Public figures must keep making waves

Large platforms come with responsibility to project politically relevant messages

The bigger your platform, the louder you can be.

The increased connectivity of the world has lowered the barrier for political statements. Artists, entertainers and public figures are demonstrating the power of timely political statements in an increasingly broadcasted and connected world. 

The increased turbulence of the political climate has led to an increase in political conversation, and public figures like artists and entertainers should be using their platforms to continue these important discussions past the election season.

Regardless of political orientation, public figures with developed platforms can help the public to keep track of the important issues that sometimes get lost in the constant stream of new information.

The month of February is normally a turbulent time for political statements, as events like the Super Bowl, Grammys and Oscars provide ample opportunity for celebrities and entertainers to make their opinions heard. 

Some, like David Harbour's speech at the Screen Actors' Guild Awards, are impactful and can make waves through the media. Others are less poignant and can have undesirable effects.

ASU students could get a firsthand experience with artists projecting messages, as Rae Sremmurd is coming to Devilpalooza on February 25th. The duo has been known to make their views known in a public setting, and the festival atmosphere provided by Devilpalooza could provide an opportunity to further a message.

"In order to make a successful statement within a performance, the message must be understood in the way the speaker intended, and it must have a lasting impact," said Dr. Amira de la Garza, an ASU communications professor. 

"The most impactful statements break the rules of the platform and etiquette of the stage," said de la Garza, highlighting how artists must be willing to take risks in order to get their messages across.

A poignant example of a public figure making use of a platform to further a pointed statement is Beyonce's "Lemonade." The album was able to make commentary about various aspects of modern culture, while also containing enough artistry to have a lasting and widespread effect.

"It's very important for artists to make sure that their messages are not misrepresented," said Kevin Wilson, a doctoral student in the college of public service and community solutions at ASU. Through attending a variety of music and entertainment festivals, he was able to study some of the deviant behaviors that can be observed at such events. 

In addition to purposefully projecting messages and causes, artists must also be aware of the inadvertent effects their messages are putting out. 

"I saw Bassnectar at a festival once, and he used secular representation like pentagrams in a visual display, and the artist meant it as a joke, but people were not really taking it that way," Wilson said.

However, many other public figures are using their platforms for more constructive uses, and Wilson also saw this more constructive side to public messages during his research. 

"At a separate festival here in Phoenix, Nahko and Medicine for the People used their platform and their performance to stress the importance of water as a resource in the valley." 

As performances and events become more and more available to the public, public figures need to be aware of both how impactful the messages they project can be and also how their messages affect the intended audiences. 

"For something to have lasting impact at a mass level, it must have resources and industrial force behind it to keep it in our attention," said de la Garza. 

While it remains to be seen whether ASU students will experience this phenomenon firsthand at Devilpalooza, the public figures with the resources and the platforms at their disposal must be open to add their own voices to discussions.

Reach the columnist at or follow @jonahpbaker on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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