When Celebs Seize the Bully Pulpit


How do you respond when a celebrity accepting an award uses that opportunity to preach a mini-sermon? I don’t know about you, but I immediately reach for the remote so I can mute the TV. I’m exposed to enough marketing elsewhere in my life—like, well, everywhere—that I generally don’t respond very patiently to famous people telling me what cause I should be caring for this week.

I’ve always assumed most other people feel pretty similarly. After all, how much credibility does some movie star really have when it comes to talking about, say, global climate change?

Well, it turns out stars may have more credibility that I suspected, and more people are paying attention than I might’ve guessed.

During Leonardo DiCaprio’s Best Actor acceptance speech at the Academy Awards earlier this year (he won for his work in The Revenant), he exhorted viewers to get serious about climate change. According to the journal PLOS ONE, that call to action correlated with a measurable surge in online discussion about the issue.

According to Time‘s Ashley Hoffman, “Researchers used Twitter searches, Google trends and Bloomberg Terminal archives to map the social media footprint of his speech, and determined that the actor was a more powerful conversation starter for climate change than the Paris climate negotiations in Paris or Earth Day.” Regarding those findings, San Diego State University’s John Ayers told The Washington Post, “A single speech, at a very opportunistic time, at the Oscar ceremony, resulted in the largest increase in public engagement with climate change ever.”


Now, I know that celebrities exert a lot of influence. It’s a topic we touch on fairly regularly here at Plugged In. What famous folks say and do matters in our culture because lots of other people are paying attention to those messages.

Even so, the results of this study were surprising to me. And they offered another reminder of how important it is to be helping the people we influence—our families, our friends—learn to carefully and critically evaluate the ideas, worldviews and messages that pop culture’s heralds are trumpeting.

Perhaps sometimes we’ll agree with these stars. Other times, we may vehemently disagree. But the critical thing, especially as far as our impressionable children are concerned, is to model a process of active engagement as we intentionally sift through these myriad messages.

Because whether these calls to actions are being delivered from the bully pulpit like the one DiCaprio seized at the Oscars, or in seemingly mundane marketing, the aggregate influence of all those ideas, values and worldviews is a shaping our culture’s convictions—whether we want to admit it or not.

Who wrote this?

Adam R. Holz is a senior associate editor for Plugged In. He also writes for Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse magazine and has been a Boundless contributor. In his free time (which there is sometimes precious little of) Adam enjoys playing guitar and constructing LEGO kits with his son. Adam and his wife, Jennifer, are the proud parents, in fact, of three children, one boy and two girls.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Posted by First Comment Guy


As long as it doesn't come off as propaganda, there's nothing wrong with anyone (celebrity or not) to state their opinion on something.


For example, Chris Pratt is highly resistant on the idea of the government controling our guns. As long as it didn't come off as propaganda, there was nothing wrong with him sayiing that.

Kal El More than 1 year ago
I have a bit of conflict over the idea of celebrities using their fame as a pulpit for their political views. On the one hand, they are still just normal people and all people have a right to opinions and free speech, but on the other hand they are often idolized as role models and perhaps should be held to a higher standard of objectivity. It's a tricky one.

And then there's the complicated nature of the celebrities' opinions themselves and how we respond to them. For example, speaking personally, I don't share DiCaprio's concern over the global warming myth, but I appreciate his 'be a good steward of the earth' bent. Miley Cyrus has, in some ways, a healthier view of the human body than most churches do... But she also supports some unhealthy forms of sexuality.

It's a complex subject.
Dan Haynes More than 1 year ago
Interesting take on celebrity opinion. Did you also "reach for the remote" when Tim Tebow was doing his thing? 
Kal El More than 1 year ago
Are you sporting for a fight? He's talking about celebrities pushing politics, not sharing their faith. And he already added, "Perhaps sometimes we'll agree with these stars. Other times, we may vehemently disagree."
So are you really sniping him for his right to agree and disagree? Would you be picking at this if he said he agreed with DiCaprio?
Dan Haynes More than 1 year ago
Not a fight, per se. but people seem to be ok with this type of "sermonizing", for lack of a better word, when it goes along with their beliefs. It's only when a celeb's opinions don't line up with those of the viewer that the viewer rolls his/her eyes and "reach(es) for the remote." I'm a big fan of consistency. If it's ok for celebs to share their personal views when they agree with mine, by golly, it must be ok for them to share them when they don't. 
bobed More than 1 year ago
I don't particularly think he was bullying anyone. I may not agree with his opinion on climate change hysteria, but I believe if a person has something important to say that dovetails with their values, and they are given a huge stage like the Oscars to do so - they should do it, by all means. But of course they should do it respectfully and concisely, like DiCaprio did. I don't see anything wrong with what he did, other than of course the fact that I don't agree with his opinions, and I certainly don't see why it should be called "bullying."
Skulatikus More than 1 year ago
Despite the way it sounds, the "bully pulpit" has nothing to do with actual bullying. It's an expression referring to "an important public position that allows a person to express beliefs and opinions to many people" (definition quoted from the Merriam Webster dictionary.)
bobed More than 1 year ago
It's a misnomer then, and should not be used.
SJamison More than 1 year ago
Back when Teddy Roosevelt originated the term, "bully" as an adjective meant "fine" or "excellent" as in "bully beef."  It was very informal and has since become obsolete due to the more unpleasant definition.
Kal El More than 1 year ago
That sounded pretty defensive. :-/ Couldn't you just say 'that's strange! I didn't know that, thanks for telling me!'?
bobed More than 1 year ago
Looking at your posts on this thread, it seems you think EVERYONE is "defensive" or "sporting for a fight." I think you're the one who's "sporting for a fight."