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The Political Heft of Celebrities

By Sean Williams Special to the Chronicle

In 2008, President Obama rode a wave of celebrity support and general public goodwill to the Oval Office, becoming an unprecedented political pop culture icon along the way. People who knew next to nothing about Obama’s views voted for him based on his charisma and the fact that he suddenly seemed to be the “cool” guy to vote for. Now that’s not to say that President Obama’s political message is without value, but the unusual public infatuation with him definitely assisted his campaign for presidency. This infatuation has largely faded since. Obama, now in a closely contested dogfight with Mitt Romney, must rely on the backing of his celebrity supporters now more than ever.

Samuel L Jackson, the noted actor perhaps most famous for his expletive-laced rants in a variety of films, in response to what he sees as voter apathy, recently starred in a video titled, “Wake the F*** Up,” exhorting the American people to vote for Barack Obama over Mitt Romney. Jackson specifically targets people who cared about Obama four years ago, but now that the glamour has faded a bit, no longer care. While the video is clearly intended to be humorous, it raises excellent questions about celebrity influence on the polls. Jackson, in displaying his own strong opinions, is intentionally using his fame to muscle in the candidate of his choice. Similarly (but with more disastrous consequences) Clint Eastwood employed his own fame at the Republican National Convention in support of Romney.  It would appear that celebrity endorsements are rising with everyone from Oprah to George Clooney has backed Obama, and Donald Trump and Jeff Foxworthy support Romney. In a society that is increasingly invested in the opinions of the uninformed, celebrity backing carries more and more weight for a presidential candidate.

If anything, advancing technology in the form of the Internet has served to prove just how stupid many people are. Facebook screenshots capture images of jaw-dropping uninformed Americans. Television either lampoons the endeavors of these people or gives them a spotlight. It should come as no surprise, then, that a lot of American civilians will gladly follow the advice of a celebrity. After all, celebrities have successfully sold enormous quantities of products through television commercials. Clearly, people will follow what stars support.

The stars have to align, so to speak, for their endorsements to matter. Oprah is a consistently beloved figure throughout an array of age groups. Her support is sure to be an advantage to Obama. Samuel L. Jackson, with his tendency for badass lines and his cult following, will presumably garner Obama supporters in the younger, 18-24 year-old male groups. If Mel Gibson were to openly support a candidate, however, that would probably hurts the candidate, since many people consider Gibson to be an unscrupulous person. On the whole; however, celebrity backing largely helps a candidate get elected.

Unconstitutional or bigoted?

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