Hollywood's Surprising Political History

12/01/2011 05:28 pm ET | Updated Jan 31, 2012

Hollywood actors' involvement in politics started much earlier than people realize. For over 100 years, movie stars have influenced the ways in which Americans have thought about politics. From Charlie Chaplin to Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hollywood activists have repeatedly spoken out on the most important political issues of their day. In a nation filled with political malaise, where a majority of voters consistently fail to go to the polls, movie stars have done more than just show us how to dress, look or love. They have taught us how to think and act politically. Yet, movie star activism on the left and the right has been far more complex than we usually think. Over the course of the century, movie stars engaged in six types of political activism: visual politics, electoral politics, issue-oriented politics, movement politics, image politics, and celebrity politics. I go into more detail in my new book, "Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics."