Celebrities in Taiwan have become a regular fixture in social movements and more outspoken about a variety of issues. Their increasing participation in public affairs has attracted discussions about their legitimacy to speak about social and political issues, and sparked concerns about the motivations behind their involvement.
One recent controversy is the case of a 20-year-old star named Cheng Chia-chen (鄭佳甄), whose open criticism of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration, and the political strife between Ma and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) has raised eyebrows.
Known better as Chicken Cutlet Girl (雞排妹), Cheng became famous for her appearance in a fried chicken commercial. While promoting her image as an innocent, and yet sexy girl, she often expresses concerns about the impasse on Facebook, slamming Ma for “getting out of control” during his second term and posting a picture of her wearing the message: “The government is forcing citizens to revolt.”
Her enthusiasm for anti-Ma rallies and comments on social issues including the incident in Dapu Borough (大埔), Miaoli County, increased her media exposure and saw her invited to appear on political shows. However, there has also been a lot of criticism and mockery. Some call her a girl with large breasts and low intelligence who seeks to gain fame by jumping on the latest political bandwagon.
A seasoned TV show host further urged her to shift focus because “you are in the entertainment industry, not in politics.”
Such discouraging comments highlight a discrimination against celebrity involvement in public affairs, and an assumption that women lack an understanding of political and social issues.
Disputes over whether Cheng or other celebrities should use their influence in social movements or politics will not change the fact that the distinction between show business and politics is disappearing.
Rock band Mayday (五月天), for example, has openly voiced their opposition to the government’s plan to continue the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市) . In their latest music video, the band inserted photos and clips referring to political issues such as the wiretapping scandal, monopoly of the media and the forced demolition of homes in Dapu. The video attracted more than 3 million hits on YouTube within two weeks of its release.
Many more celebrities have appeared at rallies against the government. Singer and songwriter Deserts Chang (張懸), indie band Sodagreen (蘇打綠), and filmmakers Hsiao Yeh (小野) and Leon Dai (戴立忍) have all voiced their opposition to the government and used their fame to raise public awareness of important issues.
The stars have come out with the rise of social movements that have developed this year, such as the anti-nuclear campaign, the opposition to the Dapu demolitions and the demonstrations in response to the death of army corporal Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘).
These social movements have raised public awareness and encouraged deeper participation in issues they care about. All of this was done without the sponsorship or leadership of politicians.
As recent social movements suggest, politics is everyone’s business, and everyone is entitled to voice their opinions, even celebrities.
The nation is moving from stale, traditional rallies launched by political parties to modern, social movements that attract citizens’ participation. In this new era, the public should be more encouraging and tolerant of celebrities who lend their support.