Fox News to Taylor Swift: female empowerment is great so long as it steers clear of electoral politics. The Daily Devil’s Dictionary explains.
This time it isn’t Russia but Taylor Swift who is manipulating American elections. After years of appearing indifferent to politics, years during which some of her fans thought of her as a symbol of white supremacy, Swift endorsed two Democrats in her home state of Tennessee. That was bad enough, but she also called on young people to register to vote.
Republican politicians and activists were quick to react, in typically hallucinating ways. On Fox News, Charlie Kirk, head of the nonprofit conservative youth organization Turning Point USA, explained, “What I used to love about Taylor Swift is she stayed away from politics.” For Kirk, it was “all about music, all about female empowerment.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
The guaranteed and fully protected capacity to achieve one’s goals within the limits of the reigning authority’s restrictions on which goals may be considered for achievement
Kirk even took the trouble to formulate a half-baked but no doubt evolving conspiracy theory when he suggested, “I don’t think she was the only one that wrote that post on Instagram.” The point is that female empowerment and electoral politics don’t mix. White celebrity sex symbols should focus on what they’re good at.
Politicians on the Republican side of the spectrum offered a wide range of authentically loony reactions to the dire news of a blonde, white girl betraying the party’s religion. President Donald Trump typically delivered the most hyperreal statement, whereas former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee chose to be surreal. Trump, ever the calculating negotiator, checked with his accounting department before offering: “Let’s say that I like Taylor’s music about 25 percent less now, OK?” Call that Trump’s initial bid, though some believe that if Swift could be empowered to manage her own art of the deal, she might get him to come down to 20%.
Serial Republican primary presidential candidate Huckabee’s surreal tack got him into trouble when he tweeted, “So @taylorswift13 has every right to be political but it won’t impact election unless we allow 13 yr old girls to vote.” This appears to sum up Republican politicians’ attitude about women in general, who, in a perfect world, wouldn’t be allowed (empowered) to vote.
One conservative country music fan offered her own brand of surrealism with this command to the 28-year-old singer: “Respectfully, be quiet and sing!” She may not have noticed that Swift tends to open her mouth and raise her voice when she sings.
In the Fox interview, Kirk affirmed that while he loves Swift’s music, he’s a “bigger fan” of Kanye West, a rare black celebrity (and certified lunatic) who is both a fan and friend of Trump. Could this be more about partisan preference than aesthetic appreciation?
The 1980 election of President Ronald Reagan marked the moment when politics and entertainment began a romance that has been evolving ever since. The otherwise clear line that formerly existed between the two gradually faded away, culminating in the 2016 election of Trump. Reagan was the first totally hyperreal politician, a competent actor with no political sense, even after serving two terms as governor of California.
Before Reagan, the dominant trend in political image-building had been dynastic, favoring political families: the Roosevelts, Rockefellers, Kennedys and later the Bushes and Clintons. But for most of that period the families contended with individual political talents, seasoned professionals. Both Roosevelts — Teddy and Franklin — existed as individual talents before building a trust in the name.
The Roosevelt name created a modern precedent for family branding, which Joe Kennedy, father of JFK, RFK and Edward, sought to exploit. It exploited the notion of trust in a ruling caste familiar with the rules and mores of politics. Reagan, on the other hand, presented a fabricated stage presence in the now dominant audiovisual media. The successful marketing of his brand turned him into the patron saint of the Republican Party, setting the stage for other celebrity politicians, such as Jesse Ventura, Arnold Schwarzenegger and ultimately Trump.
Now the field is wide open, and the Democrats have been actively encouraging celebrities like Oprah Winfrey — who is also a billionaire — to lead their party. Celebrity and wealth are of course closely associated, Trump being a prime example. And now we learn that Michael Bloomberg, a celebrity businessman, former mayor of New York and authentic billionaire ($51 billion), has just switched parties and may be seeking the Democratic nomination in 2020, which, if successful, would lead to an unusual contest between two New York billionaires.
The current historical period, at least for presidential elections, has created a new electoral culture merging wealth, celebrity and political personality. It leaves the formerly dominant notion of responsible, thoughtful policymaking a distant last in the list of presidential qualifications. Just as news itself has become entertainment and little else, so has politics.
Republicans are right to be concerned about Taylor Swift’s possible influence on elections. We are witnessing the merging of two formerly separate hyperreal worlds. US politics, now dominated by celebrity, ideological fashion (based on tag lines rather than political thought) and the worship of wealth, has assimilated the basic lessons of pop culture. Even though many — and especially talent managers — consider it financially risky for entertainers to alienate part of their audience, it’s only natural that pop culture icons like Swift should cross the increasingly thin line that separates them.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.