Celebrities are silly. They do silly stuff all the time – at least that’s what the media would have us believe. Journalists working for glossy magazines and tabloids mercilessly report on celebrity gaffes, stoking public ridicule (or outrage) over instances of celebrity stupidity which seems to be in regular supply. Effective as they might seem, I feel the ‘blunder-hunters’ have missed the biggest of them all. The music celebrity I dedicated this blog post to has been guilty of a ongoing blunder for more than 4 years; what’s more, their behaviour has much more profound consequences than the trivialities tabloid journalists tend to occupy themselves with.
The blunder in question is enthusiastic endorsement of one of the most powerful politicians on this planet while being totally ignorant of their policies.
The one-and-done model of celebrity politics
Celebrity adventure with politics can take form of a single tweet, as in the case of Kim Kardashian. During the November 2012 Israeli assault on Gaza the reality show star tweeted – presumably out of compassion for the civilian and military lives of the invading force – she was “Praying for everyone in Israel”.
Her account was flooded with hostile tweets shortly after, which regardless of the – sometimes vile and outright violent – form they took, were rightly pointing out that her reaction to an Israeli aerial assault of an enclosed and largely civilian area was deeply unfair, or just outright ignorant. In a cringeworthily obvious attempt to undo the embarrassing situation, the television personality proceeded to tweet she was “praying for everyone in Palestine and across the world”, but then ended up deleting both tweets.
It’s an example of a one-off, careless and irresponsible comment (however earnest it might have been) that ended up causing some unpleasantness and taught the clearly oblivious celebrity to think twice before setting foot in the unfamiliar realm of politics. In fact it is likely to lead them to refrain from doing anything of this sort again: one-and-done.
But what if there was a celebrity who has been involved in one of the most influential political scenes on this planet for more than 4 years, in clear support of a certain political personality but… seems to have absolutely no idea about their idol’s politics?
Will.I.Am & Barack Obama
Will.I.Am, otherwise known as William James Adams, is a music personality, producer and entrepreneur. He is best known for his time at The Black Eyed Peas, a hip-hop/pop group that reached the hight of their popularity in 2003. He is also famous for his solo output, having worked on a total of 4 solo albums. A single from his 4th, upcoming album ‘#willpower’ called ‘Scream and Shout’ was a commercial success, topping charts in 14 countries.
In 2008, Will.I.Am joined – or headed, by some accounts – celebrities in supporting Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. He wrote a song almost entirely based on the speech that – then Senator – Obama gave in New Hampshire. The ‘Yes We Can’ single was a tribute to the presidential candidate and his election slogans. It was made into a viral music video and provided a platform for other celebrities to show their support of the candidate, making 3 million views within a week of release. Will also helped produce and contributed to a compilation album called Change Is Now: Renewing America’s Promise, released in April 2009, on which the ‘Yes We Can’ song can be found, as well as four others attributed – wholly, or partly – to Will. His pro-Obama efforts landed him number 2 on the Top-Ten Celebrity Obama Supporters list compiled by Huffington Post in 2008.
In 2012, Will.I.Am was there for Obama, too. He was part of an Obama team and conducted a twitter campaign in support of his re-election. He reportedly spent the election night in the backstage – in his own words – “with the president and the secret service people”. This year, Will.I.Am accompanied Obama during his 2nd term inauguration ceremony.
The celebrity’s support of the politician has been discussed to some extent. In fact, on several occasions the music star himself gave brief interviews about it. What reasons does Will.I.Am give for his backing of Obama and what is his understanding of American politics? I will not keep you waiting – Will does not have anything to say apart from meaningless babble and empty clichés.
Obama’s policies? “I have to learn more about that”
This interview was conducted in the first days of February 2008, after the “Yes We Can” – Will’s pro-Obama song – went viral. Will, who seemed to struggle to answer questions, spent a few minutes talking about how Obama’s New Hampshire speech “super-inspired” him to write the song and how celebrities joined his project out of “hope for change”; he also said that Obama belongs with Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln in a category of people that have helped freedoms flourish and bring positive change.
Just what would the positive changes be, however, Will couldn’t say. At approximately 5:35, the journalist asks: “What are some of the changes you want to see right now?”. While the music video director Jesse Dylan smiles and fidgets uncomfortably, Will throws in vague phrases while he struggles to answer: “Education… Erm… America’s finance, you know, getting the dollar up to where it… should be” – “Stopping the war” – Jesse Dylan lends a helping hand – “Stopping the war… Erm… Health… Erm… International policies… you know, good things”. “Good things! We can support that!” – the news anchor said, smiling.
It seems Will’s ignorance of Obama’s policies remained unchanged up until 2012. Luke Rudkowski, a journalist of ‘We Are Change‘, approached the self-declared Obama supporter Will.I.Am last year and during this short encounter asked him about his opinion on Obama’s policies. Queried about the President’s secret kill-list, as well as his recent signing of the NDAA act and drone bombings, all the clearly baffled Will had to say is he had to “learn more about that”.
When Obama was re-elected on the evening of 7th November 2012, Will.I.Am was also available for comment and unsurprisingly – hasn’t contributed anything substantial. In this short chat, he said a few rather empty phrases about “keeping up the engagement” until the next election, lest “we will undo what we’ve done” – presumably hinting at the need to keep up Obama’s popularity.
Could it be that despite his far-reaching efforts to promote Barack Obama, Will.I.Am has no idea what his policies entail or what his governance means for America and the world? It seems very likely to be the case.
Obama’s record as president
Had Obama been a perfect president, Will’s ignorance would merely be a matter of a personal – or a professional – faux pas. But he is not.
President Barrack Obama’s achievements in office include, to name a few: not only continuing, but vastly expanding America’s highly controversial, secretive, counter-productive and unconstrained drone campaign with its mounting civilian toll (e.g., see TBIJ’s work on the drones in Pakistan) and war crime tactics; bulking up the state’s domestic eavesdropping powers and secrecy as well as signing the NDAA act which allows for assassination of US citizens without judicial review and imprisonment of thereof without trial and waging war on whistle-blowers on an unprecedented scale with the use of the WW1-era Espionage Act.
I don’t need to discuss the large extent to which these policies contradict the values inherent in Obama’s “super-inspiring” 2008 election slogans that Will claims to hold so dear. It’s obvious. What’s not obvious in the public sphere, however – judging from the fact Will’s support for Obama remains unchallenged – is that blind endorsement of a powerful political figure is dangerous.
Politics is not a game
It would seem to me that if someone wishes to support a political personality, they ought to publicly acknowledge and engage with the political ideas their idols are endorsing and policies they’re enacting. Politics is not a game – domestic and foreign powers of the US government affect real people and create real situations at home – for instance, the signing of the controversial NDAA act that infringes on freedoms of Will’s fellow Americans – and abroad – like drone bombings in Yemen or Pakistan which have lead to real deaths and suffering among populations. To endorse the US president while not having a slightest grasp of his policies – especially if they’re so unprecedented and controversial – is wrong.
Based on what I have seen and read – I don’t believe Will.I.Am has the slightest understanding of Obama’s politics and their impact on America and the world. I would go even further in saying I don’t believe this particular celebrity has any grasp of politics in a general sense. To me, it seems very likely he’s just an ignorant music star jumping onto the Obama endorsement bandwagon in pursuit of publicity, while choosing to be completely detached from the realities of his presidency.
A useful idiot, if you will.
On 20/01/2013, Will.I.Am spoke to MTV News after taking part in Obama’s inauguration ceremony, to which he referred to as “historic” and “nostalgic”. He said of the atmosphere: “The feeling in the city right now? It’s optimism and nostalgia; remembering where we came from and where we’re going”. Referring to Obama as “my ninja”, he gave a very favourable personal account of the president. Among the things he said about Obama was that he was “cool and fun but serious at the same time” and that he “takes time to speak to normal folk and important folk at the same time”. He also gave some of his suggestions for domestic policy: Will wants to see “science programs” funded in schools and factories “brought to the inner cities [so that they can] bring jobs to America”.