Understanding the rise of the politically conscious celebrity.
By Alinaswe Lusengo
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 4 of VARSITY News.
The last few years have seen the increased politicisation of the celebrity. In the past, politics was a subject to steer away from in the public eye to avoid controversy. However, now it is desirable to be ‘woke’, where activism, no matter how inauthentic, is a social currency to garner admiration. The popularity of identity politics has reimagined the role of the modern celebrity. This has made them go from being inert entertaining figure heads to being active representatives of whichever communities they belong to, with social responsibilities and moral codes that they adhere to. This has given birth to celebrities who are famous for their identities just as much as the talents they possess, such as Lizzo, Hayley Kiyoko or Laverne Cox.
Identity politics, though popular, has been wrongly demonised by some as being too divisive. People do not see the merit in prioritising certain identities like queerness or blackness because they believe this encourages a separatism that is in conflict with goals of equality and should matter beyond these identities. However, this scepticism towards identity politics is the type where one creates this blindness and some pretend that they “do not see colour” or “do not care about one’s sexuality or gender”. It also forces others to navigate their entire lives around this identity on their own and possibly be harmed simply because they belong to a certain community. The rise of identity politics is important because it gives visibility and attention to the needs of oppressed groups or kinds of people who have been denied specific rights and permissions in our society. The rise of the celebrity who is ‘woke’ and politically aware of their positionality is perhaps also a response to consumer demand for recognition of marginalised identities.
Celebrities like Lizzo, who is famous for singing as well as her radical body positivity, are important because they validate people who see themselves in them because they too do not adhere to the historically narrow standards of beauty. Hayley Kiyoko’s overt queerness in her music is important because her songs tell queer stories that have previously been hidden. The rise of identity politics has allowed many marginalised communities to take up space in the pop culture consciousness, which is an important step towards a more inclusive society. It is important to not dilute the effect of prioritising identities by exploiting them for their newfound popularity.
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