The need for politicization in entertainment

Michael Iannaconi | Contributing Writer

In her much anticipated Super Bowl performance, Lady Gaga jumped straight into NRG Stadium suspended on wires and it was entertaining. She sang “Pokerface” and it was nostalgic. But when she sang “This Land Is Your Land” and “Born This Way,” many media organizations, including Vanity Fair and Washington Post, thought her show became political. Unfortunately, “political” tends to take on a divisive connotation in entertainment, and the national reaction to Gaga’s performance was evidence of this association.

Whether it’s Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl half-time performance or Meryl Streep’s acceptance speech at this year’s Golden Globes ceremony, the minute entertainers begin to be political, the event becomes alienating to certain groups. People stop talking about a performer’s talent and instead descend into conversations about whether these celebrities have any business discussing politics in public settings.

Political is a big word. We tend to forget that political is a blanket term for a lot of ideas that represent our own morals and opinions. I don’t think Lady Gaga, or any one person for that matter, endeavors to embody the whole concept. Her aim is to promote the respect of people of all sexual orientations. If she does, is she being innately political? Or is she doing what everyone does on a daily basis, just voicing her own opinion?

While some people may be bothered by entertainers making political noise, it is dangerous for the only voices involved in political conversations to be politicians. Celebrities are more than just average citizens—they occupy a rare position in society in which they are able to attract mass audiences that spread across demographics. Because of this, much of what celebrities do and say has the opportunity to influence what other citizens do and say as well.

The Jan. 21 Women’s March was the largest single-day demonstration in the country’s history, and over 80 celebrities spoke out about their encouragement for everyone to take part in it. A celebrity’s stamp of approval could encourage someone to attend the event and become an active supporter of a cause they were formerly on the fringe about.

Celebrities can also inspire us to show our political passions and be vocal about issues we are invested in. They are the spokespeople of those without any power, and they remind us how much of a difference we can make if we all choose to act. At the Golden Globes, Meryl Streep abandoned the opportunity to revel in her lifetime achievement award and instead stood on stage, utterly exposed and vulnerable as she proclaimed her emotions about Donald Trump. If she can do all of that, then maybe marching or rallying for an issue we believe in isn’t so hard.

Lady Gaga had a choice in her Super Bowl performance: To ignore divisive issues in our country or take a stand for something she believes in. That question rings true with the old adage on the Good Samaritan passing someone in distress. Is it better just to pass them by? What Lady Gaga did may not have any political impact, but it could make someone watching her performance feel less alone. Or perhaps, inspire that person to empower themselves and others around them.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.