Do celebrities have the right to free speech?

Meryl Streep arrives at the 23rd annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at the Shrine Auditorium & Expo Hall on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017, in Los Angeles. (Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)

In the post-inauguration world, we have seen a continuation of familiar themes from the pre-election era: social media outbursts, political protests and heated debates. What has taken me by surprise is the legitimation of extremist opinion, and the demonization of members of the entertainment industry.

It may be helpful to look at a timeline of some of the major political statements made by members of the beloved entertainment industry, both before and after the election of President Trump.

On Aug. 26, 2016, Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, gained attention for wearing his uniform and kneeling during the national anthem. This began his silent protest against the marginalization of black people and people of color in the United States.

In response to this, Tomi Lahren, self-proclaimed voice of the conservative female millennial, called Kaepernick a “whiny, indulgent, attention-seeking cry baby” for using his celebrity status to protest the treatment of African Americans.

It isn’t just the Tomi Lahrens of the world who have had something to say about celebrities voicing political opinions. In fact, it has become common practice for Trump supporters to bash members of the entertainment industry for voicing their opinions, and Trump himself has played a part in the process.

On Nov. 18, 2016, Vice President Pence visited the theater to watch Hamilton and was addressed by a cast member with a prepared speech about his fears about the upcoming administration. Although Pence listened to the speech and then proceeded to leave the theater, President Trump took to Twitter the next morning to say that Pence was “harassed” and further that the cast should “Apologize!”.

Of course, thus far I have only spoken of celebrities’ responses to celebrities’ opinions. Perhaps the best statements in this war on entertainment have come from the average Trump supporter.  Keep in mind, I use the terms “Trump supporter” and “conservative” loosely here; not all members of these groups share these sentiments.

Now take for example the response to Meryl Streep’s speech at the Golden Globes. In her acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille Award, Streep indirectly criticized Trump for his imitation of a disabled reporter and said, “Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”

As expected, President Trump was quick to respond, saying “Meryl Streep, one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood, doesn’t know me but attacked last night at the Golden Globes. She is a Hillary flunky who lost big.”

Tomi Lahren also came out striking with the following tweet:

Average Americans joined in as well, citing Meryl Streep as the kind of Hollywood elitist that cost Hillary the election. Many told Streep to go back to acting and to stop making political statements with her unfair influence.

Seth Mandel, Op-Ed Editor of the New York Post tweeted the following:

The public’s backlash at celebrity opinion has done little to quell the flame, however. As recently as Jan. 28, 2017, author J.K. Rowling responded to an individual who said, “You’re a grown ass woman whose entire career is based on stories about a nerd who turns people into frogs. Stay out of politics.” Her response was the following:

Patrick Adams, star of the hit series “Suits” on USA Network, publically deleted Uber on Jan. 29, 2017, instagramming a screenshot of his phone whilst deleting the app. He captioned the photo, “Because there are a lot of ways to cast your vote…”

Although there was the obvious support from fans and people on the left, there was plenty of hate in the comments that followed. One comment read, “it’s pretty stupid to start a pointless revolution against an app/a company that actually provides both employment and transportation to public. Celebs all over the world are the same. Stupid and elitist.” (@geetika.a)

Where do we draw the line? Should celebrities stick to acting or singing or playing football? Are the worlds of entertainment and politics fundamentally separate like Church and State?

It sure seems that way to many Americans.

Let me remind the world that our very own President Trump is a celebrity of the highest degree, with a net worth greater than all of the celebrities mentioned above combined, and he apparently has every right to voice his opinion. In fact, he is commended for it.

Furthermore, Trump supporters have found that celebrities have an “unfair influence,” and like to maintain their elitism by forcing their opinions on other people. This cannot be further from the truth.

The impact of interest groups like the NRA have been highly questioned in politics since their institution. The NRA singlehandedly spent $20 million on the election campaign in the 2000 election, solely to ensure that Al Gore did not attain the Presidency due to his stance on gun control.

On the one hand, celebrities like Meryl Streep, Collin Kaepernick, Patrick Adams and J.K Rowling are being criticized for simply voicing opinions about politics, while on the other, interest groups are able to “buy” votes, for lack of a better word. Talk about unfair influence.

It is not a crime in this country to be successful, and if anybody should know that, it’s Trump supporters. People on the far right have always had a tendency to believe that if you work hard, you can move up the social ladder and earn prestige. This is why concepts like free-market capitalism and and regulated government are advocated for by the Republican Party.

In theory, this should make Republicans and supporters of the party fond of the Hollywood elite. They have worked hard, earned an elite status and make large salaries because of it. At the end of the day, however, the fact that most Hollywood celebrities tend to fall on the Liberal end of the spectrum makes them the enemy of Trump supporters and Republicans alike. It is unfortunate that simply courtesy of their political ideologies, their opinions are invalidated by members of the other side.

It seems that the war on entertainment is not likely to end soon. The next four years will be filled with celebrities making their opinions known and conservatives fighting them for it. But so long as we don’t lose our first amendment rights during Trump’s presidential term, I think we’ll come out the other side unscathed.


Gulrukh Haroon is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at gulrukh.haroon@uconn.edu.