It is with a heavy heart that I must announce: The celebs are at it again.
When people speak of embarrassing, celebrity-led Get Out the Vote stunts from 2016, they often cite Lena Dunham’s extremely cursed “Sensual Pantsuit Anthem.” There’s no reason they shouldn’t, either: It’s an epic, skull-cracking miscalculation. However, another notable brick that’s mostly escaped history’s ire is this PSA featuring much of the cast from Marvel’s The Avengers.
“Important,” which premiered in September 2016, drastically upped the star power of the Dunham PSA, while retaining its winking self-awareness. Each symmetric-faced star emphasizes how important the coming election is, while also making fun of their own supposed pomposity. Can’t be pompous and out of touch if you’re in on the joke—am I right, fellow kids?
In September 2020, after four years that served as a constant reminder of just how important the 2016 election was, Marvel’s The Avengers roared back onto the campaign trail. An in-depth article in the Atlantic highlighted a major youth-targeting GOTV initiative from Tom Steyer’s NextGen America, presenting a Biden cabinet as the Democratic Avengers.
Rather than let this corny comparison wither and die in a fetid field of Colbert clips, Team Biden is now actively embracing it, at full-tilt pander.
As a huge Avengers and Black Panther fan, I could not be more excited for our grassroots fundraiser tomorrow with @doncheadle, @chrisevans, @markruffalo, @zoesaldana, the @Russo_Brothers, Scarlett Johansson, and Paul Rudd.
Chip in any amount now: https://t.co/WhxiefvKXS
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) October 19, 2020
On Tuesday, October 20, fresh off a bizarre coordinated defense of teammate Chris Pratt against, uh, an internet poll, much of the Avengers cast hopped on a Zoom call with Biden’s running mate Kamala Harris, in which Harris likened her conquest against Trump to the Avengers’ climactic battle with Thanos.
Just a few of my fave clips from the #BidenHarris Avengers fundraiser.
Clip 1/5: Kamala lays out a seamless parallel here between defeating Thanos and winning on Nov 3rd. ???? pic.twitter.com/61gAyIZ8xj
— Renee (@PettyLupone) October 21, 2020
It’s as though Democratic strategists looked back at what went wrong with the obnoxious youth-courting of 2016 and decided to simply exchange the belabored irony of “Important” with the post-election tendency to see politics almost exclusively through a pop culture prism.
Politicians have been struggling to find the right way to use celebrities to pick up young voters since at least 1992, when Madonna wore an American flag and asked MTV’s audience to Rock the Vote with an anti-censorship rap. Nobody has quite figured out the right way yet, because there’s a chance that young people of voting age might just value authenticity over celebrity. That’s not to say that celebrities have no usefulness during an election. Taylor Swift’s political awakening might have actually spiked voter registration in 2018, and Mel Brooks’ just-released first-ever political video, in support of Biden, is utterly charming.
— Max Brooks (@maxbrooksauthor) October 21, 2020
What’s less effective seems to be candidates trotting out a parade of celebrities as a way to communicate, what, their own popularity? Young voters are smarter than a lot of strategists and poll-watchers give them credit for. Most of them know the difference between celebrities trying to sell them things and celebrities sharing personal information with them. It doesn’t matter how much a celebrity is indeed personally invested in defeating Trump. When they appear in a Zoom infomercial with the candidate, it looks indistinguishable from a commercial—a trailer for democracy. Celebrity-filled events like the Avengers get-together may be good for fundraising with the many grown adults who happen to be fans, but as far as mobilizing the youth vote, it’s doubtful to have any impact.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, on the same night as the Avengers event, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hosted an event on the livestreaming service, Twitch, which she organized with complete transparency the previous day.
Anyone want to play Among Us with me on Twitch to get out the vote? (I’ve never played but it looks like a lot of fun)
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) October 19, 2020
Let’s do it! I’ll set up and account and get some streaming equipment today
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) October 19, 2020
The uniquely popular House representative recruited her fellow Squad member, Rep. Ilhan Omar, to her gamer squad and together the two reached out to young voters on their own turf. (And apparently whupped ass at Among Us.) This organically developed event, with the aid of some famous Twitch streamers, ended up more popular than just about any manufactured virtual meet-and-greet with movie stars.
If you add up viewers across the various streams, more than half a million people are watching @AOC on Twitch — she’s hosting the biggest GOTV rally of 2020.
— Amanda Litman (@amandalitman) October 21, 2020
Understandably, Kamala Harris would look inauthentic and out of touch getting just demolished at Among Us on Twitch while asking kids to vote. But perhaps the takeaway here is to just let young leaders like AOC and Omar lead the way on the youth vote and stop pretending that joint events with US Weekly-type celebrities are helpful in any other way than raising money.