Hollywood's influence on politics

Ronald and Nancy Reagan, the original Hollywood-DC crossover couple, at his inauguration parade in 1981.

Celebrities endorsing politicians--and, indeed, the idea of politicians becoming celebrities themselves--goes back a lot further than you might think.

"It's always been driven by a mix of obsession and fascination with power, the desire to be seen with the celebrity that is politics," says Timothy Stanley, author of the book "Citizen Hollywood: How the Collaboration Between LA and DC Revolutionized American Politics." 

But in the late '20s and early '30s, Stanley says, it was mostly driven by "hard-headed business decisions."

"People do make money out of this connection," he said.

Hollywood has always been able to raise a large amount of money for political campaigns throughout its history -- $13 million in one month during the 2012 Presidential campaign, Stanley says.

These days, however, he argues that Hollywood has had a poisonous impact on politics. A lot of it started with the election of one John F. Kennedy, and his father's ambitions to make one of his children President of the United States.

"When [Joe Kennedy] wants Jack to run for the Presidency, where does he send him to learn charm and star power? He sends him to Hollywood," Stanley said. "And the Kennedys discovered that what it required was being seen with beautiful people, it was going to expensive events, and developing that Camelot glamour."

It's this commitment with charm and star power, Stanley says, that has diluted American politics.

"I always find it sordid that you could drop names and get elected based on the people you're seen with," he said. "It's not healthy for a constitutional republic to have that kind of glamourization of its political leaders."

As Stanley points out below, there's a point where having star power for the sake of having star power doesn't help your case.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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