Celebrities Rock the Vote...Do We Still Listen?

The idea of comparing Barack Obama to Paris Hilton may be preposterous, but the Democratic Candidate's status as a full-fledged cultural icon is undeniable. While Che Guevara used to be the most likely political figure to end up on an Urban Outfitters shirt, stylized Obama-graphics now represent the trendiest in T-shirt design. Thanks to Obama's youth-friendly image, catchy rhetoric and comfort with the digital realm, he's the first candidate in decades to authentically appeal to the primary consumers of pop culture. It's no surprise that celebrities have made his cause their own as well, with an enthusiasm last seen with Lance Armstrong's Livestrong-campaign. Are there any Facebook users out there who didn't see an embedded video of Yes We Can?

The most recent celebrity-driven Youtube message is 5 Friends, a joint effort from Leonardo DiCaprio, Halle Berry, Forest Whitaker, Ellen DeGeneres, Dustin Hoffman, Sarah Silverman and others. The assortment of celebrities on screen is effective, ranging from universally recognizable icons (Berry, Hoffman) to rulers of the most recent comedy wave (Silverman, Jonah Hill). The message isn't outwardly pro-Obama—instead, it encourages viewers to vote by mocking the public's ignorance—but its style fits directly into the paradigm of this election. These figures, to whom many of us pay more consistent attention than our politicians, now appear as themselves on a grainy web video screen. That they are using their position of power to show concern for our choices has a potentially magnetic effect. I certainly enjoyed it.

Many of their target viewers, however, don't seem to be amused. Celebrities have always been targets of interjecting feelings of admiration, hatred and curiosity, but the world of TMZ seems to have extinguished much of the public adoration we are still presumed to possess. Meanwhile, our feelings of hatred and curiosity have shot through the roof; just consider the success of gossip magazines. Recent comments on the L.A Times blog, for example, oozed animosity. " This is typical silly Hollywood idiocy," one reader wrote. "Why the hell would anyone listen to them? They think they are so influential on Main Street. The arrogance is astounding," another stated.

Although the list of negative comments on Entertainment Weekly's Popwatch blog wasn't quite as long, the overall note was sour. One reader called the spot "extremely patronizing and waaay too long," while another demanded for a stop to the "trend of getting 40 celebrities together to support a cause."

Although I was entertained by the video—and appreciate public figures bringing attention to issues beyond product endorsements—it may just be that politicians as appealing as Obama don't need movie stars to get young people to pay attention. At this point, his cool-factor is way beyond Leo DiCaprio's.

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  • Vernon Martin

    First, I have to wonder where Rachel King was before the Rollingstones cover. How do we define a movement that analyst are baffled by, attempting to find the logic in such a big and energized response. Anyone that watched the Iowa win, anyone that watched the acceptance speak, has to agree to the dramatic appeal. The only thing more obvious about this national movement is the feverous way that those that oppose Obama’s candidacy are trying to make the appeal something negative. When people talk about Obama’s powerful connection with the American public and suggest that it is negative, naive, misdirected, or the result of ignorance, they are not really analyzing the Obama campaign, they are criticizing the American public. I saw that cover and he looked just like anyone on their cover. For those that want to put names like savior or superstar on him, I remember hearing people in grade school comment about other classmates by saying, “He thinks he is cute,” or “she thinks she is smart.” Usually the comments were made according to the speakers belief and not based on the subjects belief at all.

  • Rachel King

    I think what started the whole iconic Obama image was his Rolling Stone cover. He looked like a savior or Superman...or both.