“This is about the time, when I start talking about politics, that the internet trolls tell me to stick to my day job–so I’d like to talk about my day job. My day job is as the chairman and the co-founder of Thorn. We build software to fight human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children.” said Ashton Kutcher to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on Feb. 15th.
We know him as Kelso on That 70’s Show, or maybe as the host of Punk’d. We do not question his authority on stoner comedy or celebrity pranks. So why, when we discover that Kutcher also plays a leading role in combating human trafficking, do we ask that he stick to boob jokes and prank calls? Why should celebrities have a say in issues other than new fashion trends and diet fads?
We consume more media every day than we may even be aware of. Some days, college students hear more from the stars of their favorite Netflix show than they do from their parents. Celebrities tell us what lipstick to buy or what shoes to wear. Their songs affect our mood and their social media posts affect our timelines. Prominent figures have voices of varying influence in the lives of thousands, and in some cases millions of people. Now, with so many issues coming to national attention as we combat an oppressive White House administration, those voices can change the way we think about social justice and equality.
In February 2016, Tomi Lahren emerged as a well-known conservative figure when she critiqued Beyonce’s Super Bowl halftime show, saying that the use of Black Panther imagery in Beyonce’s performance of “Formation” was “not about equality, [but] about ram-rodding an aggressive agenda down our throats and using fame and entertainment value to do so.” Lahren is not necessarily wrong; Beyonce did wisely use her own staggering fame and new catchy tune to spread a message. From Lahren’s perspective, that message had no appeal. Lahren has never been a woman of color in a white man’s world. Yet to the young black girls who grew up in a country that treated them as a second thought, Beyonce’s message of black female power was encouraging. With this performance, Beyonce told women of color that they are worthy, strong, and absolutely unstoppable. Beyonce realized the platform she had, and used it to empower black women on a national level. All while working her “day job”.
A celebrity is, by definition, someone who is widely known. What they do with that influence is up to them. Some shy away from the responsibilities of having an amplified voice in a rebellious society. Yet others understand that it is a part of their “day job” to influence the consumers of media. We are all have different parts to play in today’s tumultuous political landscape. What if those cast in the starring roles didn’t deliver the lines needed to resolve the conflict? How would we ever be able to understand the perspectives of others and work towards a resolution?