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Twenty One Pilots’ Tyler Joseph and the celebrity activism issue

Twenty One Pilots’ Tyler Joseph and the celebrity activism issue

Twenty One Pilots’ Tyler Joseph and the celebrity activism issue
September 10
19:00 2020

On Wednesday, Twenty One Pilots frontman Tyler Joseph tweeted a photo with the caption: “you guys keep asking me to use my platforms. Feels good to dust these bad boys off,” drawing criticism from fans and users, according to a report from USAToday. 

Although meant to be a lighthearted post, with the COVID-19 pandemic raging on, #BlackLivesMatter protests, California wildfires, hurricanes and 2020 election madness, the post fell flat and sparked Internet ridicule. 

Joseph’s post and lack of sensitivity during a period, of what seems like, perpetual turmoil isn’t helping him nor any other celebrity’s case when it comes to advocacy and activism. 

Fans don’t need someone in a position of power and privilege to be Superman, they need someone who sympathizes on a basic human level to care and understand the plight of others without making it about themselves. There is no room for performative, false activism in this social climate, and celebrities, especially white celebrities, in positions of power should be using their privilege and wealth to actually do some good in the world. 

After the post went viral, Joseph released two statements in regards to his platforms post, one in which he doubled down on his original tweet and referenced a 2015 notes app explanation that explained why he didn’t initially tweet in support of the Supreme Court LGBTQ+ marriage legalization, which he attributed to disliking “artists/bands/peers use the LoveWins news to sell singles and T-shirts.” 

Later, Joseph tweeted an apology and attached a #BlackLivesMatter donation link and followed up with several tweets about the importance of mental health during this time. 

Given Twenty One Pilots’ music is heavily influenced by Black-created genres such as rap, hip-hop and rock, and having Black fans, supporting the movement isn’t jumping on a political bandwagon, it’s supporting basic human rights, according to an article from Medium

But do celebrities have to be activists or use their platforms for advocacy? Yes and no. By all means, celebrities aren’t contractually obligated to take a stance on every social and political issue out there. On the other hand, celebrities are in coveted places of social power and can afford jail time or losing a job. Their gargantuan incomes, expert legal teams and strategic publicists stop them from total ruination and allow them to make a comeback into the public sphere without a substantial loss of income, property or fame. 

With that being said, isn’t our moral obligation to help others if we are able to? Aren’t we taught as children to treat people with kindness and give to those who cannot afford it? So why can’t celebrities, especially white ones like Tyler Joseph whose white privilege has afforded him career and life advantages, use their influence and wealth to help those in need? 

White celebrities such as Jane Fonda and Ashton Kutcher have become the prime examples of celebrities using their position of power as well as their white and wealth privileges to help communities across the nation. 

Fonda’s political, social and environmental activism has spanned six decades and managed to catch the ire of multiple presidents over the years. From publicly opposing the Vietnam War, campaigning with the Black Panthers, occupying a military base and being arrested for protesting on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, Fonda has shown how to use her wealth and white privilege to actually help and support communities rather than posting lukewarm tweets. 

Kutcher testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2017 on behalf of Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children, a technology company used to identify and combat human trafficking, according to the company’s website. In 2018, Thorn’s software helped identify 9,380 child trafficking victims and is used by law enforcement in the U.S. and Canada, according to the company’s 2018 impact report

As celebrities gain more global exposure and publicity, celebrity activism has evolved into a careful balancing act between good PR and basic ethics. Although it’s ambitious for every celebrity to be well-educated on systemic racism and be able to speak publicly about it, it seems celebrities and other people in power are tiptoeing around the issue and using their “quietly supporting” lines to further their ignorance on the world’s issues, according to an article from The New Yorker

Fans don’t just want art to feel connected to an artist, they want to see humanity and social responsibility in support of social, political and economic movements. Fans want to feel connected to an artist on a deeper level beyond the art and sympathize with the plight of their fans. 

It’s nice to see celebrities express their support for social movements, but they should put their money and influence where their mouth is and do something about it.

Featured Illustration by Miranda Thomas

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Sarah Berg

Sarah Berg

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