Nicki Minaj and Political Theater
Musician Nicki Minaj’s bizarre vaccine-hesitant tweet spawned a flurry of controversy, and none of the subsequent discourse seemed to lead anywhere substantive.
By Brent Dondalski
On September 13th, 2021 musician Nicki Minaj tweeted: “my cousin in Trinidad won’t get the vaccine cuz his friend got it & became impotent. His testicles became swollen. His friend was weeks away from getting married, now the girl called off the wedding. So just pray on it & make sure you’re comfortable with ur decision, not bullied” (Twitter). It was a bizarre tweet and one with vaguely political implications. It didn't take long before the tweet was picked up by popular political commentators such as Tucker Carlson and Candace Owens, and was subsequently praised for its vaccine hesitant advice. The reactions around this tweet, Nicki Minaj’s vaccine stance, and the eagerness for political influencers to comment on the controversy reveals the absurdity of contemporary political discourse.
This controversy is a perfect example of how national stories are filtered through celebrities and sensationalism. There are countless peer-reviewed studies verifying the efficacy of vaccines, the lack of adverse reactions, and the documented side effects (New England Journal of Medicine, National Library of Medicine, etc). These are studies subject to rigorous academic research conducted by experts in the field of epidemiology, biology, and so on. Yet, the Nicki Minaj tweet is what dominates cable news, Twitter feeds, and the opinions of media commentators. Social media and the current news ecosystem have facilitated this type of sensationalization where individual narratives and popular public figures become the centerpieces of stories. If the media is responsible for informing citizens then tweets shouldn’t be stories: data should be. In this scenario it would almost certainly be more important to reiterate the scientific data backing up the efficacy of the vaccine rather than reporting Nicki Minaj’s Twitter feed, which anyone can just look at themselves.
However, it comes as no surprise that far-right commentators such as Tucker Carlson would jump at this opportunity. With countless misleading claims about COVID-19, Tucker Carlson has been a significant proponent of misinformation, once telling viewers “your response when you see children wearing masks as they play should be no different from your response to seeing someone beat a kid in Walmart: call the police immediately” (Fox News). He reported on Nicki Minaj’s tweet, saying “public health officials didn’t like this because they make their living bullying people.” Candace Owens, another far-right commentator, echoed these sentiments saying “real queens do not act because of peer pressure.”
The irony of this is that these are people who have previously claimed to be against celebrities in politics, and have even criticized musicians like Nicki Minaj for their sexual provocativity and rebellion against social conservatism. Candace Owens even once said “I take issue with [Cardi B] being used to encourage young women to strip themselves of dignity,” a criticism that would undoubtedly apply to Nicki Minaj who paved the way for female musicians like Cardi B.
The reason these people are not being consistent in their beliefs is because they are playing a team sport; their business is partisanship. The moment that an extremely relevant celebrity like Nicki Minaj echoes their anti-vaccine sentiments, they jump at the opportunity to associate themselves with that person due to their clout. This level of partisanship, while unsurprising, is totally shameful and erodes any type of legitimate discussion that could have arisen from this situation, because the motives and honesty of people like Tucker Carlson and Candace Owens is immediately in question.
In addition to conservatives chiming into the swollen testicle discourse, the White House extended an invitation to Nicki Minaj to discuss questions she has about the COVID-19 vaccine (AP News). At best, this invitation may help enlighten a vaccine-hesitant individual about how the vaccine is safe and necessary to end the pandemic. However, it’s hard not to imagine that this isn’t another publicity act to capitalize on a celebrity’s relevance by entering the current trending topic. The White House does not extend these invitations to any anti-vax individual, so why should Nicki Minaj get one? What is there to gain from inviting Nicki Minaj to the White House for this discussion? How does this help the working-class people of America? The White House’s attention should be on the issues affecting the American public as a whole rather than the concerns of a singular celebrity. Nicki Minaj being a public figure shouldn’t necessitate a visit to the White House.
At the end of the day, Nicki Minaj’s story about her cousin and the vaccine should be inconsequential. After all, we don’t need anecdotal evidence when there is plenty of research on COVID-19 vaccines. However, because of a media ecosystem that prioritizes sensationalism, we have a political climate that is informed by absurd and arguably meaningless stories like this. This is politics at its most partisan; commentators and politicians jumping at the opportunity to condemn or praise a celebrity for even their most vague stance on an issue. It almost feels like each political party is making an effort to “recruit” Nicki Minaj, and other celebrities, to their side. This type of celebritization of politics is unproductive and only takes away attention from actual issues and what working-class people in America are dealing with.
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Ryan Ford '23,