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Sunday, August 20, 2017

This election cycle, the candidates aren’t the only stars.

Of course, there is Donald Trump, who has shattered that fragile line between entertainment and politics.

Long before he took on the Republican establishment, Trump was firing hopeful entrepreneurs on NBC’s The Apprentice and making cameo appearances in The Little Rascals and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. He receives a yearly pension of $110,228 from the Screen Actors Guild, and was a weekly pundit on Fox and Friends for years. His WWE Hall of Fame bio describes him as “the most charismatic and famous businessman in America.”

Given all that, it’s remarkable how many of Trump’s fellow celebrities have risen up against him. Sure, he’s received his fair share of endorsements, but they’re mostly a collection of oddball stars and B-listers: Hulk Hogan, Gary Busey, Aaron Carter — no offense to the composer of the greatest rap song ever written about beating Shaquille O’Neal in basketball.

But, as we all know, Hollywood Is For Liberals.

From the beginning of his national breakout, Bernie Sanders has ridden a wave of celebrity excitement, one that goes far beyond actors writing checks and saying a few kind words. Rapper Killer Mike seems to be at Sanders’s side at all times. He regularly hypes up crowds at rallies, fills his Twitter feed with a dizzying amount of praise for the Vermont senator, and even organized a phone bank in his hometown of Atlanta.

Comedian Sarah Silverman released a viral video this week explaining why Sanders earned her vote. “Under President Sanders, you can still become a super-rich asshole. It’s just that your fellow hard-working citizens don’t have to feed their children cat food in order for you to do it,” she explained. The video already has over 27 million views on Facebook.

Girls star and creator Lena Dunham, who carries about as much feminist clout for the average millennial as Gloria Steinem, has long been in Clinton’s camp, and has slammed the “rabidly sexist” media coverage Clinton faces.

Tony Award-winning playwright Tony Kushner struck a similar chord in an interview with Chris Hayes. He criticized the tepid response that Clinton has sometimes garnered, particularly among Sanders fans. He called her “an extraordinary candidate” and asserted, “I don’t understand why people with political views that I share aren’t more excited about her.”

Clinton has big-time Hollywood money on her side too. While it is not unusual for celebrities to help fill the pocketbooks of their preferred candidate, the ever-active George Clooney is in the midst of organizing a lush fundraising dinner, VIP tickets for which will cost an impressive $353,400. That had better be one hell of a steak.

And it turns out big shots, surprise, are just as petty and stubborn as the rest of us: Susan Sarandon and Debra Messing fired shots back and forth in a Twitter spat this week over Sarandon’s controversial statement that she would understand some Sanders supporters voting for Trump if Sanders lost the Democratic nomination.

Are these stars actually winning over any votes for their chosen candidates? It is hard to believe that many American voters will throw their support behind Clinton or Sanders simply because their favorite actor told them to. Instead, celebrity influence is probably more indirect. In an age where two thirds of millennials get the bulk of their news from social media sites, rather than the traditional outlets of print news and television, celebrities are invaluable to achieving viral success.

Hillary Clinton could stick to cloistered interviews on cable news, but her cameo appearance on Broad City lit up the web. Likewise, his rambunctious singalong with Vampire Weekend added a whimsical edge to Sanders’ curmudgeonly exterior.

With millions of Americans following celebrities’ personal and professional content daily, politicians can’t help but rely on Hollywood to get the word out. After all, they’re now celebrities themselves. We can try to avoid the pitfalls of glamorizing our politics, and politicizing our celebrities, but in an election year fit for the tabloids, we might not have much choice anymore.

 

Photo: Screen shot courtesy Comedy Central

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