09 October 2018

Like it or not, this woman matters

Taylor Swift, the phenomenally popular singer who has previously avoided talking about politics, finally took a public stand this week, endorsing Democratic candidates in her home state of Tennessee, denouncing reactionary Republican stances on several issues, and urging people to register to vote.  This event drew added entertainment value from the fact that the US alt-right and neo-Nazis have long viewed Swift as a kind of "Aryan goddess" icon and fantasized, on no discernible basis, that she secretly leans toward their views.  Now that she's so brusquely burst their bubble, they have one more thing to fly into a rage about.

But what else happened immediately following Swift's Instagram post?  A dramatic spike in voter registrations, especially in Tennessee, where almost as many new voters registered in the 36 hours after she spoke out as during the whole month of September.

I've tried to make this point before -- mass culture is important.  It has a huge impact on popular attitudes, preferences, and prejudices.  It reaches tens of millions of fans who are determinedly disinterested in conventional politics and politicians.  The enemy is not foolish to lament that liberal ideas dominate mass culture.  Politics is, as the saying goes, "downstream" from culture, and mass-market movies, TV, and music have a deeper and more powerful, if more subtle, influence on culture than yammering from the pulpit about Leviticus (or earnestly reciting safe, focus-group-tested, boring clich├ęs).

Trump has 55 million Twitter followers.  Swift has 112 million Instagram followers.

You may find it exasperating that so many people care what Taylor Swift thinks about politics or whether Queen Elsa is a metaphor for closeted gays, and you may be right.  But the fact remains, people do care -- millions of people, millions of the potential voters we're trying to reach.  Mass culture matters.

12 Comments:

Blogger Debra She Who Seeks said...

I was glad to see her FINALLY do something to publicly distance herself from the Alt-Right's attempt to co-opt her as a white power symbol. I'm stunned it took her this long, quite frankly, but better late than never.

09 October, 2018 05:06  
Anonymous Jerry said...

Of course mass culture matters, but that kind of group think is also responsible for idiots like Trump getting elected. I wish the sheeple of America would have more sales resistance and think more independently. People beg to be led, by anyone. Is group think dangerous, or healthy? I think it is more dangerous than not.

09 October, 2018 06:29  
Blogger W. Hackwhacker said...

You're right -- mass culture is important and, unlike the "anti-Swift" Kanye, she had her facts straight in her Instagram post. Good for her!

09 October, 2018 06:41  
Anonymous NickM said...

People care because the likes of Ms Swift are like friends we all have or think we do or whatever. They are someone you can have a conversation about (not with my Dad because he thinks pop music endewd with the death of John Lennon). And people care because these people are popular for a reason. Because people care.

09 October, 2018 08:33  
Blogger Rational Nation USA said...

Good for Swift. Timing is everything and her taking the action to "weigh in politically" now was well thought out and timed for impact. I suspect as Swift continues to mature we will hear more from her going forward.

Mass culture has a huge influence as you note Infidel. Properly motivated and directed a great deal of good can result. What I fear, and this is the "conservative" in me, is mass culture turning into mass hysteria. We've seen what often results when it does.

At this point in our history given the far right's political ideology the liberal left has every reason to be motivated, vocal, and super focused. If the left stays rational and focused, and, presents itself as reasonable, thoughtful, and as right as Swift did in her post good things are likely to be the outcome.

09 October, 2018 09:53  
Blogger Martha said...

I couldn't agree more! These celebrities have a big influence on their followers. I don't know much about this woman, besides the fact she's very popular, but I bet she upset quite a few people who thought she leaned the other way! HAHA

09 October, 2018 17:02  
Blogger Adam said...

I had figured she was a Democrat. Back when she first started, you would imagine a conservative-leaning as she was a country music singer back then (or country-pop) and gradually became mainstream pop. She said kind words about Michelle Obama a few years back but mostly silent about politics in general.

Though some "Hollywood" republicans stay mum or phrase things better to not get blacklisted from certain gigs, so I had wondered if she was a Republican.

Though I figured liberal, especially after the photos of her most likely making out with Karlie Kloss got leaked though neither party confirmed. Even in this day and age, many famous women keep being bi a secret. While not all bi or other LGBT people are "liberal", you look at such "conservatives" as if they were mice that vote for cats.

I'm proud of her for speaking out though. It's about time.

09 October, 2018 18:22  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Debra: I wonder whether she was even aware of the alt-right's fetishization of her. They're not nearly as big a presence on the net as they like to think.

Jerry: I kind of covered that in the last paragraph of the post. My point is, we need to win elections with the voting public we have, not the voting public we wish we had. And I don't think pop culture had anything to do with Trump being elected. That was driven by various forces -- bigotry, fear, anger -- but mass-market culture like movies and pop music didn't do anything to fuel that. It was the right-wing media propaganda machine (Fox, Breitbart, etc.) that did that.

Hackwhacker: Not only did she have her facts straight, she got those facts across to millions of people who would never read a political website or watch a political ad. That's where people like her can make a difference.

Nick: A lot of older people probably don't know or care about her, but she's a big deal with younger people -- the same younger people politicians have such trouble reaching.

Rational: I don't see much danger of mass culture promoting mass hysteria. Historically it has rarely done that, unless it's guided by a government or political party and turns into outright propaganda.

Martha: The Nazis who convinced themselves she was a fellow Nazi were always complete idiots and setting themselves up for a disappointment. of course, Nazis generally aren't very bright.

Adam: Yes, she's certainly given occasional hints. I read about the Karlie Kloss thing. I really can't fathom a gay or bi person being right-wing in this culture, though I know there are some. As you say, it's like mice voting for cats.

09 October, 2018 18:41  
Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

Hopefully the voter turnout is really good and we get rid of this guy.

10 October, 2018 12:22  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Mary: Not sure which guy you're referring to, but there are plenty worth getting rid of.

11 October, 2018 04:28  
Anonymous Marc McKenzie said...

I know this may sound odd, but...preach it, brother. :)

In all seriousness though, this is a terrific essay. And you're right--Taylor Swift did something that will help in the long run--she got thousands to register to vote.

Meanwhile, Kanye West decides to hitch his wagon to Trump. Ugh.

12 October, 2018 07:12  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Marc: :-) Thank you.

Swift at least used being a celebrity to do something positive. That's more than most of them do.

13 October, 2018 03:33  

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