Why Do We Ask Celebrities About Social Issues?

Everyone knows about Taylor Swift’s journey with feminism. Everyone knows that Jennifer Lawrence loves to talk about female body image, and now, equal pay. Many were enraged when Meryl Streep called herself a “humanist.” Whether we want to or not, we all know about it. But my question is, why do we care?

Because there is so much written about celebrities on a daily basis, it’s only natural that interviewers just run out of shit to talk about very easily. Activism on the Internet and the rise of the celebrity feminist has prompted common interview questions for an actor or supermodel to be about feminism, gender identity, immigration or police brutality.

But have we learned nothing from Celebrity Jeopardy? Most celebrities don’t have anything groundbreaking to say on the subject at best, and others say something offensive or miss the point entirely.

It’s relevant to ask someone like, say, John Legend, who penned the anthem “Glory” for the movie “Selma,” how he feels about Black Lives Matter or police brutality. His involvement in a movie chronicling a spectacular moment in civil rights history, and he and Chrissy Teigen’s donations to BLM protesters make the questions relevant. But asking someone like T.I. how he feels about a woman being president just doesn’t make any sense. Not because he can’t have an intelligent answer—plenty of entertainers have had wonderful and well-thought-out answers to questions like these—but because we can’t be surprised that he didn’t have a great answer.

Where is T.I.’s Women’s studies degree? Where is his previous statement on feminism? Where is his song about female empowerment, or his donation to a meninist group? Where is the catalyst that makes a question like this relevant at all? Or do we as a culture just want to take a soundbite from an interview with an entertainer totally eating it on a question he’s clearly not educated on? Who cares? I’ll still listen to “Whatever You Like.”   

Much of this comes from the growing notion of seeing celebrities as our friends. They have Tumblrs and give us shoutouts on Twitter, and we feel like we know them so well. It’s important not only for celebrities and public figures to be liked as much as it is important that they are talented and their work is enjoyed. So much of they popularity that they enjoy is based not only on the public enjoying their work, but feeling like fans could go out and have a drink with them, like they share your world views and that you like them as a person. That is a lot of where these questions come from, which makes sense, until you really think about it.

When theorists or scholars make a point about social issues, it rarely makes headlines. The voices of people who live and breathe for these issues, the voices of activists and professors and people who have taken the time to weigh everything they can about it are rarely taken with such a weight as when celebrities say them. As a result, feminism is dumbed down to “thinking your sister should have the same rights as a man,” racism is dumbed down to “black people should be equal to white people” and slut-shaming to “women should be able to be as openly sexual and sexualized as they want.”

As anyone who has studied social issues knows, there is pretty much no black and white in the social sciences. There are nuances to consider beyond a label. And, unfortunately, many celebrities’ views of social issues seem to be taking themselves into the lens (see Patricia Arquette’s speech about the wage gap, Taylor Swift’s feminism because of her tabloid headlines and Demi Lovato’s support of curvy women because she sees herself as the average sized woman). Their experiences and worldviews are not typical, nor does it take into account intersectional politics or even the average person. Celebrities are not average people, and if they are going to take on social issues on a large platform, their knowledge needs to be above average as well.

With campaigns like #AskHerMore and with more and more celebrities supporting causes that they believe in, it’s only natural that they are asked more complex questions, but why can’t those questions be about what they know: their art? Why can’t we ask people about the things that actually made them famous? And if they choose to support causes and if their art just so happens to align with social justice, then I see no problem asking them about how they feel.

It may seem dim to expect these celebrities to have no good opinions to say, but I don’t see the point in asking celebrities about these things when we know their answers are going to be ill-informed. I don’t see the point in feigning shock when a model doesn’t have an opinion about trade deals. I can’t help but think it’s just another ploy to create a shocking headline and spark Internet rage.

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