Actor Ashton Kutcher recently testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee regarding ending modern slavery & human trafficking, an issue about which he is clearly very passionate. In his opening remarks, he is quoted as saying:
This is about the time when I start talking about politics that the internet trolls tell me to “stick to my day job.” So I’d like to talk about my day job. My day job is as the Chairman and the co-founder of Thorn. We build software to fight human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children. That’s our core mission. My other day job is that of the father of two, a 2-month-old and a 2-year-old. And it is part of that job that I take very seriously, I believe it is my effort to defend their right to pursue happiness and to ensure a society and government that defends it as well.
For whatever reason, those who reach a certain level of celebrity are often criticized for standing up for their beliefs. The public, acting as organ grinders, simply want their celebrities to dance for them. Unfortunately for the faceless masses, no matter how famous someone may be, their fame does not magically transform them into a monolith. Humans are complicated creatures, no matter what level of celebrity they reach, and as humans with 5 senses and critical thinking skills, they are capable of recognizing injustice when they see it.
That is why figures like Nina Simone are so integral to our experience in a pluralistic, democratic society. Her name is easily added to a long list of people who could have simply stuck to their day jobs, but chose not to. Among those are Muhammad Ali, the Dixie Chicks, Beyonce, Meryl Streep, Chris Kluwe, Billie Jean King, Colin Kaepernick, Jesse Williams, and Emma Watson, among others. If any of these figures had kept their mouths shut and stuck to the jobs that made them famous, we’d be worse off.
Whether or not we, as audience members, agree with our friendly neighborhood celebrity is another story altogether. But we can take a note from Oscar Wilde, who reminds us that it’s not about us: “The best art is about individualism, free self-expression, and realizing a unique, imaginative perspective. A true artist takes no notice whatever of the public. The public are to him non-existent.” Speaking up and speaking out are woven into the job descriptions of any artist worth their salt; our job is to express ourselves, so how can we possibly be expected to do that without inspiration, without passion?
The truth of the matter is that in our society no one deserves to be silenced. The only way our democracy works is by making sure our elected officials speak to the issues about which we are passionate, and that requires us all to use our voices. If every time we acknowledged an injustice in the world we were met with, “What does this matter to you? You’re just an accountant/teacher/nurse…” would we be so quick to shut our mouths and stick to our day jobs? If we wouldn’t want that for ourselves, why would we force that onto others?
The fact that celebrities have a certain degree of influence gives them both a platform and a responsibility upon which to speak for those who would not otherwise be heard. They can use their celebrity as a megaphone to help raise awareness for others who may not have the same privileges.
If we had the ability to improve the lives of others, wouldn’t we do it?