Do actors make perfect politicians?

By Gabrielle Pickard
0 CommentsPrint E-mail, March 5, 2010
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Increasingly actors are instigating political debate and swaying public opinion. But can celebrities who bypass the conventional route into office match professional politicians? And is their growing influence evidence of the decline of political parties?

There was outrage in the UK following a "vicious attack" made by a Daily Mail columnist following the death of Irish boy band star Stephen Gately. The fury was stoked by the well-known British comedy actor Stephen Fry. By branding the article "loathsome and inhumane," the actor-turned-public-advocate prompted 843,000 of his Twitter followers to complain to the British Press Complaints Commission.

The scandal of the columnist's "homophobic rant" is the latest of a string of news cycles Fry has instigated and in doing so provoked moral debate and influenced public opinion. Fry, a highly successful actor, comedian, writer and producer, is just the latest celebrity who, not content with being a mere entertainer, has his fingers wedged firmly in political pies.

Fry's drive for global influence, endorsed by his most powerful weapon, his Twitter page, has recently been targeted at China. Shortly before his campaign against the Daily Mail columnist, his efforts were concentrated on alerting the world to the damage to global ecology caused by some items on the Chinese diet, particularly sharks fins. He also campaigned on behalf of Akmal Shaikh, the Londoner executed for smuggling heroin in China.

Screen heroes can be turned into "real heroes" through a successful political campaign. Last year, British actress Joanna Lumley, was given a hero's welcome when she "single-handedly" took on the British government and won Gurkha veterans the right to reside in Britain. The case was extremely high profile and had a fairytale ending with Lumley, on a "victory tour," being festooned with marigold garlands and sacred silk scarves, elevating her from a national celebrity into an international political campaigner.

But "actors-dabbling-in-politics" is not confined to the UK, and however fashionable it may be at present, it is not a new phenomenon. In the U.S. in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan was catapulted from B-movie actor to the world's most powerful political office. In 2003, Hollywood sensation Arnold Schwarzenegger became Governor of California. Nicknamed the "Governator," many people reckon Schwarzenegger's abilities as a politician do not match his talents as an actor. This summer he was forced to declare California a "fiscal emergency" and call in the experts to help "fix the problem." The fact that Schwarzenegger is better known for being Mr Freeze in Batman and the Kindergarten Cop means taking him seriously as a politician is a tall order.

Many who are cynical of actors and celebrities meddling in political affairs believe the snippets of success they enjoy not only because of their fame but also because they are "natural manipulators." Chris Whitefield is one of these cynics, asserting: "Actors lie, manipulate and pretend they are something they are not. It is little wonder that many of them make good politicians."

Others think the likes of Stephen Fry and Joanna Lumley can set the political agenda because they are "in touch" with the public. 34-year-old Ann-Marie from Liverpool thinks celebrities are successful in politics because they appeal to a wider audience than normal politicians: "When somebody as glamorous as Joanna Lumley stands up and speaks about contemporary issues people stop and listen. Celebrities campaigning for what they believe in make a refreshing change to drab and dreary politicians."

Love them or loathe them, actors have an uncanny knack of climbing the political ladder. Money is one obvious reason for their success. With their bankable names and star appeal, it is little wonder actors can generate the cash to rock the political system. Money is not everything, but the fact that there is room for celebrities to muscle in on politics reveals a weakness in political parties.

The author is a columnist with For more information please visit:

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