Celebrity Endorsed Activism: Authentically Effective or Superficially Ineffective?

Opinion By Christy Kim and Lily Mejia-Gautreau

What is “Activism?”

“Activism: [n.] the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.”

This word is incredibly powerful. It has built up and torn down the reputation of celebrities, politicians, and any notable world influences. Activism is a powerful marketing tool. It draws in audiences towards individuals with whom they agree with. Celebrity activism is a notable example of this.

Celebrity Activism Efforts

In 1989, the late Audrey Hepburn, America’s sweetheart and one of the most influential actresses in the world, became the ambassador to UNICEF. Since the time of her appointment, she went on to make up to 15 speeches per day on behalf of children in need around the world. She had a genuine heart to advocate on behalf of the world issues. She utilized her cult following to spread awareness.

Jane Fonda, another notable American actress, was notorious for being a vocal anti war activist during the Vietnam war. She spoke at rallies and pushed for peace. She, to this day, supports and champions dozens of causes all around the world. Most recently, she made headlines by protesting for climate change. She showed her fanbase that it is imperative to take a stand against corporations and to advocate for your beliefs.

Elizabeth Taylor, a renowned actress in her time, was also a big activist in the Hollywood industry. She ran an underground pharmaceutical ring for AIDS. Taylor went on to start the Elizabeth Talor AIDS Foundation, which provided grants for organizations to help those with this disease. She made breakthroughs with de-stigmatizing AIDS and providing help.

Campaign 2020: How Activism Helped Biden Win

Most recently, Joe Biden, the 46th President Elect, has also performed numerous activism efforts as a means to spread his campaign message to wide demographic groups. He depended on the presence of influencers and validators, who are people voters trust. Celebrities like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and YouTube presences like Liza Koshy actively endorsed Biden for the 2020 presidency.

Biden’s campaign team expanded into social media such as Instagram as well as TIkTok, creating an account titled “TikTok for Biden” in order to engage younger, first time voters to vote blue. They even went as far as utilizing Animal Crossing, a popular game during the COVID era, to create virtual lawn signs and decor that players could purchase and place on their virtual front lawns.

It was in these efforts where Biden was able to push for certain groups that he was advocating for. He encouraged mask wearing and safety precautions by demonstrating his own mask-usage in Instagram videos alongside his wife, Jill Biden.

Biden also pushed for adopt-not-shop efforts by showcasing his dog, Major, who will be the first adopted pet in the White House. He advocated for the awareness of climate change by going on media platforms and making public statements.

Biden stated that he is rejoining the Paris Accords, which is a globally recognized climate change agreement. He has also made public statements affirming the Black Lives Matter movement as well the LGBTQ+ community. He has claimed these are issues that he cares about and will make strides in improving and further advocating for within his presidency.

Is Celebrity Activism Effective?

Celebrity activism has a strong effect on its intended audience. Social media platforms are a useful tool in helping celebrities and politicians alike develop a high engagement and get the word out effectively as it reaches wide demographics. Hundreds of millions of people are able to see the efforts of these well-known individuals and the organizations and efforts they are passionate about. Activism must take place both online and offline as well.

As we took the time to analyze the effectiveness of celebrity activism, Lily and I have come to certain conclusions of our own as well as detailed opinions of what we think of this form of advocacy.

Christy’s Take

These well known individuals have agency in picking the organizations they would like to be associated with. This shows me that there is a sense of genuine interest and thus, comes off authentically effective to an extent. However, it is not certain how much of this advocacy is coming from the need to “save face” versus showcasing the intentions of their heart.

I think the test of true effectiveness within activism is how much the individual engages with these problems beyond an initial appearance. For Elizabeth Taylor, it was later finding an organization that dedicated itself to AIDS and helping victims beyond the point of running underground operations that were later found out by the media.

In Biden’s case, it will be imperative for the first 100 days of his presidency for him to follow through on the campaign issues he ran on. This will show the American people who voted for him that celebrity activism can be an effective tool and one that they can rely on when making life changing decisions, like picking the superpower of the first world.

Lily’s Take

Celebrities play an important role in the entertainment business. In fact without celebrities like actors and singers and performers, there would not be an entertainment industry. When we think of celebrities, we think of the glitz and glamour. We do not consider activism.

My opinion on celebrity activists is that it’s very cool to see people who we love and admire standing up for the injustices of today. The phrase “with great power comes great responsibility” is what comes to mind when I think of celebrities and online influencers. They have the ability to hurt or harm a cause. This power has an impact on societies.

Celebrity activism can be very helpful, but we cannot ignore that it can also be harmful. Not everyone shares the same opinions and there’s no denying that many people have problematic opinions. It’s important to hold people accountable for their words and if they use their influence to put down another group of people. 

Final Thoughts

It’s inspiring to see the celebrities we know and love joining the efforts to fight against injustices. The people of the media industry have taken steps forward to create a world that is more loving and accepting of everyone. Celebrity endorsed activism can help and hurt us.

We have a responsibility in holding these famous figures accountable for their words and actions. We can rally behind those who wish to make positive changes, so that we can strive for a more equal and happy future.