Star power: Does politics need the help of celebrities to engage with young people?
Earlier this week, Jennifer Lawrence announced she was considering taking a year off from acting as she’ll be “trying to get people engaged politically”.
So, as J-Law joins the list of the rich and famous planning to swap acting for activism, the question we must ask is do young people need Hollywood’s elite to make being politically active an attractive prospect?
Here in the UK, it could be argued that celebrity involvement in politics is viewed negatively – just look at the cynicism in the press that met Jeremy Corbyn when he joined forces with Stormzy or the ridicule that Russell Brand faced when he deigned to voice political opinions.
In the USA, it’s a different story. From rumours of Oprah and The Rock considering running for President in 2020, to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s current run as Governor of California, America has a well-documented history of famous faces dabbling in politics. However, it’s time to give young people more credit when it comes to their own futures.
At Shout Out UK, we recognise the value young people bring to political conversations, and the importance of getting them involved in these conversations as early as possible. To make that happen, all routes can and should be explored, but the reliance on using celebrities to make politics more ‘attractive’ to young people is a tired trope that perpetuates the myth that young people are simply not interested enough in their own futures to get involved unless someone wraps it up in a shiny bow. Surely our young people deserve more credit than that?
This week, in the wake of yet another mass school shooting, America’s youth has thrown down the gauntlet. Their chant of ‘Enough Is Enough’ is echoing across Washington as I type because they are sick of the adults in their lives failing to protect them. They have co-ordinated a response to the attack with more grace, defiance and strength than we typically see from politicians on both sides of the pond. As the next generation, why should they wait until they are of voting age before they start working to affect change?
While I applaud Jennifer Lawrence and celebrities like her using their considerable platform to focus on real issues, they need to tread carefully. They can be powerful role models for young people around the world. There’s a reason why the famous Spider-Man quote ‘with great power, comes great responsibility’ resonates. Harnessed in the right way, Jennifer and her peers can be a powerful force for change, but young people need to know the tools for them to be politically engaged have always been there for them. Young people themselves have power to change society for the better, they just need to understand how the system works. I celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence and others want to use their influence to improve engagement then pushing for more Political Literacy in schools is the best avenue to ensure long last change, without making young people feel like they need to piggy back on the support and voice of celebrities to be heard.
Knowledge is empowerment, which is why we at Shout Out UK, are pushing for political education in schools. Political literacy would give us, the next generation, a clear understanding of what politics is, how our society works and why voting is relevant and important. Yet, screaming at us to vote without telling us why or how society and politics works seems a little premature. Like asking someone to run a marathon before being able to walk. You can’t get an entire generation mobilized in the long term without giving them the tools to understand the system they are supposed to be influencing at the same time.
We, Shout Out UK, run a Political Literacy course, which aims to get more young people interested and engaged in Politics, by teaching them about the processes in Politics, public speaking and debating. The young people we teach are more engaged and passionate about politics because they not only see why they need to be involved in the conversation, but now also understand how they can influence it for there generation.