On the front page of Wednesday’s New York Times arts section, reporter Amanda Hess noticed how conservative media sites (which include the site you’re currently visiting although she did not mention us) “are perfecting the art of sapping Democratic stars’ name recognition and repurposing their words and actions into pro-Trump material” (or just mockery of rich liberals not getting their way).
Hess also complained that such meltdowns and phrasing appear to readers “like a low-frequency conservative dog whistle, signaling to readers who wanted to revel in liberals’ pain or ridicule them as emotional children.”
Using actors like Lady Gaga, Lena Dunham, and Lin-Manuel Miranda as just a few of the celebrities who went all out against Donald Trump, Hess complained that conservatives have intruded on their sad states of affairs:
While the angry tweets, therapeutic Instagram testimonials and fiery speeches may comfort their fans, these left-leaning celebrities are also inadvertently energizing the opposition. Conservative news outlets — most notably Breitbart News Network, the right-wing populist enclave — are perfecting the art of sapping Democratic stars’ name recognition and repurposing their words and actions into pro-Trump material. The enormous reach that celebrities enjoy, and the privileged bubble they live in, is wielded against them here, refashioned as evidence of the outsize control that the rich and famous have over regular Americans.
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For the droves of Times readers who probably never stray from the roost and broaden their media horizons, she explained that “[t]his new battle in the culture wars is being waged not by bombastic, big-name right-wing commentators like Rush Limbaugh, but by nimble, often nameless online aggregators who quickly churn through popular culture and throw the most evocative stories to their readers, often without much commentary.”
“All it takes is a pointed headline, an unflattering photo and a few well-chosen (and real) quotes. Like this: “Lady Gaga Protests on Sanitation Truck Outside Trump Tower,” read Breitbart’s headline for its article on her tweet,” she added in providing the formula for most celebrity stories on right-leaning sites.
She continued by almost exclusively following the formula of Breitbart’s Big Hollywood page and ruled that conservative media so often mocks liberal celebrities is because “the president-elect doesn’t have the biggest stars on his side” so Breitbart instead decides to “aim spitballs” at the biggest names in Hollywood.
Later, the charges of such stories being a “dog whistle” was touted but only at the end note that a recent study found that a candidate (read: Democrat) receiving a plethora of celebrity endorsements actually turns off many voters:
Highlighting words like “hurt” and “depressed” works like a low-frequency conservative dog whistle, signaling to readers who want to revel in liberals’ pain or ridicule them as emotional children.
Lefty celebrities have long been preaching to the choir, but they are increasingly galvanizing the other side when their chatter is rerouted into an online conservative echo chamber. A study last year by the Bowling Green State University professors David Jackson and Melissa Miller found that celebrity political statements were highly polarizing to a sample set of Ohio voters, and that no celebrity — not Trace Adkins, not Ted Nugent, not even Oprah — was likely to inspire net positive votes for his or her candidate of choice.
These right-wing aggregators make sure that any leftist celebrity’s political reach will be neutralized by a backlash from people who don’t idolize and agree with them. None of that is likely to stop celebrities from using their own soapboxes to promote their politics. But they would be smart to consider how their words will play on other platforms, too.