Progressive Hollywood is on the move again. With less than one month remaining before midterm elections, Hollywood companies have organized the Civic Culture Coalition, which consolidates the influence of stars, executives, and public figures in social media campaigns to promote voting and voter participation in the November elections.
In one of their first actions, celebrities proclaimed, “I am a voter” by wearing pins with the phrase to New York Fashion Week and the Emmys. And just before the egregious charade led by the White House and Senate Republicans in the Kavanaugh debacle, the Coalition launched a media blackout that actually highlighted staggering gender disparities between women and men in congressional representation.
By now, the significance of the November elections is well known and represents, rather forebodingly, what distinguished historian Carol Anderson calls a “crossroads” in our national history just as significant as the year 1861, right before the U.S. Civil War. Hollywoodians have thus seized on pivotal movement in American politics. What is most intriguing, however, is the Coalition’s strategy for meeting the challenge of voter apathy by appealing to cultures of self-expression and social media.
Established masters of popular media, the Civic Culture Coalition aspires to convince people to “celebrate voting as an expression of self rather than as simply a behavior” explains Creative Artists Agency executive, René Spellman. Coalition representatives hope to recast voting as a performance of identity divorced from more traditional conceptions of voter action as a civic duty.
“Your voice is heard louder at the ballot box than it is on any social media feed.”
The Coalition’s question is an important one: how can the people in the spotlight (celebrities and thought leaders) harness post-1970s cultures of individualism and self-expression to get people to turn out at the polls? Previous iterations of pop culture driven voter awareness campaigns have similarly tried to use the influence of high-profile people to encourage participation. Everyone remembers the Vote or Die campaign in the aftermath of the 2004 elections and numerous MTV and Rock the Vote collaborations designed to reach pop culture consumers in the 1990s. The difference for today is whether an appeal to self-expression will yield the desired results?
We’re eager to learn if Hollywood can generate a successful model. In fact, self-expression seemed to be one of many reasons that people did not vote in 2016: they did not see themselves or their ideas reflected in either presidential nominee Clinton or Trump. We wonder how this campaign can remedy a generalized apathy, one that is borne of our generation’s dependence on the very centrality of self-expression to voting.
Raising awareness about how integral voting is to the democratic process is certainly one way, and it echoes what former President Obama has been saying for years. Solutions beyond that, however, should consider the systemic barriers that inhibit people from voting whether they be strict voter registration laws, employment constraints, voter intimidation, distant polling locations, or voter transiency.
Thus, the I am a voter campaign will have to consider the limitations of cultures of self-expression and individualism especially since the problems that we face are ones that require collective, self-less action.
We commend Hollywood for publicizing the elections. In fact, it’s been on the right track given that this campaign follows a wave of progressive statements from #OscarsSoWhite to the industry’s fearless #MeToo activism around sexual assault and harassment. Still, we urge these progressives to be even more progressive by rebuffing the undercurrents of individualism that have only amplified in intensity with the dawn of social media’s focus on likes, favorites, and shares. Instead, we emphasize the statement implicit in the Coalition’s last campaign: that your voice is heard louder at the ballot box than it is on any social media feed.