Swift may not be responsible for the state of the nation but she is responsible for something
First off, Taylor Swift and Donald Trump have a lot in common. Both are the children of wealthy financial industrialists, who have taken the lives their parents selfishly dreamed for them to their ultimate conclusion on the rungs of the media landscape. Their path through the last decade toward their hegemonic hold over the media cycle was drawn with similar gestures: in the middle of the era of supposedly great diversity, both pitted themselves as populist symbols of innocence, who happened to be white: Trump, a lying, corrupt oaf could somehow could be believed when he said he never took “dirty” money; Swift, whose love life was calculatedly cluttered to build maximum intrigue, remained virginal, clothed constantly in premarital white. Somehow, simultaneously, both similarly rose in profile by delegitimizing black political and cultural figures: Trump turned from a reality TV hack to a regularly televised political commentator when he became defacto leader of a political fringe that contended that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. Swift turned from country pop singer to celebrity titan in the extended media campaign that followed her 2009 confrontation with Kanye West at the VMAs, an incident that Swift, per Ellie Woodward in Buzzfeed, used to “capitalize on the stereotype of the ‘angry black man” and, thusly, “catapulted her into the mainstream consciousness.”
Seemingly, by another coincidence, both have became adored by groups of neo-Nazis that have long festered on the internet’s murky corners and, now, are showing up on the streets killing people. The image of Trump and Swift has bloomed from ironic, troll-like, reverence to being seen as legitimizing presences by platforms like The Daily Stormer, whose community manager told Broadly last year that Swift was “Aryan in spirit,” because of her lack of involvement with any people of color or non-heteronormative sexuality. The website, by then, had published at least twenty-four posts praising Swift as the “the anti-Miley,” a reference to a singer like Miley Cyrus who, at any rate, has a charity focused on issues facing LGBTQ youth. The Daily Stormer was among the websites shut down after its involvement in the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville earlier this year.
Trump’s own relationship with neo-Nazis is both well documented and his remains suspiciously murky. In a press conference shortly after Heyer, among others, were attacked for counter-protesting a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Trump responded to demands that he condemn his supporters by adamantly declaring that the issue had “multiple sides,” a remark that has been widely condemned by many of Trump’s own party and supporters who are not neo-Nazis. It was a gesture that felt fatal to the idea of Trump as anything less than a troll himself; a president who refused to do that most basic of presidential tasks: condemn outspoken hate groups “Well, it’s over now – right?” asked Matt Taibbi at the time.
It might not be, given that Trump never quite seems to be over but critical discourse on Swift’s interaction with the right-wing politics that she’s been associated with remains, conversely, deeply divided. Mark Harris, at Vulture, demands we treat Swift like a regular joe, her choice to keep her voice and vote in last year’s election private, he contends, “is obviously her right.” This is media-celebrity relations circa J. Law: they’re people too and deserve the sympathy we collectively give other attractive people. Even Dan Ozzi, ostensibly delivering a beatdown in an editorial titled “Taylor Swift Needs to Sit This Year Out,” concedes that “celebrities are under no obligation to be politically vocal,” ramming his point into a bitter aside: “they are better off remaining silent,” they are “woefully ignorant” about the world they live in. Elsewhere, at The Ringer, Justin Charity yearns painfully for an imagined past where “celebrity politics” didn’t exist and pop singers, like reality TV show hosts, were thought as too woefully ignorant to fill space on 24-hour news networks. Basically, Swift is simply too stupid to say anything about the world she lives in, these old white men contend.
Both are wrong. Swift may not be responsible for the state of the nation but she, at the very least, is responsible for her fans. and while Swift might not obligated to tell us who she voted for, we are permitted to ask. As Amy Zimmerman pointed out after the attack in Charlottesville, there is nothing controversial in demanding that she vigorously condemn the sections of her fan base that wish harm on millions of people. Her silence on this is galling. Her silence on this is deliberate. That, itself, is a political stance and isn’t one done out of ignorance. Like Trump, she doesn’t want to lose the vigorous support she receives from the radical right wing fringe (as recently as last week, Breitbart mounted a vigorous social media campaign tying their content to lyrics from Swift’s comeback single “Look What You Made Me Do”).
This would be one thing is Swift was attempting to lead the life of private citizenship that media commentators want to bestow her while, at the same time, zealously covering every piece of content she releases. She is not. She is the beginning of an album promotional cycle, a publicity-intense effort that will involve everything from putting her face on UPS trucks to demanding fans tell their friends to buy her album in order to get tickets to see her perform. Like Trump, she seems to be doing far fewer conventional interviews with the media, permitting her to be both omnipresent yet silent, a large face in front of a newspaper that says nothing about the headlines behind it. We can still demand it say something.
Andrew Karpan has opinions, man. Follow them on Twitter.