A popular rule-of-thumb suggests that one should avoid discussing politics, religion or money with others. People are likely to disagree to some extent or another, and the sensitive nature of these topics can create tense atmospheres. Those in the public eye need to be especially careful about statements they make regarding these issues because they have a wide range of influence, and their personal success relies on their popularity. Time and time again has proven that a slip of the tongue or misunderstanding of a situation has costed some people their careers.
A prime example is Iggy Azalea, who previously headlined at No. 1 on the nation’s Billboard Top 40 with the hit song, “Fancy.” However, within less than a year her popularity plummeted due to offensive actions and comments she made. With homophobic and racially insensitive tweets, Azalea unintentionally self-sabotaged her own career. She made politically incorrect statements about Black, Latino, Asian and LGBTQ communities that ignited a storm of retaliation against her. Her social media presence tarnished her image of a female hip-hop rapper meets pop-star, and framed her into looking like a rude and racist snob.
Fans reexamined their feelings about her; publics who originally did not like her now had more reasons against her. The hip-hop community of which she was a part of disowned her. Due to the backlash she consistently received thereafter, Azalea was forced to cancel her summer 2015 tour. Ultimately, Azalea dug her own career’s grave through her offensive and insensitive comments on social media. If she had made the effort to educate herself about the politics she was brashly speaking upon, or at the very least kept quiet on social media, Azalea potentially could have saved her once booming music career.
On the other hand, political statements can also catapult a celebrity’s career. Take a look at Angelina Jolie and Emma Watson. Both women are A-list actresses, but have distinguished themselves as advocates for valuable causes. As a result, their individual reputations and brand images have been bolstered considerably due the praise and support they have received for their activist work. Watson in particular has established her own campaign called “HeForShe,” which aims to fight for the social, political and economical equity between genders. The campaign has generated over 1.3 million gender equality actions across the world since being established. Her project has earned headlines on Time, Huffington Post and MTV.
HeForShe has been significantly successful in its mission to internationally raise awareness and engage publics in fighting for gender equality. As a result, Watson has fortified her position in the public sphere as not just Hermoine from Harry Potter, but as a reputable social influence that will likely withstand the duration of her career.
Those in the public eye have major influence on their publics and industries, while at the same time are in positions for great scrutiny. It’s essential for celebrities to be aware of the impact their words may have, as evidenced by Azaela’s brash tweets. People in high-profile positions shouldn’t take the power of their voices for granted. Political statements carry immeasurable weight and deserve to be taken seriously by those who make them. Public figures should consider not only the influence they may have on others but also the impact on one’s career.
( And yes, celebrities have every right to speak on political issues. They are humans who live in the same messy world we do, and have the freedom of speech to speak their minds, too. Period. )