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.”

Wow.

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.

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