A Grain Of Saul: The Big Secret About Hollywood And Politics

Jimmy Kimmel has ignited a debate. But one myth persists.

A Grain of Saul is a weekly column that digs into some of the biggest issues we face as a nation and as an international community in search of reliable data, realistic solutions, and — most importantly — hope.  

After talk show host Jimmy Kimmel started a health care firestorm this week, celebrities and other public figures have once again come under fire for involving themselves in politics.

The criticisms come with the usual tropes and dismissiveness: leave it to the experts, focus on acting or singing, nobody wants to hear your opinion. Even Kimmel, who only got involved in the health care debate after his infant son had open heart surgery, has been widely derided by political pundits and Republican politicians.

But as the criticism has poured in, one big myth was once again perpetuated. According to just about every Republican politician and talking head, Hollywood is a bunch of "liberal elitists."

On the surface, it may check out — there are plenty of examples of public figures who made their name in Hollywood and also espouse left-leaning political opinions. But here's the "secret" that no wants to talk about: like every other town, there's a diverse range of political opinions in Hollywood.

Hollywood, in fact, doesn't only represent multiple perspectives, it champions them. Right-wing television hosts, radio talking heads and conservative politicians all frequently tout the opinions of celebrities to amplify their message — in the same way other outlets do. Take Fox News, for example, where hosts like Brian Kilmeade have been unrelenting in their criticism of Jimmy Kimmel for involving himself in politics. As Kimmel himself pointed out, the criticism is all an act: Kilmeade and Kimmel have a long-standing relationship and Kilmeade allegedly asked repeatedly to work on projects with Kimmel.



Even more, though, is what Media Matters pointed out: Fox News has brought on a laundry list of non-politician public figures to discuss policy that affects us all. Fabio has come on to discuss what colleges are teaching. Gene Simmons has been on to talk health care reform. Jon Voight has come on to discuss Benghazi. Curt Schilling, Scott Baio, Kid Rock and Steven Segal have all been panelists or contributors on Fox News, among about 25 others Media Matters found in the last few years. 

And guess what? All of these Americans — who happen to be famous — have a right to go on Fox News and share their opinions. In fact, even though I don't always agree with them, I admire them. The reason most entertainers are successful is because they have a large and engaged fan base. If they want to push that fan base in the direction of politics, public policy and the government, more power to them. If they want to run for office — like Hollywood darlings Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump did — go right ahead.

We should not criticize public figures for having opinions. We should not pretend all entertainers are liberals. We should not act as if it's only Democrats that enlist the help of celebrities to back a policy proposal.

Instead, in a country where only 60 percent of the population shows up for presidential elections, maybe we should be glad that any so-called Hollywood elites — many of whom come from average American backgrounds — encourage people to care about politics. Instead of deriding them, we should engage them. Let their opinions spark some much-needed discourse. 

And at the very least, we should respect their right to have an opinion in the first place.

You can follow @Ike_Saul on Twitter here.  

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