Celebrity Philanthropy and Activism (s)
Super celebrities with global reach like Hollywood actor, Leonardo DiCaprio Pop star Lady Gaga or sports and reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner as well as minor and local celebrities engage in philanthropy and activism. They lend their name, money, time and energy to help solve societal problems to such an extent that the celebrity without a cause is considered a thing of the past This engagement can have considerable impact. At the same time it generates mediated stories about what is wrong in the world, who and what is to blame and what constitutes a legitimate solution? Let’s start by unraveling some of the key characteristics and meanings of celebrity philanthropy and activism. Celebrity philanthropy and activism in short is about celebrities trying to make the world a better place this is not new. We can think of Danny Kaye’s role as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in the 1950’s, or princess diana’s efforts to change attitudes towards people suffering from hiv/aids in the 1980s however it has grown exponentially in the past 20 years and this growth results from the marketization and corporatization of philanthropy and activism philanthropy refers to the application Of private means to public ends and often it is done by very rich people doing good while maintaining the status quo Activism traditionally is more of a grassroots movement that works towards changing the status quo But both have been subjected to various waves of marketization Now this comes at a time when celebrities are omnipresent in all aspects of society Sororities are hyper commodities they embody capitalist society, and they validate consumer culture however at the same time celebrities can use and apply their commodity value to further a good cause and They can do that out of a strong personal conviction a need for self-fulfillment Or maybe just a utilitarian attempt at self-promotion Celebrity engagement can take many different forms, it can be a short term appearance maybe at a benefit event or It can go all the way to long term investment, for instance in the case of an ambassador And this involvement can be about awareness creation it can be about fundraising or about advocacy work celebrities can team up with an existing nonprofit organization or they can work on their own account with their own organization Now crucially our contact with celebrity philanthropy and activism is mediated It is essentially a mediated event. Media can help celebrities push certain issues into the limelight and they can turn celebrities into roles most importantly, media present audiences with a particular interpretation of celebrity philanthropy and activism. They tell certain stories. About what is wrong in the world, who or what is to blame? Who or what is presenting as a solution and giving a moral evaluation. Such stories are shaped by the type of issue that celebrities are involved in. These can come from the public domain, as in poverty or from the realm of the private ,for instance mental health And these stories are also shaped by the characteristics of the celebrity image and persona. Much of celebrity philanthropy and activism is focused on problems from the realm of the public ranging from the environment and climate change to animal welfare and homelessness to fighting poverty at home and abroad. As an example let’s look at an area that attracts some of the highest profile celebrities and that draws considerable attention from the media and audiences. International humanitarian and development issues. A dominant theme in this area is the problem of Africa. It inspired Bob Geldof to set up Live Aid concerts to fight starvation, let Bono to start product red,an invitation to buy commodities in the fight against AIDS, and it inspired Oprah Winfrey’s Angel Network aimed at bringing relief and development programs to children and families. The mediated stories about these efforts reveal particular views on world relations with roots and colonial ideas of the west and the rest Africa is presented as a continent riddled with problems caused by nature or local politics while the Contribution to the problems by capitalism and the West is ignored Instead the West is presented as best suited to solve the problems mainly through economic and democratization efforts Celebrity involvement endorses this view and presents a contemporary version of the white man’s burden The high-minded desire and obligation to uplift troubled parts of the world Media accounts are gendered, male celebrities are shown as rational doing the serious work. Bono posing with world leaders, convincing them of debt relief, George Clooney being praised for his political knowledge about Darfur and Sudan. Female celebrities are presented with a focus on emotions and caring, Angelina Jolie embracing Syrian refugees Madonna’s emotional speech at the opening of a hospital wing in Malawi These female celebrities are also shown to take home the world’s problems for instance through transnational adoption This comes with views on race and ethnicity epitomized in Madonna’s insistence on colorblindness versus Julie’s rainbow family that references exoticism These adoptions also generate stories about motherhood and good parenting Celebrity philanthropy and activism can make real Contributions in various areas of society and provide media and audiences with food for thought Provoking discussion about what is wrong in the world and how to solve it. Yet these stories and actions are ideologically motivated and value laden. As hyper commodities, celebrities efforts ultimately are about maintaining rather than changing the status quo.