A move tai­lored to boost democ­racy

Weekend Herald - - Lizzie Marvelly - Lizzie Marvelly

Idon’t be­lieve I’ve ever put Tay­lor Swift and pol­i­tics in the same sen­tence. Like emails and a peace­ful life, the two things sim­ply do not seem to be­long to­gether. One re­minds me of twirling around my lounge at age 19, singing about Romeo and a white dress, while the other — of the Amer­i­can va­ri­ety, any­way — cur­rently fills me with a potent mix­ture of fear and rage. The idea of a po­lit­i­cal Tay­lor Swift is a bit like the idea of an ar­tic­u­late Don­ald Trump. Dis­com­bob­u­lat­ing to say the least.

Nev­er­the­less, Swift turned my world order up­side down last week, when she en­dorsed two Demo­cratic can­di­dates on In­sta­gram.

“In the past I’ve been re­luc­tant to pub­licly voice my po­lit­i­cal opin­ions, but due to sev­eral events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very dif­fer­ently about that now,” she wrote.

“I be­lieve in the fight for LGBTQ rights, and that any form of dis­crim­i­na­tion based on sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or gen­der is WRONG. I be­lieve that the sys­temic racism we still see in this coun­try towards peo­ple of colour is ter­ri­fy­ing, sick­en­ing and preva­lent. I can­not vote for some­one who will not be will­ing to fight for dig­nity for ALL Amer­i­cans, no mat­ter their skin colour, gen­der or who they love.”

She went on to name the two can­di­dates she will be vot­ing for in Ten­nessee, and to en­cour­age her fans to ed­u­cate them­selves about the can­di­dates stand­ing in their ar­eas so they could vote for the per­son who most closely aligned with their val­ues. With a fol­low­ing of 112 mil­lion, Swift’s post was the kind of ad­ver­tis­ing that would’ve stretched even lu­di­crous su­per-Po­lit­i­cal Ac­tion Com­mit­tee bud­gets. The hasty de­nounce­ments from Repub­li­cans (in­clud­ing the Tweeter-In-Chief ) be­trayed just how an­noyed they were.

Their anger, how­ever, was noth­ing to that of the white su­prem­a­cists and 4chan users who have held Swift up as an ex­am­ple of a per­fect white con­ser­va­tive woman. “Guys I think those f ***ing cultists who tort­ment [sic] us killed Tay­lor Swift and re­placed her with a brain dead [non­playable char­ac­ter] . . . I will de­fend the hon­our of my lady Tay­lor Swift and find a way to re­turn her to nor­mal,” one wrote.

Mu­si­cians as a group are hardly strangers to pol­i­tics. Artists have been writ­ing protest songs and mak­ing po­lit­i­cal state­ments for gen­er­a­tions. From Bil­lie Hol­l­i­day and Bob Dy­lan to Mack­le­more and Green Day, ac­tivism in mu­sic is a proud tra­di­tion.

But Tay­lor Swift made her name as a young, pretty coun­try singer. She was the per­fect teen idol for Repub­li­can daugh­ters. While her in­evitable growth to wom­an­hood (and ac­com­pa­ny­ing ac­knowl­edg­ment that she is — gasp — a sex­ual be­ing) ren­dered her un­suit­able to the ul­tra­con­ser­va­tives, she had un­til re­cently thrown them a bone by re­main­ing apo­lit­i­cal. A kind of in­sipid, yet catchy and like­able ver­sion of her ri­val, the out­spo­ken, risque Katy Perry.

But no more. Swift has re­sound­ingly shaken off her Switzer­land-es­que stance, and si­mul­ta­ne­ously cul­ti­vated some bad blood with her Repub­li­can fans.

Will her state­ment have an im­pact? Prob­a­bly, although it would be un­likely to be momentous enough to change the out­come of the elec­tion race dras­ti­cally. In 2016, Hil­lary Clin­ton was en­dorsed by Bey­once and Jay-Z, Katy Perry, Jen­nifer Lopez, and Bruce Spring­steen, among oth­ers, and we all know how that ended.

Re­gard­less of whether or not Swift’s en­dorse­ment shifts the scales for her cho­sen can­di­dates, her open dis­cus­sion of her po­lit­i­cal val­ues should be ap­plauded. Par­tic­u­larly given that many of her fans are young adults, the de­mo­graphic least likely to vote. If Swift mo­ti­vates even a small per­cent­age of her fans to ful­fil their civic re­spon­si­bil­ity, democ­racy will be the win­ner.

Swift’s en­try into the po­lit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tion brought to mind a young artist of our own, how­ever; then Kiwi-sweet­heart Eleanor Cat­ton. Cat­ton, the youngest win­ner of the Man Booker Prize, dared to crit­i­cise the then-Na­tional Govern­ment and was pil­lo­ried for it in the na­tional me­dia. Swift’s post also con­jured a vi­sion of Lorde, putting her pol­i­tics where her tour­ing sched­ule was, and can­celling a con­cert in Is­rael.

Both home­grown po­lit­i­cal rab­bler­ousers re­ceived fierce back­lash against their re­spec­tive po­lit­i­cal state­ments. The re­sponse that stands out to me most was then-Prime Min­is­ter John Key’s; he sug­gested that Cat­ton had shown a lack of re­spect and had “no spe­cial po­lit­i­cal insight”. He went on to say that it was “a bit sad that [she was] mix­ing pol­i­tics with some of the things she’s good at”.

Which surely is the point of democ­racy — that we’re all sup­posed to mix pol­i­tics with some of the things we’re good at. In fact, it makes no dif­fer­ence whether we’re good at any­thing at all. We’re all en­ti­tled to our views and our votes, and no view nor vote is any more weighty than an­other.

A sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of the back­lash against Swift’s In­sta­gram post has been sim­i­lar to that lobbed at Cat­ton. Tay-Tay should stick to her singing, her crit­ics moan.

As if be­ing a singer of catchy pop tunes (or a writer of an award­win­ning book) ren­ders you in­ca­pable of form­ing an opin­ion.

If I were a par­ent, I would far rather my chil­dren idolised stars who stood up for what they be­lieved in, than man­u­fac­tured mu­sic-bots bereft of con­science or con­scious thought. There are things far worse than a singer who chal­lenges you to think, whether you agree with them or not.

Celebrity po­lit­i­cal en­dorse­ments are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly com­mon, and I ten­ta­tively wel­come such a phe­nom­e­non. The louder the con­ver­sa­tion around par­tic­i­pa­tion in the demo­cratic process, the more nor­malised vot­ing be­hav­iour be­comes. Whether it’s Swift, Cat­ton, Lorde, Joseph Parker at the re­cent New Zealand First con­fer­ence, Lucy Law­less and her ad­vo­cacy for the Green Party, or any­one else, I take heart from the open dis­cus­sion around views and be­liefs.

We will never be able to agree on ev­ery­thing, but we can all do our bit for so­ci­ety by cast­ing a vote.

If not for democ­racy, then for a celebrity selfie out­side the vot­ing booth.

Photo / AP

Tay­lor Swift also used her ac­cep­tance speech at the Amer­i­can Mu­sic Awards this week to en­cour­age peo­ple to vote.

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