Year of the Political Actor: Can Celebrity Involvement In Politics Help Improve The Entertainment Industry?


Political analysts have emphasises that now that the elections are over, the real work for the leadership of this country across all parties' spheres begins. In this recent election we saw an unprecedented number of artists taking an active role in the political discourse of this nation. 

I am not of the school of thought that entertainers should separate themselves from the political issues of the country. With the spotlight celebrities have, they are an integral part of the community and as such can have a direct impact in getting a message across for political parties — if they support said party, why shouldn't they.

Of course, some could argue there was a superficiality on the political stage this year that the instrumental dimension of politics have now been replaced by a dramaturgical one and by spectacle, while 'political actors' exploit the symbolism and enormity of the occasion for public consumption via the media. But I'm not gonna turn this into some big philosophical rant. Let's just keep it simple and to the point.

With numerous artists having taken an active role in campaigning for their preferred political parties, can we now expect them to use the same platform given to them by these parties to help change the dire state of affairs that have beleaguered our industry? 

Will celebrities who campaigned for votes speak as loudly to their political parties about bringing changes into the labour laws of this country to protect the rights of artists?

Here is the reality; creative practitioners in this country are part of the only formalised industry in our economy that does not have set policies that protect its labour force. Domestic workers have rights now that entitle them to things like UIF, an actor can get fired tomorrow or retire with nothing to sustain their livelihood. 

Throwing money at selected artists is not a long term sustainable answer to the problem. The industry needs help from a policy level. For all its claims that it wants to help the artists of this country, the ruling party has not done a good job to make sure that laws are put in place to protect artists as part of the labour force of this nation. 

This industry is not just about celebrities. Yes, they have the spotlight ... but that often comes with a veneer of vanity that may have people thinking the industry is just a platform for fun and frivolity. But better minds know that this is a working industry that employs people and contributes to the GDP like any other industry. 

Change happens when it spearheaded by policies and mechanisms to ensure that such policies are enforced. For an actor or artist, right now in 2016, the only job protect he has is lodging a claim at the CCMA should they be fired unfairly — a process that is riddled with loopholes that work against the artist because of the contracts we have in this business that often protects the artist the least over his employer. 

An organisation like the Creative and Cultural Industries of South Africa, which is headed by actor Tony Kgoroge and was supported by the Department of Arts and Culture in its inception, has failed the industry. They can't even be bothered to send a message of condolences to a family of a dead artist, let alone form any effective programmes to bring about any positive change to the lives of  the living creative practitioners. 

To put this in perspective, an actor in the US is parts of a unionised body, to which he/she contributes a portion of their salary and in turn that becomes a financial security blanket for when they retire or maimed in the line of duty. That is what a civilised factional industry that contributes to the industry does. Much like any working South African does in their respective industry with the UIF, pension fund, etc. 

To be fair, the government does contribute some money and resources into the industry. I am well aware of programmes supported and sometimes initiated by the government that help the ARTS. However, without set laws governing the industry such aid in resources and finances end up being misused and squandered. With no set regulation, such initiatives end up benefiting a selected few and the tenderpreneurs. 

With that I dare ask all the actors, musicians and industry folks who stood hand in hand with politicians to help the win votes, will you use your relationships with the seats of power to improve the state of this industry? 

Will you ask your politician buddies if they will put the plight of the industry to be regulated somewhere on their "change" priority list? 

Afterall, we can't all be doctors, teachers, factory workers, engineers, etc. The creative industry is an industry that employs hundreds of thousands of people. Without the artists, designers, producers, etc other industries will be affected. Cinemas, theatres, boutiques, production companies, tv & television stations, print companies, media houses, public relations firms, advertising firms, to name just a few are industries that feed of the existence of actors, musicians, designers and so forth. 




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