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Billy Joel is Right. Stop Telling Fans How to Think

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Fans are tired of celebrities assuming they can’t make informed political decisions for themselves.

When he was 20, Billy Joel went to Woodstock. Country Joe and the Fish played “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die,” a catchy sing-along style tune featuring politically charged lyrics opposing the war in Vietnam. In 2014, Billy Joel sat for an interview with Howard Stern and described how much he disliked Country Joe’s performance: “I don’t like somebody telling me how to think.”

Mr. Joel would repeat this sentiment during the 2016 Presidential campaign when he tweeted: “Billy is voting for Hillary Clinton, but is not seeking to influence the votes of his fans.” He elaborated, in an email to the New York Daily News that he had “no desire to influence anyone to think as I do” and that his “personal opinion shouldn’t matter to anyone with their own free will.”

Actor Mark Wahlberg shares Mr. Joel’s view and asked his fellow celebrities to refrain from trying to influence their fans in favor of certain political candidates. Mr. Wahlberg explained: “They might buy your CD or watch your movie, but you don’t put food on their table. You don’t pay their bills.” He described how many Hollywood celebrities were quite removed from the day-to-day lives of average Americans and ought not demand they share the perspectives of the Hollywood elite.

Some celebrities have drawn attention to a number of important issues of political and philanthropic importance and raised money for important charities. For example, Jason Alexander (George from Seinfeld) has been instrumental in the effort to find a cure for the autoimmune disease scleroderma. However, in many cases, celebrities’ penchant for using their notoriety to influence people politically has gone too far. Perhaps the cast of Hamilton’s confrontation direct address to Vice President Mike Pence was one such example. Political commentator Michael Smerconish drew a comparison between the Hamilton incident and a Pink Floyd concert he attended in which the band spent as much time bemoaning issues of due process as they apply to foreign terrorists as they did playing their signature songs.

Celebrities can use their fame to advocate on behalf of causes important to them, but Mr. Joel and Mr. Wahlberg are correct. People don’t need to be told how to think or how to vote. Even if they enjoy a performer’s work, voters are in a better position than a Hollywood celebrity to know for themselves which candidates will best represent the issues most important to their lives.

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