Celebrities Are Getting Out the (Vague, Often Non-Partisan) Vote

Illustration for article titled Celebrities Are Getting Out the (Vague, Often Non-Partisan) Vote
Screenshot: Twitter, Instagram, TikTok

Two weeks ahead of the presidential election, Selena Gomez went live on Instagram in an effort to get out the vote. Broadcasting from the comfort of her California bedroom, she was joined by Timothée Chalamet, who explained that he was about an hour deep in line outside of Madison Square Garden, his early voting poll site in New York City.

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“Many great things happen here,” he said. “So, I’m hoping another great thing happens today.”

It wasn’t hard to intuit what that “great thing” might be, considering how Chalamet followed up his appearance on Gomez’s livestream with an explicitly anti-Trump Instagram Story post urging his 10 million followers to “vote that fucker out.” But the two were decidedly vaguer when conversing before the singer’s nearly 200 million followers. (Gomez has one of the largest follower counts on the platform.) The closest either of them came to expressing a partisan thought was when Chalamet said “I really hope this guy loses” and Gomez replied “I know,” though neither clarified to which of the two guys they were referring. They were similarly vague when discussing their new movie together, never once mentioning the title of “our movie” nor its director, accused sex offender Woody Allen.

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Does Selena Gomez care who wins on Nov. 3? Probably! Though she has not endorsed either Trump or Biden at press time, she has been openly critical of the president’s immigration policies in past interviews. She has also since appeared in a video with Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris in which the two talk about the importance of voting and mental health. It seems pretty likely that Gomez wants Biden in the White House, but getting him there wasn’t the goal of her Instagram Live with Timothée Chalamet. The goal, like that of so many celebrity-driven “get out the vote” efforts before it, was simply to increase the turnout of all voters, any voter, as if another victory for the Republican incumbent would be better than very few people voting at all.

“It’s really moving to see this many people show up,” said Gomez. “It feels like people are motivated.”

“Everyone’s telling young people to vote, but it feels, like, kind of condescending!” Chalamet replied. “Like, duh, we’re gonna vote!”

Historically speaking, that’s actually not true. The American electorate is decidedly middle-aged, and it has only grown older over the past few decades. According to the Pew Research Center, the median age of registered voters was 44 in 1996. Last year, it was 50. Zoomers, many of whom will vote for the first time next Tuesday, make up about 10 percent of those eligible voters, but their vote is far from guaranteed, if history’s anything to go by. Fewer than half of all registered voters between the ages of 18 and 29 participated in the 2016 presidential election, as The New York Times reported earlier this month. Who’s to say that things will go significantly different this time around?

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This current crop of “get out the vote” content might not be as viscerally cringe as, say, Lena Dunham’s 2016 appeal to potential Hillary Clinton voters by way of rapping about pantsuits, but it’s still no more activating. What was Lady Gaga even trying to say with that pro-voting PSA released on Friday, in which she reassured voters who “disagree with me” that “your vote still matters” without ever even stating what her political beliefs were in the first place? The singer has since come out wholeheartedly for Biden, performing at Monday night’s campaign rally in Philadelphia—but why not do that from the start? Is voting for the sake of itself really so important that we must reassure the MAGA trolls among us that voting for Trump is valid? Voting is not an end unto itself but rather a means to an end, something that this and other craven examples of flaccid electoral fetishism completely fail to communicate.

Why is it that so many celebrities would rather create “get out the vote” content targeting young people than use their platforms to stump for a particular candidate—much less promote a dissenting political ideology not centered on electoral politics, as the consistently abolitionist Noname has done since before this year’s Black Lives Matter uprising? Why focus on getting young people to the polls when the disenfranchisement of people in prisons and formerly incarcerated individuals, another major factor in low voter turnout, is right there? As I see it, making this kind of content allows a celebrity to stay relevant and maintain their brand’s cultural presence on social media without alienating too many consumers. In the past week alone, Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom have sung a tailor-made version of “Rise and Shine” with lyrics about going to the polls, former presidential contenders Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg did “The Time Warp” as part of Tenacious D’s would-be viral “Rock-y the Vote” video, and Kylie Jenner attended Noah Centineo’s “Fuck This, I’m Voting” exhibit, whatever the hell that is. This kind of content might concern politics, but it’s thoroughly apolitical, something that will always be brand-safe. They might as well make self-serious posts about the importance of stopping for red lights “in these uncertain times.” Look at the good they did? Three cheers all around.

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Against the background of these bland, milquetoast appeals to civic duty by the same kind of studio system celebrities we’ve alternately venerated and reviled for decades, there’s a new kind of celebrity emerging who isn’t afraid to own their politics in public: the influencer—well, not all influencers. I mean the ones who’ve amassed a lot of followers off the strength of their content, their charisma, or both. Maybe content creator is the better term, despite my own personal distaste for it. This public figure might do sponsored content and work with brands, but they’re a personality first and foremost, not a self-effacing billboard. TikTok user Imani, who uploads videos for nearly a million followers under the handle @futrelli, has made a number of explicitly anti-Trump clips, tagging some of them with #vote. Swiping through the hashtag, I stumbled on a Trisha Paytas video where she says she’s voting for Biden because “Donald Trump is a white supremacist.” How refreshing it was to see people who’ve found success as public figures treating their politics as an asset rather than a liability. Swiping more, the app then served me up with a video of Selena Gomez, dancing to her new single while wearing a T-shirt that says “VOTE.”

Freelance journalist (GQ, Esquire, Out, elsewhere), here on weekends

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DISCUSSION

The goal . . . was simply to increase the turnout of all voters, any voter, as if another victory for the Republican incumbent would be better than very few people voting at all.

So, that’s how democracy is supposed to work.  I know ya’ll are fucked up, and I think your two-party system in particular is very unhealthy for your nation, but more voters should be goal.  Not screening voters so that only the ones you agree with vote... that’s the current GOP playbook, and you’re supposed to be against that.