Photo by Kelvin Cheng
The politicization of social media, coupled with a more extensive political education of the American public, has allowed politics to enter more substantially into the world of entertainment. This is not to say that politics has never played a role in the entertainment industry, but the phenomenon has become even more widespread in the last decade: contemporary political debates have become spectacles, politicians blatantly argue with each other on the internet, and campaign ads—as well as political rants—flood TikTok “For You” pages across the country. This widespread information-sharing of political news is not inherently a bad thing; it is important for democracies to have an educated and engaged population. However, entertainment politics has a uniquely strong ability to influence public perception, a power that can be easily abused.
Alongside the advent of entertainment politics comes the rise of the Celebrity Politician, an entertainment archetype prevalent in modern news media and social media content. Unlike other politicians, this one uses their association with American politics to rise in fame, perhaps even to the extent that they become a household name across the country when the prestige of their political position would not usually allow them to do so. Unlike other celebrities who get involved in politics, the Celebrity Politician builds a platform directly off of their political career; their political persona predates their fame, but their fame ultimately props up their career.
Of course, it is only natural for some politicians to become household names as a byproduct of their position, such as U.S. presidents and vice presidents. In the past few years, however, some politicians have been taking advantage of media coverage, both personal and otherwise, to attract fame. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), affectionately known as “AOC,” is routinely active on Instagram. Her social media presence allows her to speak almost directly with her constituents, helping her build a name for herself, especially among the younger generation. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and former presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, despite holding relatively minor offices from a national perspective, have also made names for themselves through their use of media. Buttigieg came out as gay in the South Bend Tribune, making national news, and O’Rourke’s social media presence has long been a part of his campaign strategies. By combining the power of their political office with a keen manipulation of the media, these politicians have made their fame a part of their political strategies.
Many more celebrities attempt similar media-heavy strategies, but politicians traditionally favor more reserved or professional personas for the media. For a celebrity, however, any press is good press, and it seems that some politicians in the new generation agree. New-to-the-scene congresswomen, Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), exemplify that mentality. Their booming voices and stubborn rejection of the subtle professionalism expected in the Senate Chamber have made them considerably more famous than some of their coworkers; indeed, many people across the country are more familiar with Greene and Boebert than they are with their own state representatives. While their antics have pushed away some voters, others have been drawn in by their attention-grabbing, reservation-free tactics. Their relatively absurd behavior makes for good entertainment, which in turn provides them with more air-time, making them well-known.
It is hard to say with certainty to what extent these congresswomen are intentionally behaving this way to garner media attention, and to what end. It is also important to consider what impact their gender may have on their portrayal in the media. Despite rejecting the necessity of feminism as a social movement, both Greene and Boebert are likely victims of the sexism they deny. Often, these congresswomen’s absurd behavior is repeatedly harped on by media outlets while their male counterparts with similar views and strategies are covered less frequently (and by smaller news outlets). Greene and Boebert’s femininity, coupled with their abrasive personalities, has created the perfect entertainment storm.
Greene and Boebert are just two examples of the Celebrity Politician phenomenon. Rather than simply condemn these two congresswomen for their strategies, it is time to consider the circumstances that enabled them. The entertainment industry and American politics are inextricably linked and perhaps always have been. But as younger politicians who are increasingly familiar with popular culture, social media, and the real value of shocking people come onto the scene, there will likely be even more candidates with media-attractive personas like Ocasio-Cortez, Greene, and Boebert. A politician can no longer rely on traditional campaigning to stay relevant; media manipulation is a strategic necessity. With that said, it is clear that becoming a politician is now a viable route to fame, regardless of actual political power. It will be interesting to see how many more outspoken characters this new incentive might pull into American politics.
This article was edited by Natalia Gaitan and Nicole Kilada.