Last week, former Bond actress Catherine McQueen announced that she was standing as a Conservative councillor in London’s Camden Town. McQueen, whose focus would be on fighting crime, told the local press
“Camden Town may always have had a reputation for being a bit dirty and grimy, but I don’t think it used to be dirty, grimy and dangerous. I don’t think people used to get murdered.”
McQueen is indicative of cultural transformation that is underway: the American Dream (and its British equivalent) has changed. Political life is absorbing members of Tinseltown – and fast.
Simply put, the American Dream was the idea that anyone, no matter of their start in life, can get anywhere. We are born free (see the US Declaration of Independence: “all men are created equal” with equal rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”). But today, the American Dream seems to mean that all celebrities that are created equal, with equal rights to a career in politics, activism and the pursuit of attention.
American historian James Truslow Adams articulated the concept more succinctly in 1931, writing that “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement”. The American Dream has regularly been explored in songs, books and plays. It isn’t exclusive to fiction: in 2006, then-US Senator Barack Obama wrote The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. In all of its forms, one thing is certain – the American Dream is all about hope, and in times of uncertainty, such as these, we desperately grapple for hope, and grasp any hope that is in reach.
Now hope, in the twenty-first century, appears to be represented in celebrity culture. In a largely godless world, these semi-talented and extremely well-known people are heralded as beacons of hope and ambassadors of change.
Take facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Once known only for his genius in the field of tech, Zuckerberg is increasingly taking to the world stage to deliver wordy addresses on social change and humanitarian causes. This year, he is touring the US in a bid to make “the most positive impact as the world enters a new period”. He has previously quoted Abraham Lincoln, urging followers to “think anew and act anew” and “establish direct dialogue and accountability between people and our elected leaders”.
The 38th Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was formerly an actor, starring in blockbuster action movies such as The Terminator and Batman and Robin. Harry Potter actress Emma Watson seems to spend more time fighting for the feminist cause than appearing on screen these days. Singer Kanye West has publicly mocked the electorate when discussing his political ambitions: “When I talk about the idea of being president, I’m not saying I have any political views. I don’t have views on politics, I just have a view on humanity, on people, on the truth”. (It seems to me that these aren’t particularly noble credentials for a potential presidential candidate.) And of course, the current President of the United States – lest we forget, Donald Trump was once a reality TV star. Some would argue in a way he still is, just now he holds the world in his hands.
The U-turn from entertainer to politician is worrying. As I have said on these pages before, Hollywood has always been political. If you’ve got a platform to speak, use it. If you have a voice, speak. But in turn, we, the electorate, should not just hear but listen. Listen to what is being said. Judge if and how we can trust those that say it. And don’t just blindly follow with the misguided belief that because someone has celebrity status, they have a good nous and should be entrusted with power, nor that a name in lights equates to democratic worth.