Star Power? Celebrity and Politics among Anglophone Canadian Youth

By Jackson, David J. | British Journal of Canadian Studies, May 2007 | Go to article overview

Star Power? Celebrity and Politics among Anglophone Canadian Youth


Jackson, David J., British Journal of Canadian Studies


Celebrities are playing an increasingly important role in Canadian politics. Recently, entertainers have become active in politics, politician Belinda Stronach has become a celebrity herself, and a celebrity from the sports world became a member of the federal Parliament and a Cabinet minister. At the same time, Irish rock star Bono has emerged to lobby world leaders to change their countries' policies toward the developing world. A survey of 456 young Anglophone Canadians indicated that Bono's beliefs influence the political beliefs of young Canadians, and he has helped to set the agenda for politicians. Celebrity and politics will continue to be intertwined in Canada, but in a more restrained way than in the USA.

My name is Bono, and I am a rock star. I tell you this not as a boast, but more as a kind of confession. Because, in my view, the only thing worse than a rock star is a rock star with a conscience, a celebrity with a cause - oh dear, oh dear. (Bono, speaking to the 2001 graduating class of Harvard University.)

IN 2004, both Canada and the USA held federal elections. The USA's presidential campaign of that year was a watershed political event for a number of reasons, one of which was the fact that hundreds of entertainment celebrities made their political preferences known. Most prominently, dissident film-maker Michael Moore released the movie Fahrenheit 9-11, intending to disparage the policies and character of the Bush administration. Iconic singer Bruce Springsteen toured the country with Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, and played many concerts to raise money for America Coming Together, an organisation dedicated to the defeat of President Bush. Many other stars publicly supported President Bush's re-election, campaigned with him, and gave speeches and concerts on his behalf.1

Canada, on the other hand, has traditionally experienced less involvement in politics by entertainment celebrities. Admittedly, this may have changed a bit in the 2004 federal election. Canadian rockers Barenaked Ladies campaigned for Jack Layton in the New Democratic Party (NDP) leadership race. Former Montreal Canadiens goalie and sixtime Stanley Cup winner Ken Dryden was elected to Parliament from a Toronto area riding, and subsequently joined the Liberal minority government as a Cabinet minister. Elections Canada joined forces with MuchMusic, Cineplex Odeon Cinemas and the Urban Music Association of Canada to support Rush the Vote (RTV), an effort to increase youth voter turnout (Macaluso 2004). The organisation's website (www.rushthevote.ca) included a section on celebrities who are 'down with RTV', including such luminaries as former Miss Canada Lynsey Bennett, and musicians Chantal Kreviazuk, K-OS and Rascalz. These rather isolated and fairly low-profile examples still leave Canada a long way behind the USA in terms of celebrity involvement in politics.

This article examines the relationship between entertainment and politics in Canada in a number of areas. It discusses the participation of celebrities in politics, as well as the response of young Anglophone Canadians to such participation, as ascertained by survey research. In particular, this research explores the role played in Canadian politics by Irish rock star Bono, in terms of both the political elite and the public. I begin, however, with an examination of the historical relationship between celebrity and politics in Canada compared with the USA.

Celebrity Status and Political Culture

It has been argued that the USA invented the contemporary idea of the celebrity, although studies of the desire of individuals to achieve fame (as distinct from mere notoriety) trace its origins to the ancient Greeks and Romans (Braudy 1986). Adair (1974) argues that the Founding Fathers were motivated by a desire to achieve 'fame', defined as recognition by history for having achieved something great. Others suggest the origins of modern celebrity culture date to the period just after the American Revolution, when Americans turned to political figures and heroes of battle to unite their disparate nation (Babiak 2004). …

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