By Contributing Author Mario Osuna for Zaftyg Magazine.

In 1984, the King of Pop, Michael Jackson visited the White House to make an appearance with then-President Ronald Reagan. The occasion: a nation-wide campaign against another so-called epidemic that the nation had been fighting against for almost a decade: drunk driving. President Reagan had established a Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving to address the rising numbers of drunk driving accidents and fatalities and raised drinking age nation-wide to 21 years.

This month, President Biden received Olivia Rodrigo at the White House to grow awareness about vaccination efforts against COVID-19. Olivia Rodrigo also met with Vice President Harris and Dr. Anthony Fauci in an effort to use her platform to extend the message in favor of vaccination campaigns across the country at a time where vaccines are needed the most.

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Both events marked occasions in which politicians recognized the effects of celebrities in extending an important message to the population. Reagan pointed out at the time that Michael Jackson had made possible to “warn millions of young Americans about the dangers of drunk driving”. Both through his music and through his personal example, Michael Jackson served as a bridge to get the message to the youth of that time. It seems that the Biden Administration has tried to achieve the same with Olivia Rodrigo.

While at that time, Jackson’s appearance was only through a press conference at the White House. In contrast, Biden’s interactions with Rodrigo extended through Instagram and other social media creating an organic viral phenomenon. Interactions and engagement across all social media, both from the White House’s own platform trying to appeal to the youth, and from Olivia Rodrigo’s platform that already engages with young people, together create a great cooking pot for a widespread campaign.


What is it about these interactions that are so effective and important? It may seem that a simple photo-op with the President may not have such an impact on the public, but it is necessary to see it from the point of view of those in power, who need these sort of bridges, helping hands to reach the youth. In the eighties, Michael Jackson was without a doubt the most important artist in the pop genre.

While Jackson or Rodrigo were not really the ones giving the main remarks, considering the fact that they were primarily political appearances, their mere presence sends a message to the youth, it calls their attention to pressing issues like today’s vaccination efforts. The White House has taken in an array of different tactics to engage with youth through social media with different influencers and apps.

Michael Jackson did not give any special speech that day. He did receive a recognition by the President. Jackson had “donated” his song “Beat It” to be used in campaigns against drunk driving, a considerable effort to help reach the youth. This lies in the very nature of what it means for an artist the caliber of Jackson or Rodrigo to help like this in campaigns.

Why pop stars? The answer is in the very name – “pop”, or popular. Popular music has the most reach. It may not be for everyone, but everyone listens to it all the time. Pop stars are bound to be far reaching in exposure and effect; mostly with youth, as it is evident. After all, “Sour” is an album all about the life of a teenager. Bringing Olivia Rodrigo to the White House is a fail-proof way of catching the eye of one of the most important groups to vaccinate.

Youth is indeed an important demographic to target right now in vaccination efforts. Well, all demographics are important, no doubt. Countries like Spain, France, and most of Latin America are now facing a new wave of COVID that has targeted young people predominantly, being one of the last groups to be vaccinated on most campaigns, and being a group that has to attend class in some instances, or people in their 20s and 30s with jobs, or just young people in general going out and hopping bars, it makes sense that young people are called to be vaccinated now.

The White House’s strategy has its train of thought, of course. Just like it did back when Michael Jackson went to warn against drunk driving. Not only was Jackson worthy of a recognition like the one Reagan bestowed upon him, but also the White House knew that youth was a heavily affected demographic by drunk driving accidents and fatalities. Warning against it was and administration priority back then, and was accompanied by raising the drinking age. These were planned campaigns to address a specific demographic affected by the epidemic in question.


But in the end, will it be enough? After 1984 drunk driving fatalities figures indeed started a historic dive – of course not all thanks to the King of Pop, unfortunately. A good photo-op is in fact not the entirety of the job. Just like Reagan’s event with Jackson, Biden’s meeting with Olivia Rodrigo must be accompanied by measures and actions that improve our vaccination efforts and solidarity with those with less possibilities. While vaccination within our borders is important, vaccination abroad has been a very well thought priority of the administration.

The United States having the biggest influx of Central American immigrants has been dedicated to donating vaccines to countries that have not been able to get as much vaccines on their own and in the long run this will signify more security for our own country. It is actions and policies like this that make the simple photo-op count: a successful media campaign like this will only have an effect if there are already ongoing efforts making a difference. A megaphone won’t work if you don’t speak first.

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