Vigliotti: Why pop culture matters in politics

Taylor Swift has become political in a way not seen before in her endorsements of Democrats in Tennessee elections. This has prompted both fervent support and pointed disagreement, but it underscores a far more important point that many — especially many of us on the Right — do not take seriously enough. And that is how pop culture matters crucially to society.

Taylor Swift’s endorsement of Democrats occurred in an Instagram post rather than on stage, which is itself a distinction between her and kneelers in the NFL. Swift has every right to declare her political allegiances — just as fans have a right to disagree with her using their paychecks. Some have dismissed Swift as “just another liberal” celebrity, as just a pop singer, while others have dismissed her political views as unimportant and have written that she should just be ignored. But this is a mistake for a number of reasons.


Americans thrive on the popular cultural arts — especially film, literature and music. The stories, messages and feelings conveyed to us through these different forms resonate in our very souls, and stir the beat of our hearts. They can inspire; they can encourage; they can console; and they can compel us to change not only ourselves but the way in which we see the world around us. Generations of American teenagers, to use a popular example, have grown up with the 1989 movie “Dead Poets Society,” which, among other things, literally encourages the viewer to look at the world differently and with hope even in the wake of the tragedy of suicide.

And while many of the things we read, watch and listen to are arguably less art than consumerist or crass entertainment (think “Fifty Shades of Grey,” “Wolf of Wall Street,” or the remake of “Ghostbusters”), many of the things we read, watch, and listen to harbor those deeper moral and inspirational messages (such as ”Dunkirk” or “October Sky” or “To Kill a Mockingbird”).

Not everyone will have the time to sit down and read an essay on the efficacy of American military intervention for humanitarian reasons, but when given the film “Black Hawk Down,” an idea is translated into a straightforward illustration that carries a clear message and underscores a point. Americans are practical as well as intelligent: they want to see ideas in action. Those ideas — such as love or forgiveness or inspiration — are readily seen in songs, books and movies. Complicated or new ideas are more easily accepted when witnessed in fictional or documented circumstances.

The difficulty comes in objectively sorting through all of it and determining what is and what is not worthy of emulation and repetition. By contrast to “Dead Poets Society,” in which young people are encouraged to “seize the day,” a rash of suicides was set off by Johannes von Goethe’s 1774 short novel “The Sorrows of Young Werther,” in which the main character kills himself following a romantic rejection. The cultural effect on society is compelling.

The leftward slant of Hollywood has, within the last two decades, created something of a countercultural market for films which express and celebrate timeless morals and American values. Anti-Hollywood films and shows from the remake of “Ben Hur” to “Courageous” to “Moms Night Out” to the new “Jack Ryan” series on Amazon Prime have, according to media industry billionaire Barry Diller, “undermined” and “threatened” the entertainment industry — in other words, effectively challenging liberal control of pop culture.

Often, we look to the people who create and become the face of those creations as inspirations in themselves, and there the objective sorting can become far more difficult. While some creators might prefer that their creations stand alone, we typically see both as one and the same. Something of the creator’s soul is transformed into his or her creation; and so naturally, we cannot separate the two. As we know God by His creation, clearly something of the singer or the writer is to be found in the song or the novel.

But because we equate the two in culture, it is only normal to want to be like those we admire. A generation of girls and young women did not just listen to the music of Madonna, but they copied her fashion and her attitude. Before her, Elvis, James Dean and John Wayne did the same for boys and young men. Because these are individuals who have done good and sometimes great things, we, too, wish to live in the same fashion.

Taylor Swift, apart from the occasional expected feud with other celebrities, has earned a solid reputation. She rarely shocks; she is genuinely concerned about her listeners; she has not become a part of the prevalent drug culture; she has not overly sexualized herself; she urges people through her music to be courageous; and her music itself is not outrageous. As such, she has earned a fanbase that is devoutly loyal. So when someone with Swift’s solid reputation enters the political field — this time, endorsing Democrats — we have to take notice, and we have to respond. For those loyal supporters not opposed to her lifestyle or objectively to her politics, imitating an idol is as simple as voting to the Left.

Anytime a celebrity or public figure speaks, we have to pay attention. Not necessarily because they are right, but because they might just be wrong. Not necessarily because their opinion matters any more, but because of the scope and reach of their influence. When anyone with any kind of power speaks up, the rest of us have the responsibility of speaking out. This matters all the more when, since the Kavanaugh confirmation success, there are so many on the Left who are declaring that they are “at war.” This is the side of the political aisle that Swift has thrown her support behind.

And when Leftists like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez are calling for the abolishment of the electoral college and John Kerry is telling Iran how to counter U.S. sanctions, it is more important than ever that we take all figures of influence seriously, whether they are singers or congressional candidates or former secretaries of defense. Ocasio-Cortez’s youth and Kerry’s vacillations have not prevented them from gaining tremendous ground and using that to their advantage.

The solution is actually simple for us on the Right: don’t vote like Taylor Swift; don’t vote for politicians like John Kerry; and buy, read, listen to, and watch those creations which express the very best of God’s world, human nature, and our American values.