Taylor Swift’s March For Our Lives post is a bigger deal than it seems
As far as political statements go, Taylor Swift’s March for Our Lives words weren’t anything terribly dramatic.
The singer started her Instagram post with the common-sense statement that “No one should have to go to school in fear of gun violence,” and ended with an announcement that she’s made a donation in support of the movement. It’s nothing we haven’t seen from dozens, if not hundreds, of other celebrities already.
But it is something rare coming from this particular celebrity.
Swift is nothing if not stubbornly apolitical. During the 2016 election, she declined to take a public stance on either candidate; she did vote, apparently, but we still don’t know who for, or what she thinks of the guy who eventually won.
She hasn’t even been able to bring herself to denounce the white supremacist fans who claim her as an “Aryan goddess.” Instead, she made headlines when she attempted to sue a blogger criticizing her silence on the matter.
In short, Swift is savvy about her public image and wary of alienating any portion of her fanbase. So when she does speak up, it’s notable. In this case, it seems to say as much about the issue at hand as it does about Swift herself: Namely, that it’s not so controversial
Gun control isn’t as controversial as it looks
That may seem like an odd thing to say about an issue so intractable that people are literally taking to the streets to stage a protest about it. However, surveys and polls have indicated that, in fact, most Americans support stricter gun control. Even most NRA members are in favor of certain measures like background checks.
The problem has been that those who oppose gun control have been more vocal and active about making their opinions known. They’re more likely to contact officials about gun policy or engage with advocacy groups, and the NRA has been powerful and organized enough to turn that minority into a formidable force.
That might be changing with Parkland. Interest in gun control spikes after any high-profile mass shooting, but it’s rare for interest to stay high for this long. It remains to be seen what, if any, legislative impact will come of this movement – but this does feel like the best chance we’ve had in a long time to enact sensible gun control legislation.
Swift’s stance reflects how mainstream gun reform has become
I’ll always stand for open dialogue and action – it’s the only way to ensure bad history doesn’t repeat itself. When it comes to protecting our children, all bets are off and the responsibility lies with us adults and lawmakers to listen and do. Very strong day. #MarchForOurLives pic.twitter.com/4gJ0QKdMYw
— Dwayne Johnson (@TheRock) March 24, 2018
The conversation feels different now in large part because of how normalized this pro-gun control stance has become. Swift isn’t the only typically apolitical celebrity throwing in with March For Our Lives. Jimmy Fallon, who’s said he doesn’t “really even care” about politics, has spoken up in support of March For Our Lives. So has Dwayne Johnson, who, like Swift, remained mum about his choice during the 2016 election.
Taylor Swift’s support doesn’t mark a turning point for the movement – it proves we’re already past it.
It’s not that these people never express their views. Swift, for instance, voiced tepid support for the 2017 Women’s March, and became a champion of the #MeToo movement thanks to her successful countersuit against a man who groped her. Johnson, meanwhile, has come out against Trump’s proposed immigration ban. Still, Swift isn’t, has never been, and never will be Chris Evans beefing with David Duke on Twitter or Lin-Manuel Miranda pleading for help for Puerto Rico on Last Week Tonight.
Swift is emblematic of a certain kind of celebrity who’s so carefully controlled about when, why, and how they speak out, that their relative lack of public political engagement has become an integral part of their public image. You know you can count on Stephen Colbert or Seth Meyers to dig into the issues of the day; you turn to Fallon for non-political fluff.
If Swift and these others are weighing in now, it means they’ve done the math. They’ve weighed the possibility of turning off fans who disagree, or getting ensnared in controversy if they say the “wrong” thing, against their desire to discuss something that matters to them. And they’ve decided that the risks of talking are low, and that the importance of speaking out is high.
Parkland is different
Keep in mind, too, that they’re offering up their help now. Not six months ago, not five years ago, not 20 years ago, even though gun violence has been a serious issue in the U.S. for decades. As has been pointed out by others, black teens have been fighting this fight for years, without anywhere near the broad support (from celebrities and otherwise) enjoyed by the mostly white, relatively affluent Parkland teens.
But Parkland finally shifted the conversation for good. It’s no longer controversial to note that the U.S. needs sensible gun control. It’s more controversial to say it doesn’t, or to act like it’s not worth taking sides. That’s why companies like MetLife and Hertz ended their partnerships with the NRA, and why Dick’s Sporting Goods announced that (among other things) it would stop selling assault rifles, and why Taylor Swift has finally decided to weigh in.
It’s not that Swift’s voice or her money somehow legitimizes the fight. Her Instagram post doesn’t mark a turning point for the movement. What it does do is serve as proof we’re already past that turning point. She’s a follower here, not a leader – and it speaks to Parkland’s power that it’s managed to lead Swift all the way to a carefully curated Instagram post.