Pop Culture Has Become More Political, But When Will Politics Become More Pop Culture? 

Politics took center stage at the 91st Academy Awards

WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Terrance Woodbury, a millennial researcher and Senior Analyst at Brilliant Corners Research and Strategies who conducts focus groups and public opinion polls to study the perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors of millennial voters and consumers, has issued the following opinion editorial:

There were two prevailing themes of the 91st Academy Awards – diversity and politicization. Recovering from years of #OscarSoWhite controversy and recognizing the intensity of our political discourse, the Oscar producers and The Academy seem to have made a calculated decision to celebrate diversity and the winners and presenters of the night took center stage to politicize it.

We witnessed first-time wins for women and minorities in categories ranging from set design to animation. Three of the top four best actor/supporting actor winners were non-white. And they showcased the most diverse cast of presenters in Oscar history. As important as who won Sunday night are the actual stories behind the honored films. Stories of personal identity, sexual orientation, and classism in Mexico. Stories that recognized the challenges of segregation, and the benefits of immigration.

However, what many found most noteworthy were the messages delivered from the stage.

Javier Bardem condemned the erection of walls and barriers that further divide us. Jose Andres, who has worked to offset the impacts of the Trump administration, declared the necessity for uplifting women and immigrants. Rep. John Lewis, the Civil Rights icon, highlighted the parallels between the tumultuous fight for freedom and our current political environment. And Spike Lee charged celebrities and influencers assembled in the Dolby Theater to make a moral choice between love and hate and to Do The Right Thing in the 2020 election prompting the twitter condemnation of President Trump.

The diversity and politicization of the Oscars reflect a broader trend taking place with musicians, actors, and athletes to engage politics more explicitly. In the face of a president made famous through pop culture - literally through a reality show - pop culture icons are using their platforms to advance very political agendas.

As pop culture more deliberately engages politics, one cannot help but wonder when politics will finally engage pop culture?

Candidates for the 2020 election cycle have already begun hitting the campaign trail carrying messages packed with policy proposals that reflect their priorities and values. But few, if any, have pivoted to express their positions on issues that dominate pop culture. Weighing in on these issues represents a rare opportunity to connect with politically unengaged voters on important issues. These conversations would allow candidates to demonstrate their authenticity, connect popular matters to their values, and show how in touch they are with every day Americans and our everyday pop culture.

For example, immigration debates in the last few weeks absolutely should discuss the impact of asylum seekers at the border, but it should also include the implications of #free21savage. Discussions of sexual assault should still reference the Kavanaugh hearings, but it should also explore the public’s blind eye to accusations against R. Kelly for decades before #MeToo movement. Politicians talking about reforming the education system should reference the innovative learning environment that LeBron James built in his hometown.

Far too often, politicians make political calculations about the risks involved with alienating audiences that might disagree with their opinions about a celebrity or pop culture event. But this risk aversion does not take into account the overwhelming benefit of capturing the attention of more than 100 million eligible voters that did not vote in the 2018 election and have less of an appetite for news and current events.

We recently conducted a series of focus groups with millennial voters that voted for Obama but have not voted in subsequent elections. The characteristics these voters are seeking the most in a candidate are authenticity and willingness to stand for their beliefs. In Obama, they found a President that would host a beer summit after the racial profiling of Henry Luis Gates, declare his support for Colin Kaepernick's right to peacefully protest, and call Kanye West an asshole for taking a mic from Taylor Swift. And once he captured their attention with popular issues that mattered to them, they were willing to listen and support the political issues that mattered to him.

We have witnessed a President that was the product of pop culture inject his opinion back into pop culture in ways that advance his political agenda. He has defended his base against accusations made by Jussie Smollett, mobilized his base around the divisive language of Rosanne Barr, and stoked outrage in his core supporters over perceived disrespect of the national anthem. Until progressive candidates lean into the pop culture issues that everyday Americans discuss every day, half of Americans will continue not to hear them at all.

For More Information Contact:
Taroue Brooks

A photo accompanying this announcement is available at http://www.globenewswire.com/NewsRoom/AttachmentNg/5a0cc3bc-9864-46dc-9901-e544f5bd3b96

Terrance Woodbury