These types of videos, where celebrities are looking directly at us to make a difference, have become commonplace in television and on the Internet.  It seems that as time goes on, more and more celebrities are becoming the spokesmodel for various causes.  For example, the situation in Darfur is often associated with George Clooney, who has dedicated his time to speak out on the injustices there.  To be honest, I was not aware of the existence of blood diamonds until I saw Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie of the same name and his subsequent campaign to end the use of them.  It cannot be denied that celebrities bring a certain star power to the causes they support and with that star power come the attention of hundreds of thousands of fans.  But is all the attention helping the groups who need it? Or is it merely helping the celebrity?

Image taken from imdb.com

Image taken from imdb.com

Celebrities, by nature, have an amplified voice that allows them access to a wide audience who are ready and willing to listen and act on what is said (Goodman & Barnes, 2011).  Take Lady Gaga for instance.  Lady Gaga is a major proponent for equal rights among the gay community and has advocated on their behalf regularly, and she is just shy having 41 million followers on Twitter (40,721,724 to be exact).  One tweet on behalf of a cause will reach millions of people instantly. Having access to such an audience is no doubt beneficial to any campaign.  When that reach is coupled with donations, millions of dollars (or pounds) can be generated at an alarming rate (Goodman & Barnes, 2011).  After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, there was an outpour of support from celebrities pledging their help on Twitter, Facebook, and other sites.  The Hope for Haiti telethon, which featured over 100 musicians, actors, and other celebrities, and its accompanying CD, raised over $58 million USD for emergency relief (Duke, 2010).

Image taken from hrc.org

Actors, Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield, use paparazzi attention to advocate for Gilda's Club, an organization working with children who have cancer. Image taken from huffingtonpost.com

Actors, Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield, use paparazzi attention to advocate for Gilda’s Club, an organization working with children who have cancer. Image taken from huffingtonpost.com

All of that is well and good, but celebrities are not known for their honest actions.  Jo Littler (2008), in her article, “’I feel your pain’: cosmopolitan charity and the public fashioning of the celebrity soul,” brings up the idea that celebrities get involved in charity to strengthen their image and careers.  By being viewed in a positive light, an actor or musician will surely sell more movies or music, not to mention the money they make from appearances for charitable organizations.  Some even argue that the money spent on celebrity involvement is merely siphoning aid from those who actually need it (Littler, 2008).  But because we place such a high value on the opinions of celebrities, we give them the power to decide which cause is worth donating to.  Celebrities are human too, so it is natural that they would be pulled to a cause that means something to them, but what does that mean for other causes?  A teen pop star will likely choose a “safe” topic because of her young fan base, effectively pulling attention away from other, just as worthy causes.  Not to mention the fact that celebrities are not experts in whatever aid is needed, be it water purification or social injustice, so they rely on simple messages that they, and their audience, can understand.  But this oversimplification of the issues does not allow for the nuances of a situation to be understood (Dieter & Kumar, 2008).  Without a complete understanding of the causes of an issue, it is like putting a band-aid on a gaping wound: it is not going to fix the problem.

I think celebrities can help a great deal…in limited doses.  The attention and money they bring to a cause is noteworthy, but the power they have over what their audience focuses on is often too much, given their little expertise.  I do not think the majority of celebrities should have the power they do when it comes to development.  While some have good intentions, like Angelina Jolie and Oprah, others may not and development experts are a much better judge about what is needed in an area.  I cannot deny, however, that the visibility they bring to the causes they do advocate is irreplaceable and is absolutely a positive thing.  Like many topics, this one is not so black and white.  What do you think? Should celebrities be put in a role where they choose which causes are worthy of our attention?

References:

Dieter, H., & Kumar, R. (2008). downside of celebrity diplomacy: The neglected complexity of development. Global Governance14, 259-264.

Duke, A. (2010, January 24). ‘hope for haiti’ raises $58 million and counting. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2010/SHOWBIZ/TV/01/23/haiti.telethon/

Goodman, M., & Barnes, C. (2011). Star/poverty space: the making of the ‘development celebrity’. Celebrity Studies2(1), 69-85.

Littler, J. (2008). “I feel your pain”: cosmopolitan charity and the public fashioning of the celebrity soul. Social Semiotics18(2), 237-251.

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