by Matthew D. Atkinson, Long Beach City College and Darin DeWitt, California State University, Long Beach
In 2014, comedian Seth Rogen shared a personal story about living with a family member diagnosed with Alzheimer’s before a U.S. Senate subcommittee. After his testimony, Rogen took to Twitter to shame absent subcommittee members: “Not sure why only two senators were at the hearing. Very symbolic of how the Government views Alzheimer’s. Seems to be a low priority.”
Mr. Rogen had reason to be surprised. Scholars, journalists, and political insiders agree that celebrity activists exercise political influence because they have special access to Members of Congress, which they use to focus legislator attention on their pet issues thereby turning ordinary events like congressional hearings into high-profile affairs. Consistent with this conventional wisdom, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews asked Rogen: “You are a movie star. Usually the senators at least show up when the cameras are there. Why weren’t they there?”
Does Seth Rogen—an actor famous for his roles in stoner films—lack the gravitas and political appeal required to draw a crowd of senators? Or, perhaps, the conventional wisdom is inaccurate and the paltry attendance for Rogen’s testimony is in line with the typical senatorial response to celebrities on Capitol Hill? In this paper, we argue against the conventional wisdom and instead posit that MCs lack incentives to listen to celebrity testimony. Drawing on an original dataset of hearing participation, we find that the typical celebrity witness does not increase member attendance at committee hearings.