Can you smell what The Rock is floating? Dwayne Johnson calls a run for the White House "a real possibility"

Actor and wrestler Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson suggests a presidential run may be in the works

By Keith A. Spencer
Published May 10, 2017 4:56PM (EDT)
Dwayne Johnson   (Reuters/Danny Moloshok)
Dwayne Johnson (Reuters/Danny Moloshok)

You've got to admit, presidential debates would be much more interesting if the candidates smashed chairs over one another's heads.

In a penetrating new GQ profile of Dwayne Johnson, the 45-year-old former pro wrestler turned A-list actor said he had been thinking about a presidential run. "I think that [running] is a real possibility," Johnson told interviewer Caity Weaver.

The Rock first hinted at a foray into politics in 2016, when he said, "I'll be honest, I haven't ruled politics out." After The Washington Post called his candidacy "weirdly plausible," Johnson — who is a registered Republican — posted a screenshot from the article and called it "interesting."

The Rock's floating of the idea of running for office, and the fact that some are taking it seriously, hints at a more troubling national trend: the tendency to conflate celebrity with expertise. The idea that celebrities have attained hallowed status in the public eye and are thereby more deserving of public servant roles than those with a deep understanding of policy and political organizing has come to infect American political discourse.

As Donald Trump's ascendancy to the presidency suggests, the celebrity-politician axis is a two-way street. Just as many see celebrity a path to unearned political expertise, former politicians often become celebrities in their own right. High-paid speaking gigs and a Hollywood circuit are pretty much a guarantee for high-ranking politicians who have graduated from public service. Ultimately, most prominent politicians in the U.S. earn the bulk of their income from speaking gigs and book deals.

Admittedly, there have been celebrities turned politicians who knew what they were doing — but only because they were steeped in the political world prior to announcing their candidacies. That includes Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., who prior to being a senator was a political commentator. (Also there was 1969 New York City mayoral candidate Norman Mailer, the novelist and left-wing political commentator, who said, "the difference between me and the other candidates is that I'm not good and I can prove it.")

Yet The Rock, like Trump, is not one of them. And there's nothing wrong with telling an actor that you loved him in "The Fast and the Furious" franchise but you don't trust him to write health care laws. After all, you wouldn't trust a politician to play an acting role. Why should the reverse be true?

Many rolled their eyes when Fox News' Tucker Carlson recently invited the model Fabio on a program to discuss why California is a "mess" because of "liberal policies," thinking that Fabio's opinion about California politics did not have any merit whatsoever. If that's the case, we should question the some of commentariat's breathless fawning over the prospect of The Rock's candidacy.

But if you believe a male model like Fabio isn't entitled to trenchant political analysis, shouldn't the same benchmark apply to other entertainers? Perhaps you remember memorizing a list of logical fallacies in school, when you may have learned that an "appeal to celebrity" was not a valid tactic.

Keith A. Spencer

Keith A. Spencer is a senior editor for Salon. He manages Salon's science, tech, economy and health coverage. His book, "A People's History of Silicon Valley: How the Tech Industry Exploits Workers, Erodes Privacy and Undermines Democracy," was released in 2018. Follow him on Twitter at @keithspencer, or on Facebook here.

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Celebrity Dwyane "the Rock" Johnson Fabio