The 2018 Golden Globes left behind a lot of feelings in viewers, but probably one of the most famous sentiments was the popular plea of twitter users – Oprah for President. Oprah’s speech at the Globes was amazing, inspiring and unforgettable, but was it powerful enough that it qualifies her to become the president of a country whose politics more or less influences the entire world?
To be honest, I have a feeling that right now Americans are desperate for any alternative than their current president. But having said that, after seeing exactly what happens when a popular face from the entertainment industry with no experience in politics whatsoever becomes a leader of a country, haven’t we learned the consequences?
Celebrities becoming politicians is not a recent concept. For years, in different governments and countries, film and TV personalities have joined politics, have led people and have become presidents. There has been stories of success, of failure, of revolution and of nightmares. As I believe that answers for every question lies in history, maybe it’s time to look at how celebrities have shaped politics in different eras and in different countries, to answer the ultimate question – do celebrities make good politicians?
USA itself has had its share of celebrity turned politicians in its history. The current glaring example aside, there’s been a Ronald Reagan and an Arnold Schwarzenegger. But to me, the most apt country for this discussion would be India, a place where for decades, the film industry and politics have been inexplicably intertwined.
There’s this common joke around fans of Indian movies that the next step to any successful movie star is to become a politician. It’s like once a Bollywood star becomes old enough and feels as if it’s time they take a step back from acting, it’s also time to step into the vocation that optimizes their star power and earns them money and fame. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Amitabh Bachchan, an acting powerhouse who is undeniably one of the most popular household names of Bollywood, failed miserably at being a politician that he returned back to acting in a short while. However, Smriti Irani, an actress who dominated Indian TV in the 2000’s as the ideal daughter in law, is the current Textiles and Information and Broadcasting minister of India.
The South of India and its politics should be a case study of its own. Tamil Nadu, as the region is called, has been dominated by two parties for over five decades, the DMK and ADMK respectively. The faces of both these parties have been film personalities. DMK was led by a screenwriter, and the latter by a renowned actor who was the epitome of fan favorite. When he died, he was promptly replaced by a fellow actress, and since 1969 to 2016, the chief minister position of this region has only been held by either of the three celebrities.
Another interesting fact is that finally in 2017, the reign of the two celebrities ended. One of them passed away, and the other is pushing 93. You would expect a next generation of fresh, young and influential politicians entering the race. Instead, two extremely popular actors in their 50’s and 60’s respectively with a huge fan base for each of them announced that they’ll be joining politics, kicking off the same pattern all over again.
Celebrities are an instant hit as politicians because of their previous popularity. They’re recognizable, their market value is high and they have already built the connection with their audience, which politicians thrive to build with numerous campaigns. Especially in a country like India, where film stars are worshiped as Gods – I am not exaggerating, fans pour milk over their favorite actors’ cut outs, which is a Hindu ritual done to the statues of their Gods and Goddesses – there’s no problem whatsoever for celebrities to garner votes. People love them, they have an audience and a presence, and throughout this whole process the lines between the entertainment industry and politics blur, to the point where people don’t know whether they’re voting for the actor, the characters they’ve played, the person or the politician.
Most of the time, the problems emerge afterwards. Celebrities can easily get the position of a leader, but it isn’t always easy to become the leader in every sense it counts. Whether they are actually a good politician or not is ultimately not based off on their fame. Perfect example for this would be the former president of Philippines, Joseph Estrada. The successful film star, and audience favorite was a mayor, a senator, a vice president and ultimately the president in 1998, only to become the first ever Filipino president to be impeached. He also said that the presidency was his “greatest role of his life.”
I am not trying to profess that celebrities are not fit to become politicians. What I am trying to say is being a celebrity shouldn’t be a qualifying reason for one to be a leader. Politics is ultimately about leading a country, and its people, and just the ability to satisfy said people’s interests is not going to be enough. Saying the right things or rather the things that people want to hear is easy when one has fame, privilege, money and the assurance that you will be supported, but to what extent can we expect that it will be actually implemented if they are given the chance to do so?