The glamorization of political figures needs to end

Illustration by Lauren Johnson

Tagwa Shammet, Opinions Editor

For many students today, the recollection of 2008 is faint. I was only eight years old and most of my time revolved around being a child. However, that year was revolutionary in American history.

Barack Obama made monumental progress as the first Black man to be elected into one of the highest seats of power in the world — president of the United States of America. Even today, Obama continues to make an impact with his historical win. But, what else do we know about him?

You see, many people today know of Obama’s historic achievement, but struggle to share a handful of his legislative and executive decisions throughout the eight years he was president.

That has become the reality of our society. Today — in the United States — our politicians and government figures have become more of celebrities than agencies of change. We have glamorized those elected into office as some highly revered and popular social figures, rather than realized their distinctive purpose: to serve their electorate.

Over the past few years, I’ve begun to see politicians on my social media more than on my television screens. Former President Donald Trump would tweet more than he would lead and, unfortunately, many government figures followed suit behind him. 

We’ve seen politicians on social media, at Hollywood events, at Fashion events; basically, anywhere you’d find a celebrity. Yet, I rarely saw many politicians and government heads on the street protesting the xenophobic violence against the Asian American community during the COVID-19 pandemic, or side by side with Black protestors in the summer of 2020 as they begged for this nation to stop killing them.

Celebrities exist in an entertainment-social dimension. Their purpose primarily resides in entertaining the public — whether that be in music, film, sports, etc. A political figure is not meant to entertain me; they are meant to execute the desires and needs of the electorate that put them in their position.

Political figures have no business walking the red carpet when electorates in Flint, Michigan still don’t have clean water. 

This shift in political priorities is the fault of government figures themselves, but it also must be accepted that much of the issue lies in our society. We, as a collective, have pushed this new narrative upon one another that our political figures are somehow on the same level as celebrities. In reality, only one of those two is elected to make change.

On Oct. 23, former President Obama visited VCU’s campus to campaign and rally support for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, among other Virginia Democrats running for office this year. Obama’s presence on camps was all the rave; it became a conversation point for many students on the day leading up to the event. 

When I returned to campus after that weekend, many students were still not over Obama’s arrival. One might even say they were starstruck. But, Obama is not a star — he is a politician. As students basked in all of Obama’s glory, I fought the urge to ask students if they even remember what Obama was discussing, if they knew the candidate Obama was endorsing or if they could reveal one fact about the rally that wasn’t about Obama himself.

There’s nothing wrong with being excited to see politicians and other government authorities. Many of them inspired me to enter the study of politics. However, I know to draw the line between my favoring of their political ideologies and their personal lives.

Public opinion in politics is important. It is imperative for political figures to resonate with their electorate and showcase attractive and alluring traits. However, these figures need not confuse public faith and conviction with fame and glory.

The glamorization of political figures can also pose a danger. For example, the insurrection in the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6 earlier this year was fueled by the obsessive glorification of former President Donald Trump. The idealization of an egregious and delusional man resulted in such unprecedented violence and the death of five people.

That is exactly what the glamorization of celebrities can do. The beliefs of these politicians, regardless of how ludicrous, can unduly influence poor behavior. We cannot place these overly obsessive — and frankly, disturbingly imaginative — perspectives onto our government figures and not expect dangerous and deadly consequences.

We, as a society, ought to reshift our societal expectations of political figures to demand prioritization of our civilian lives. Our politicians must redirect their focus to cleaning our country up and executing the needs of their electorates, rather than attending the next Met Gala. 

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