By Akshara Karthik (’22)
Without a doubt, this presidential election was by far one of the most heated in modern United States history. But that is not the only reason why this election was so memorable. This election thought-provokingly shed light on America’s darkest problems. For one, we as Americans realized the power a vote holds. We realized that racism remains one of this country’s biggest challenges and must be eradicated. We realized that spreading misinformation, tolerating white supremacy, and spewing hate are not activities we want our Commander in Chiefs to participate in. Yet, one of the most important things we learned from this election was that America remains a divided nation.
So, how has Pop Culture affected politics, particularly in this election? Through the use of social media, celebrities used their platforms to help encourage others to participate in the election, whether it was through donating, canvassing, or voting. For example, music legend Lady Gaga promoted voter registration, for those who were either undecided or did not believe their vote would count, through a quick two-minute video. “The government is not going away tomorrow and unless you have a plane ticket to another country and somewhere that you’re going to live, this is going to be your home,” said Gaga. “No matter how you feel, your future is still in your hands with this vote.” Other celebrities, including Kylie Jenner and “This Is Us” star Sterling K. Brown, posted “thirst-trap” photos to get more people to click on the link in their Instagram and Twitter bios, which was none other than a voter registration link. Jenner even captioned her photo, “But are you registered to vote? Click the link in my bio. Let’s make a plan to vote together.” In fact, according to USAToday, posts from celebrities helped “Vote.org [get] 48,000 users from Instagram to utilize their voter registration tool, whereas the day prior the site only saw 2,900 users, a more than 1500% increase in use via Instagram according to Jordan Wilhelmi, a spokesperson for Vote.org.” Following the increase, Vote.org supplied personalized links to celebrities, which also turned out to be a great success. Kylie Jenner swapped out the old link for a new personalized one and gathered over 2,000 new voter registrations and 200 new mail-in-ballot requests. In addition, singer Frank Ocean also a link in his Instagram bio helped create 700 new voter registrations.
In addition, magazines also took advantage of the increased political participation from celebrities. V Magazine, for its newest edition, V127, aptly titled the “Thought Leaders” issue is set to release paperback copies with 12 different covers. Each cover is unique, with a different celebrity or influencer on it, including Bella Hadid, Chris Evans, Halsey, Jaden Smith, Janaya Future Khan, Janelle Monáe, Jennifer Lawrence, Julianne Moore, Mariah Carey, Megan Rapinoe, Paperboy Prince and Taylor Swift. In these special edition covers, the magazine’s “V” logo is used as a”vote” call-to-action. In fact, each magazine has just one story, in which more than 40 musicians, models, politicians, and more write about the importance of this election, activism, society, and politics.
Overall, the impact of celebrities and public figures in this election was massive. According to Benjamin Hovland, U.S. Election Assistance Commission chairman, celebrities have helped promote voting and informing people about registrations and upcoming deadlines. Opening up to USAToday, Hovland explained, “It’s great to see them using their platforms to encourage people to get registered to vote, to participate,” especially during the coronavirus pandemic. Usually, the DMV, Department of Motor Vehicles, would be the primary place in which people would register to vote. However, due to the pandemic, many offices have had to close, leading to a drop in registration. Hovland also told USAToday that in 2018 only about 800,000 people were newly registered to vote, which was a record at the time. In 2020, that record shattered with over 1.5 million people registering to vote by late September of this year, with Hovland owing that to celebrity amplification and influential figures like Trevor Noah and LeBron James for helping encourage younger adults to sign up.
It’s clear that without the work of celebrities during this election, we would have had a repeat of 2016.