah and her glamorous friends are thrilled to be involved in the Inaugural ceremonies, and they share every American’s right to fete our new leader. But if celebrities are to receive V.I.P. seating, amazing cuisine and other special privileges, they must honor those entitlements with informed, responsible advocacy. Otherwise, the celebrities should be the ones waiting for hours in the cold, their perfect bodies bundled away under layers of expensive fleece and wool. And the unbeautiful soldiers, the underpaid teachers, the unfed children should take the front seats.
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