I’m not Swift but …
I can’t believe it. I am writing about Taylor Swift.
Undoubtedly, Swift is a phenomenon—she is a creative artist who is not afraid to adapt to new situations, a savvy marketer who invites fans to personally identify with her through secret codes embedded in her lyrics and an innovative entrepreneur always ready to take on new challenges. She’s a pretty, vulnerable-looking young woman who succeeds in directing her own career in a tough-as-nails-business.
All exemplary but why is the public so beguiled by her? Why are we so interested in her love affair with Kansas City Chief’s player Travis Kelce? Swift has had 12 publicly known exes, none of whom rose high enough on my horizon to penetrate my consciousness, but it is impossible to escape references to “Tayvis.” What’s the big deal?
Why are male football fans so incensed that the cameras swing to show her cheering when the Kelce makes a play? If an average professional football game lasts three hours and Swift is telecast for approximately 15 second per game, what’s the harm? Viewership of football games, already high, has soared as Swifties tune in to catch a glimpse of their beloved but what do the fans do with the other 10,785 seconds of athletic competition?
And where, oh where, did the idea originate that a multiple-game Democratic conspiracy has been hatched to have the Chiefs win the Super Bowl so Swift can endorse Biden from the 50-yard line? Personally my only fear is that she will break Kelce’s heart. Previous beaux have ended up as fodder for her songwriting and I wonder how she will work football into the lyrics of her next song.
The conspiracy theory is, of course, balderdash, but it is undeniable that Swift, now at the peak of her popularity, can be an “influencer.” So perhaps the Republicans should be worried. Last year, Swift suggested on Instagram that her fans register to vote on the nonpartisan, nonprofit, Vote.org. According to the organization, that single post resulted in more than 35,000 registrations.
Her incredible popularity drew an average 72,500 attendees to U.S. stadiums for 44 shows in 2023. In 2020, Biden beat Trump by a combined 44,000 votes in the key swing states of Georgia, Arizona and Wisconsin. What power that young singer, not yet old enough to run for president herself, might wield if she chose to sway even a fraction of the 3 million fans who graced her concerts.
Taylor Swift’s politics, from what I have read, tend to be humane, but I am concerned on a universal level about the American public’s susceptibility to being influenced by charismatic personalities rather than by political policies. People with little or no political experience who affect the outcome of elections based on their personal endorsements—whether they be Oprah, George Clooney, John Legend or, God forbid, Ye (formerly Kanya West)—can inadvertently damage the political fabric of our nation. Annika Reff, writing in the Brown Political Review in March 2023, noted, that celebrities have “epistemic power” which the Cambridge University Press defines as “the influence a person has over what other people ‘think, believe, and know.’”
But what do the “influencers” really know? They may be deeply principled students of modern politics—or not. Their high-profile careers may even lead them to believe they should enter the field of politics themselves, persuaded they can bring their outsider’s insights to what many Americans see as a broken political system.
Reff noted that lawyers must pass the bar, diplomats take series of exams and senior military commanders undergo 20 to 30 years of specialized training and leadership. “These jobs––lawmaker, diplomat and military commander––are all contained in the role of the American president,” she wrote. “Yet, this position, arguably the most powerful job in the world, has no base qualifications other than U.S. citizenship and a minimum age.”
Celebrities can seem trustworthy to many Americans because of their familiarity but electing an unqualified candidate can tarnish the respectability of the presidency, domestically and internationally, according to Reff. In 2021, Pew Research found that in 16 nations surveyed, only 17 percent of those polled believed that democracy in the United States is a good example to follow and 57 percent said we used to be a good example but have not been in recent years.
And still, in 2022, 46 percent of American voters surveyed said they would support the candidacy of wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson for president. A wrestler? Really? International trends are leaning toward “strong man” leadership but that is a little too literal.
Being a celebrity does not preclude one from having valid political opinions nor does it necessarily mean one would be a poor administrator. After all, Ronald Reagan, who led the parade of the 20th century celebrity politicians, is ranked ninth in the list of all-time best presidents. But the world is a very dangerous place today and I prefer to have qualified and competent politicians at the helm. The presidency is inherently a popularity contest, testing once candidate’s appeal against others but that appeal should be couched in experience and acumen, not in showmanship.