As the presidential election fast approaches, the clamor of people saying what they are for and against will increase exponentially. I thought it might be interesting to ponder whether any endorsement or criticism of a person, topic, or product has changed anyone’s mind.
When I’ve thought about this topic in the past, I’ve wondered whether celebrity endorsements are effective in any way beyond publicity, or whether they can be a detriment. Every election year, the intersection between the entertainment industry and politics usually includes musical acts sending out cease-and-desist letters to Republicans using their music without permission, while other media personalities either announce their endorsements, hit the campaign trail, or go on cable news to give their opinions on policy. Whether it be Beyoncé and Katy Perry, or Susan Sarandon and Killer Mike, or even Chuck Norris and Rick from Pawn Stars, does anyone really give a damn what certain celebrities say about politics? And does it make any difference to the results? Companies and corporations spend billions each year on having famous people speak for their products in commercials. So, if celebrities can be influential in selling beer, does that marketing ability also apply to candidates? The only academic study that has claimed some correlation between a famous individual’s opinion and their ability to influence votes involves Oprah Winfrey, and claims that her support may have been important to swaying as many as 1 million voters to Barack Obama.
If one goes bigger picture, do any endorsements matter nowadays? Maybe union and special interest (e.g., NRA) endorsements, since they can be important with resources and in motivating turnout. But do the endorsements from newspaper editorial boards and other politicians matter? Maybe. Or maybe not. Or, at the very least, most of the public is unwilling to admit it matters when asked about it. There’s also very little evidence that it makes a difference in the process. During most of the early months of the 2016 Republican primary, Jeb! Bush had dozens of political endorsements from members of Congress, while Donald Trump had zero. Sen. Marco Rubio had even more endorsements than Jeb! and couldn’t even win his home state. During the 2012 campaign, when NPR asked voters in Ohio whether their local paper’s endorsement made a difference, one man responded by saying, “My opinion is as valid as the editor of the newspaper, and it’s my vote, so I will decide for myself.” And there is pushback against criticism from the most ardent supporters of a candidate, sports team, or any kind of fandom that impulsively rejects negative feedback. Both celebrities and politicians have used the media as boogeyman, to make themselves seem like victims to their biggest supporters.
This could be a mark of the diminishing influence of newspapers as their economic situation has become more and more dire, but candidates usually brandish endorsements from editorial boards, governors, senators, etc., in the same manner that Hollywood studios use movie reviews and awards to market their films or television series. But, along the same line of thought ,and reconnecting it to entertainment, do media reviews or severe criticism about any topic even matter to the public anymore? Maybe not. Trump famously said he could shoot someone and his voters wouldn’t care, either about the act or the media’s criticism, and the last three years have proven him right.
There was a time when a positive or negative review by a newspaper’s film critic was significant, and seen as something significant. Even before “two thumbs up” became an indelible part of popular culture, the opinions of Pauline Kael, Vincent Canby, Roger Ebert, Gene Siskel, et al., were seen as something of a bellwether for shaping public opinion, highlighting works worthy (or not so worthy) of spending two to three hours of one’s life on, and giving professional insight into the topic.
One could agree with them or disagree, but their opinions were worthy enough that people actually considered the arguments that were presented.
There’s been a lot written about the differences in how criticism and praise affect people, and how criticism tends to have more impact on and stay with a person longer than praise. Some of the strongest memories are the most traumatic and negative ones. And in a world where the internet and social media allow a degree of anonymity, the social norms and etiquette framework of the really real world are stripped away, allowing people to be “total dickwads” who can brush aside any need to abide or listen to any negative response, and with all too many people ready to reinforce stupidity.
Criticism when true is a useful tool for improvement. However, in a world where media personalities and blogs can rail against public figures all day to little effect, even film criticism doesn’t have the impact it once did. And all of the elements of stupidity that have infected politics are seeping out into the rest of our lives. A couple of years ago, with the release of Wonder Woman, some media critics noticed there was an undercurrent of resentment among some DC Comics fans, who believed all of the negative criticism of Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman, and Justice League was motivated by bias. And for those people, the movies aren’t bad. The movies are victims of “fake news.”
This is similar to some of the sexism that surrounded the release of Captain Marvel this year. After the Marvel Studios film opened to almost a half-billion-dollar global gross in its opening weekend, some members of the He-Man Woman Haters Club claimed everything from Disney was lying about the box office as part of a feminist agenda all the way to the studio had purchased tickets to inflate the numbers.
From Jason Bailey at Flavorwire:
It’s the particular tone these fans adopt about the people who write about film, and the way in which they should write about it. We are, we’re told, not reviewing these films “objectively,” but are instead merely validating our loathsome biases … But even taking these people at face value is an exercise in bad faith. Beyond the implicit sexism (witness the DC fan account that’s calling out critics and bloggers for “throwing shade” at the DCEU — half of whom are women, not exactly a percentage reflected in the profession in general) and the tin-foil hat conspiracies (they still think Disney pays critics to write good reviews of Marvel movies and bad reviews of DC’s) is, indeed, an “ethics”-style call for “objectivity” in criticism — as if the two concepts weren’t directly contradictory.
When it comes to this particular, inexplicable subset of film fandom, there’s no real concern about degrees of subjectivity. “Bias!” (or, more accurately, “so bias,” i.e., “Critics are so bias against DC”) has become the go-to response for any negative opinion of the DC oeuvrethus far; it is to this audience as “fake news!” is to Donald Trump and his equally devoted diehards. Both terms are being ignorantly redefined, each a real thing turned into a knee-jerk response to something the user doesn’t want to hear or know; just as “fake news” is an accurate description of sites established, during the election cycle and after, to provide false information and political propaganda to an audience eager for confirmation and disinterested in legitimate sources, “bias” is an accurate description of how news outlets purporting to report objectively use prejudicial language and story selection to slant their coverage’s perspective. (Y’know, the kind of thing Fox News does.)
The indifference of the public to the media has been a topic of interest within the industry for some time, with ideas ranging from discounting critics as ideological sycophants to a belief that their opinions are those of out-of-touch shills and elitist snobs.
However, it might just be that there are no gatekeepers anymore.
The democratization of opinion offered by the internet has led to a segmented world where everyone has an opinion, and can also find like-minded people who share and reinforce their opinions, no matter what they might be. Instead of there being gatekeepers or wise men and women whose opinions shape a consensus, there are millions and millions of people cracking wise about all sorts of topics on social media.
Think of the worst movie, TV show, band, etc., you’ve ever seen or heard, and I’ll bet there’s someone out there somewhere who finds some aspect of it worthy of spending part of their time defending. And the flip side is also true. There are far too many really dumb individuals at the ready to tear something beautiful down for the awfullest of reasons, too.
— Amazon Movie Reviews (@AmznMovieRevws) August 10, 2014
And this leads us back to politics.
We’ve spent the better part of three years with almost every political reporter documenting Donald Trump’s lies, distortions of his own history, and general tendency to use racism and xenophobia for an advantage. And what has been the reaction from a significant portion of the public?
They don’t care. Donald Trump is like the fifth sequel of a bad Michael Bay movie that is impervious to any criticism. The signature hallmarks of any Michael Bay film are some combination of explosions, cars, and attractive women, with exquisitely shitty plot and pacing. Transformers: Age of Extinction is indicative of how some films are “critic-proof.” The movie has an 18% rating on Rotten Tomatoes but still made over $1.1 billion worldwide. Audiences just didn’t care that almost every reputable critic in the world thought it was shit.
For Trump, it’s enjoyment by his voters through spite.
For roughly 40% of the country, if the president, any member of the administration, someone with an “R” next to their name, or just a garden-variety kook/right-wing blowhard announces an accusation without any evidence (e.g., wiretapping, Pizzagate, voter fraud), it becomes true gospel for the loyalists, even if it was a late-night dumbass tweet liked by fellow dumbasses.
For roughly 40% of the country, if the news media cites multiple sources and prior statements —some of it on video, with the actual participants lying through their own teeth— that conflict with the administration’s “alternative facts,” any and all of that information is “fake” because the idiot-in-chief said so.
For the other half of America, we keep holding out hope that people aren’t stupid enough to hand power over to obvious lunatics, even though that’s already been proved dramatically wrong.
Photographic evidence of Trump lies? FAKE!
Some of the highest-ranking members of the executive branch either have connections to or sympathize with actual fucking Nazis.
And even if it’s all true … it’s okay … BECAUSE HER EMAILS!!!
This dynamic is perfectly captured by a single quote from an NBC News reporter. The subject was Trump’s … glaring falsehood: his claim that “thousands and thousands of people were cheering” in New Jersey as the Twin Towers came down on 9/11. This has been decisively debunked by Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler.
But Trump’s supporters simply don’t care in the least.
“I spoke to a lot of his supporters who are waiting to come into this rally. And I asked them what they think of Donald Trump and whether or not they’re bothered by his inaccurate statements and whether they think they matter. And not a single one of them said that they thought it mattered. They said they like him because they think he’s going to be a strong leader, and they think he’s going to bring the change to Washington that they want.”
Those people don’t give a shit about endorsements, reviews, or criticism. And there are such people all over this country, and they exist in all walks and areas of life.