This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.
The celebrities, bless their hearts, are doing their best. They are armed with a powerful artillery of good intentions, paving, if not the road to hell, then to my last damn nerve with them. And so it’s not exactly fair to be mad as much as just exhausted, because we get it. We really do.
Who doesn’t survey the world around them, retreat to their crying corner for an hour or so of weeping in the fetal position, and then shriek out into the void, “I wish I could do something!” These adorable celebs, with their massive social media followings and an insatiable media ready to amplify their every move, have had some kind of epiphany. Maybe they actually could do something. And then they do. They wear a t-shirt that says “Vote” on it. So brave.
A scroll through our Instagram feeds is like a fashion show modeling the latest trend in empty gestures. It’s so performative and superficial. What, exactly, is it going to accomplish? I mean, sure, if you’re going to post a photo of yourself in these times, why not post one that has four innocuous letters tagged on it and call it activism.
At best, it’s a harmless, ego-stroking effort. At worst, it’s Mrs. Kushner herself, Karlie Kloss, in those godforsaken over-the-knee “VOTE” boots by Stuart Weitzman that Jill Biden popularized and which cost a cool $700, captioning the ghastly display, “These boots were made for voting.” They could hear my wail of disgust all the way at dinner with the Kushners.
As my colleague Alaina Demopoulos wrote earlier this week while examining the “VOTE” t-shirt phenomenon, “Who is VOTE merchandise for? What does it accomplish, other than make the person who buys it feel like an activist? Perhaps the point is to brand our civic duty as something fashionable, an attempt to reel in those who have grown skeptical about our deeply flawed electoral process... But if someone is so disenfranchised to consider sitting out this election, I doubt they are that jazzed about capitalism to be swayed by a cashmere sweater, even if it is quite cute. Sorry, Michael Kors.”
But even this trend doesn’t hold a candle to the one that causes my most severe daily conniption fits. It’s the “now that I have your attention…” trolling posts, in which celebs bait-and-switch you into clicking on something scandalous only to reroute you to voter registration information.
Now that I have your attention, stop this trend!
That is maybe the corniest sentence I’ve ever typed, but it is just about as clever as this style of activism.
Am I happy that Sterling K. Brown posted a thirst trap of himself shirtless, his perfect abs a road map to his exposed underwear line? Sure!
Was I in any way duped into thinking that when I clicked on the link in his caption, “Like what you see? There’s more where this came from…” I would suddenly open a Pandora’s box of nudes and not the homepage for vote.org? No!
Was I annoyed? Have you not read a word of this article thus far?
After Chris Evans triggered the need for an international cold shower when he accidentally leaked a photo of his actual penis, he pulled the “now that I have your attention” on us. I’m not even sure what George Takei was going for when he tweeted, “Well, @ChrisEvans had the right idea after all. So here's another dick pic!” before his own plea to vote. Other celebs are baiting us with purposely bad takes, like Kumail Nanjiani who tweeted that “ice cream cake is overrated!” before “now that I have your attention”-ing us.
You’re celebrities. You already had my attention! That’s what celebrities are!
The proliferation of this structure has gotten so bad that I no longer enjoy when the Instagram influencers I follow post photos of themselves in speedos, because I know what’s coming. (This trend is the natural evolution of the abhorrent “voting-sticker thirst trap” popularized in the 2018 election.)
To that end, give credit to Diplo where it’s due. The DJ simply posted a photo of his bare ass along with the caption, “Don’t forget to vote.” Points were made!
Much of this action was centered around National Voter Registration Day, which Chelsea Handler marked with her own nude photo and information about registering, while Kerry Washington went the bait-and-switch route of teasing a Scandal movie on her Instagram while promising more details about it in her bio. (You would be shocked to learn that, if you clicked, the info was about voting instead.)
It’s not that I’m dunking on celebrities for wanting to do what they can. And so many are also involved on the ground in political organizations and efforts aimed to make change and get out the vote. There are stakes in this country like I’ve never known, in a year when a wallowing sigh of “just when things couldn’t get worse” seems to be a dare that the worst of the world is equipped and eager to take on.
We need to take it seriously, and it requires every tool at our disposal. At the top of my list wasn’t necessarily Diplo’s butt, but here we are.
For my entire lifetime, I’ve watched celebs Rock the Vote and threaten to Vote or Die and any number of voter registration drives, all of which, looking at young voter turnout after each election, seem to largely fail. This trend is a retrofitting of those pushes for the social media age, which is fine and expected. But it also, especially now, just seems so hollow.
Yes, voting is important. No, simply saying “vote”—whether it’s in a dated PSA, on your fancy boots, or tattooed on your ass—is not enough, or maybe even worthwhile. It’s not even close to the kind of burn-it-all-down effort to really, truly get people to care about ending this nightmare that we need. It’s the bare minimum (almost literally, in these cases). Many celebrities are doing more. These things seem foolish if that’s true.
Nonetheless, as annoying and embarrassing as I find these trolling posts, I truly hope they reach the one deranged human who wasn’t going to vote until they saw Chris Evans’ dick pic. That way they’ll vote and I can maybe return to an existence in which the collapse of democracy as we know it is no longer an ever-looming threat and I can enjoy Sterling K. Brown’s abs in peace.