Coronavirus has provided an extra strand to weave into the already complex relationship between the worlds of celebrity and politics. The parallels between the two are stark in and of themselves: random figures catapulted into a world where they suddenly have influence, legions of adoring supporters willing to hang on their every word regardless of whether it’s right or wrong, and occasionally, the ability to step across into the other realm, make a change,and slowly head back into your lane.
For example, Marcus Rashford had no interest in a political career, simply a young man who wants to play football. This, however, has given him a platform and an immense amount of influence, which instead of using to sell the latest underwear campaign, he’s used to exert pressure on the government, and change national policy. Without this crossover between the worlds of celebrity and politics, free school meals would have been scrapped for thousands of children and the cost to families unimaginable.
Similarly, without the pandemic and social media working together, society would never have witnessed the interactions between vaccine sceptic Nicki Minaj and Sir Chris Whitty, the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, when debating the safety of the Covid jab for men and its impact on their testicles. (I’ve been writing for Concrete for two years and that is not a sentence I ever thought I’d produce.)
Through the televising of political events, such as PMQs and Question Time here in the UK, as well as the regular Covid briefings throughout the last 18 months, we’ve also come to recognise political figures as ‘famous’ or ‘celebrities’ when in reality, this couldn’t be further from what some of them want. The aforementioned Chris Whitty, a civil servant and scientific advisor, has his face on t-shirts and has been harassed in public spaces so frequently it’s led to arrests – I highly doubt this is what he signed up for when he took the job. Similarly, Conservative party relic Jacob Rees-Mogg took on cult-like celebrity status for a brief period while I was in school, to the extent that when we went to a student politics conference, he (a Conservative minister who napped in the chamber) got a standing ovation.
The UK has been blessed with a Prime Minister who was nominated for a BAFTA for presenting comedy show Have I Got News For You, as well as our friends across the pond electing two former Presidents who have cemented their place in film and TV history (this doesn’t account for various governors and lower level politicians). It’s safe to assume that for better or worse, celebrities can use politics to further explore their power, and this link can be incredibly dangerous in places. When these entities mix, it causes blurred lines between political and personal support which can be incredibly counterintuitive or even harmful to voters and audiences as a whole. Social media has made this even clearer during the pandemic, but I think this practice is probably here to stay.