Mark Wheelers, in his book Celebrity Politics, defines the term (sometimes also called celebrity influence in politics or political star power) as a ‘set of techniques, rooted in the production of fame, that officeholders and notable citizens might employ for the purposes of aggregating and representing public opinion related to electoral democracy, policy advocacy, and international diplomacy.’
It is a phenomenon whereby a socially looked upon individual uses his fame, status or reputation to persuade, alter or effect the political inclination and ideology of masses. This is because a celebrity, i.e. an influential person like an actor, an athlete, a musician or a model, as Anthony Elliott describes, is the focal point when it comes to the formation of self and social identities, since it assists in self-framings, self-imaginings, self-revisions and self-reflection of the public.
Celebrity Politics is not new, and dates to mid-1900s. Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of United States, was a film actor who later joined politics and took office of the president. Even, the present President of USA, Donald Trump, was a television analyst who appeared in a TV show named Fox News. Not only in USA, but also in India, celebrity politics is common. Amitabh Bachan, Sachin Tendulkar, Priyanka Chopra and others have used their social reputation to endorse political ideologies.
In Pakistan, the present day in office Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan Niazi, is looked upon as a celebrity, since he gained fame nationally and internationally, by playing for the national cricket team of Pakistan. It was under his leadership, that Pakistan won its first cricket World Cup in 1992. Apart from him, there are several other celebrities who have actively participated in politics, in the past.
The famous host of Pakistan television, who moderated the all-time favourite quiz-show “Nelam Ghar”, Tariq Aziz, had been the member of national assembly in late nineties. Mustafa Qureshi, a veteran film star, has been associated with politics, since he met Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and joined Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) as its Cultural Wing’s Head. Last year, in 2018, Qureshi opted Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) to exhibit his potential. Also, a TV actress-turned-politician, Kanwal Noman, has been the member of provincial assembly Punjab for five years from 2013 to 2018, as a representative of Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N).
Recently too, in the general elections of 2018, several celebrities came forward either to contest elections or to influence the political ideologies of masses, being the role models of public. A very famous name, Hamza Ali Abbasi, who is a Pakistani theatre, film and television actor and director, came forward as categorical and strong supporter of Imran Khan and PTI in 2018. He was elected as the cultural secretary of PTI in January 2018. During the election campaign, while supporting Imran Khan, he tweeted ‘Extremely happy & proud that celebrities like Kubra Khan, Haroon Shahid, Mawra, Urwa, Farhan Saeed, Imran Abbas, Abbas Jaffery & Feroze Khan are taking sides politically for the benefit of their country.’
Abrar ul Haq, another famous name, is a musician and philanthropist-cum-politician. He contested 2018 general elections from NA-78 on PTI’s ticket. He had also contested election from Narowal, Punjab in 2013 but was defeated by Dr Ahsan Iqbal of PMLN. Salman Ahmad, of the famous Junoon band, often attended PTI’s rallies, last year, where he performed revolutionary and patriotic songs. On social media, he was alleged of being pro-PTI. One other Islamabad-based musician, singer and philanthropist, Jawad Ahmed, established and registered a political party named Barabari Party in 2017 and had plans of contesting.
Gul-e-Rana, a TV actress, contested general elections 2018 from constituency PS 94, Landhi area for Pakistan People’s Party. Abbas Jafri, a famous fashion model, contested general elections 2018 from PS 125 on PTI ticket against Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). Renowned drama and film actor, Sajid Hassan, also contested general elections 2018 on PPP’s ticket from NA-256. Ayub Khoso, a veteran actor and film star from Jafferabad district of Balochistan, also contested general elections 2018 on PPP ticket from PS-101.
Not only contesting elections but also endorsing ideas and justifying political ideologies through the means of social status and fame is included in celebrity politics. Wasim Akram, an athlete and a close friend of Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan, showed his full support towards PTI, in his tweets, last year during elections. Feroze Khan, a TV and film star wrote, openly declaring, ‘I am voting for Imran Khan.’ Imran Abbas, another TV and film star who has worked abroad too, spoke that he wants everyone to vote for PTI. Zaid Ali, a comedian, also tweeted that Imran Khan will be the next prime minister.
The Hocane sisters, Urwa and Mawra, also explicitly showed their support for PTI. Mawra wrote that she is looking forward to vote for Imran Khan. Farhan Saeed, a singer and Urwa’s husband, sung PTI’s official anthem for elections campaign, and tweeted that Imran Khan has his all support. On the other hand, singer Quratulain Balouch and cricketer Shoaib Akhtar, though did not express their political beliefs but requested the public to go out and vote.
With the help of their reputation and fan following, in today’s world, celebrities have a significant and long-lasting impact on shaping of policies and designing of agendas about global humanitarian issues. They play a vital role in advocating and forming political and social beliefs and ideologies. They also have an ability to build parasocial relationships i.e., a feeling of attachment among members of society. Therefore, celebrities can unite or divide nations, easily. A celebrity not only sheds light on social and political issues but also persuades the public against or in favour of it. Through social media, celebrities mould, design, formulate and eradicate social stigmas. The influence of celebrity politics also helps to spread awareness and provoke masses to stand up for their rights and war against the usurpers. Celebrities through their political influences can build up identities, function as voices, criticize, appreciate or even decline audience behaviour. They are leaders equally and so bear equal responsibility on their shoulders.