This is part of a weekly series called in which The Lantern’s Ty Anderson offers his take on the week’s pop culture news.
There I was, sipping a piping hot cup of Earl Grey tea and browsing the World Wide Web, when I happened upon a particularly intriguing headline that immediately caught my attention: “Hillary Clinton Is Running for President: Olivia Wilde, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Ariana Grande and More Stars React.”
Of course, I’d heard the rumors, and I had little doubt that Hillary would be running for president, but this was the first official confirmation that I had seen. What caught my attention was that it wasn’t Barack Obama or Ruth Bader Ginsburg who was reacting to the news, but rather, it was Olivia Wilde, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Ariana Grande. Politicians? Nay. Rather, it was a Hollywood hottie, a gay sitcom star and a half-feline Nickelodeon actress turned overnight pop sensation.
And that’s when it hit me: She’s one of them.
Now, I don’t have anything against Hillary, not in the slightest. Of course, I grew up around a host of family members who had personal vendettas against the woman, most notable of which was my second cousin: To put it simply, my second cousin did not believe that a woman was capable of running our great United States. Of course, that same cousin was also known to buy me Barbie dolls for Christmas each year, and subsequently ridicule me in front of the entire family for playing with them. So fortunately, I realized at a young age that he was probably not my go-to guy when it came to healthy ideologies concerning gender roles in America.
So it isn’t just Hillary that I see as a pop culture icon, but rather, any politician who runs for president of the United States. All of them appear in tabloids. All of them face sex scandals and petty gossip. But I’m not blaming the politicians — I don’t think that a person’s status as a celebrity diminishes their political clout. With gay marriage, women’s health issues and race relations all so prominent in today’s political discussions, celebrities have begun voicing their opinions, further drawing Washington into the Hollywood bubble.
Now, certainly every celebrity is entitled to their own opinion. The problem is that most celebrities know little more than the average American when it comes to politics, and yet their fandoms and followings far outrank those of politicians. In a perfect system, every American would vote independently of their favorite celebrities. We would all be informed of the issues at stake, we would all watch the debates, and we would all read The Washington Post.
Unfortunately, this is not a perfect system, and all it takes is a “yaaas @hillaryclinton” from Ariana Grande’s Twitter account, and suddenly Big Sean, women ages 12-24 and cats everywhere are Hillary Clinton diehards. To more informed voters, I imagine it’s infuriating to see “E! News” posting articles about presidential hopefuls. But for the average voter/media consumer, it’s fun, and we want to see it.
So rather than blame the politicians, or the celebrities, or even the news outlets themselves, I’m blaming us — as uninformed, easily influenced, gossip-hungry vultures who feed on drama and low-attention-span entertainment — for turning the presidential race into a higher stakes version of “American Idol.”
Of course, it’s not completely our faults. I’d be willing to wager that a majority of voting Americans, myself included, don’t know all that much about politics. Call it willful ignorance, but many of us were never taught the importance of political knowledge. Personally, I was required to take one year of American government coursework during my senior year of high school, and that was it. I regularly skipped class in favor of visiting the high school newsroom, and I convinced the government teacher to change my final grade from a B+ to an A- “just because.”
Indeed, in America, we know little about how our country is run, and we don’t really care. We vote based on character — Barack is a charmer, so I’d love to see him take charge of the country. Hillary is a woman, and I’d love to see her get a turn. We don’t know what our votes mean in terms of taxes or foreign policy, but at least we know we did our civic duty.
As a whole, the presidential election is, at its core, a popularity contest. It is a step away from a reality show, and I wouldn’t be surprised if MTV started covering the race in upcoming years.
There’s no dressing up the fact that the Republican primaries are more or less the Grammys for bored suburban dads.
So what’s a society to do? How do you teach millions and millions of Americans to fight their inherent laziness and preconceived notions in favor of a better society? Short answer: You don’t. Look at Michelle Obama — she’s been fighting the obesity epidemic for two presidential terms, and all she’s managed to do is guest star on a Disney Channel commercial and become besties with Ellen Degeneres.
The only real American who’s made any progress is Shonda Rhimes, creator of ABC’s “Scandal.” By exploring the deceptive and adulterous backroads of Washington, D.C., Rhimes has cultivated a genuine interest in the inner workings of American politics throughout the 18-35 female demographic.
The true solution? Easy. We all need to start watching “House of Cards.” While “Scandal” has made strides in political interest, it chooses to focus more closely on the emotional side of Washington. “House of Cards” offers a real-world education in political mechanics, while simultaneously entertaining the human psyche. And we all know that it’s physically impossible for Americans to learn without also being entertained.
Too bad it requires a damned Netflix subscription.