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Does celebrity humanitarianism encourage or impede greater public participation in development politics?
Celebrity humanitarianism is a celebrity figure, who has moved beyond their job to help areas in foreign aid and development. Celebrities attempt to support and care those who are in need, for distant populations through a variety kind of emotional practices, these are promoted and sustained across space through the invocation of community and mostly through the use of social media. The articulation of community, empathy and fan activism creates an experience of citizenship that appears to exceed national border and enables effective relations between distant individuals and places. Celebrity humanitarianism is a phenomenon involving well-known figures from the worlds of entertainment, such as sports and business whereby they use their fame for humanitarian causes. Celebrities are such well-known charity activist that they are invited to meet heads of state to press their reasons and to offer advice on issues of global aid and development. An example of this is the lead singer of U2 Bono. Bono is an influential celebrity activist and a leader in the fight against poverty, hunger and promoting international debt relief.
Bono helped produce the ONE campaign, Debt AIDS Trade in Africa (DATA), (RED) and (EDUN), an organic clothing company with the mission of sustainable employment in developing countries. Bono was impressed to become an associate activist in 1960 once seeing ‘The secret policeman’s ball’. Ever since, Bono has been supporting a never-ending list of charities, foundations and causes, while inspiring millions of his fans (Hill, 2012). The charity advocacy promises a form of deterritorialized citizenship through transnational activism and global emotion, one that relies on technologically well-informed use of new social media, direct advocacy campaigns and a fan base that rivals the population of small countries (Bennett 2012; Jenkins and Shrethsova 2012).
The aura of authenticity surrounding the media relationship between star and fan is critical for the development of both intimacy and belief in the celebrity’s cause. Researches have shown that one of the primary ways in which various forms of media convey authenticity is through a display of private self that appears connect to public actions. Duvall (2010), is a prime example, whereby has said how the sincerity of belief and response to the charitable works of Angelina Jolie because of their connection with her private life. Her charismatic performances such has her many international adoptions made her activism seem authentic and believable (Chouilaraki, 2011).
Celebrity activists must show a personal connection in their private lives with the reasons that are being promoted (King, 2006). This connection much takes place over a lengthy period and in the actual rather than virtual areas in which the problem or event is occurring. The celebrities run a risk of causing ‘photo opportunity’ which will advance their careers rather than aid the individuals and communities require help. Fan mobilised by ‘official’ celebrity figures such as Angelina Jolie and Bono through the inculcation of a sense of community. One that is activated by the possibility of individual participation linked to something larger (Brough and Shresthova 2012) Social media is integral to this process since it is ‘through the platform of social media that a fan culture, in all its interconnected networks and communities, can quite rapidly be drawn together, working to achieve a shared goal’ (Bennett 2012).
A celebrity’s ‘confessional style’ is one that perceived as a true and authentic public expression of personal feeling. When celebrities seem to confess, either verbally or through embodied actions such as tears, they are seen to be felt deeply and truly, embodying an authentic act. In 2013, Bono did a TED talk, the emotions which were shown a sense of intimacy through the audience confessing his exalted sense of self, his self proclaimed. Bono does not cry, he said at a point where ‘there are all kinds of benefits to this. For a state, that will not listen to an insufferable little jumped Jesus like ‘me’ Bono referring to himself. How about that’, (Bono, 2013). His reference to Jesus shows that he is a self-deprecating turn of phrase which highlights to the Christian overtones in his talk, something which noted to Ted. As an emotional tone, Bono also exhorted his followers to be activists, to believe in data and evidence as well as in the power of emotions.
The United Nation uses celebrities to stay in profit from connections to popular culture, but such is the evolution of popular culture that the contemporary cliché of celebrity humanitarianism is ‘mocked’ in intertextual media and social media forms. The satirical ‘White saviour’ Instagram site, an example of this is western activists in Africa posting selfies. The cultural tide may be turning against hypocritical elites, including celebrity elites, who claim to speak on behalf of ‘the people’. Simultaneous profiting from hierarchical and unjust systems even though celebrity advocacy celebrities do make a noticeable difference to domestic political behaviour or health outcomes. The consequences of celebrity humanitarians for which we have little evidence of the influence of celebrity interventions. Which are measurable behaviours and legislative issues on distant causes?
Kapoor (2013), clearly illustrates how celebrity humanitarianism, far from being altruistic, is significantly contaminated and ideological which is the most self-serving, helping to promote institutional aggrandisement and the celebrity ‘brand’. It advances consumerism and corporate capitalism and rationalises the global inequality it seeks to redress it is fundamentally depoliticising, despite its pretensions to ‘activism’, and it contributes to ‘post-democratic’ political landscape, which appears outwardly open and consensual but is managed by unaccountable elites.
Celebrity humanitarianism in a sense conforms well to what has called our ‘post-democratic’ liberal politics, which is mainly unaccountable elites such as economists, business people and celebrities govern. Which implies that stars increasingly have a powerful say on such significant global policy issues as debt, trade damage, health and poverty reduction. Which also suggests that most unelected private individuals that organisations have taken over what should be a public function, which is itself revealing of the increasing current trend towards neolibersalisation of politics and economies.
In terms of the overall argument, several cases are in order. The celebrities and humanitarian parts such as Save Darfur and Bono the purpose is not to emphasise their institutional motives, idiosyncrasies or failures but to examine how their humanitarian work helps illuminate critical structural characteristics of the contemporary global economic and political system. The production of philanthropic celebrities says something such as about both globalisation of ‘humanitarian celebrities’ say something meaningful about both global capitalism and its accompanying political arrangement and liberal democracy. The purpose is not to hold celebrities solely responsible for the ideological of the celebrity humanitarians.
Philanthropy, has much more, secular associations, it means ‘love of humankind’, which expresses through generous donations to ‘good causes’ (OED 2011). Furthermore, it is because of temporal dimension that the term ‘philanthropy’ is most commonly associated today with the like of business tycoons and the corporate sector (although there is no hard and fast rule ‘corporate charity’ is not an uncommon usage). Which sense of civic responsibility is also present in ‘humanitarian; which is meant to extract a concern for human welfare’ (OED 2011; cf. Barnett and Weiss, 2008). Humanitarian NGOs typically universalise this civic responsibility often underlining the need for impartially or neutrality in their programming.
Western capitalist values are through philanthrocapitalism. As defined by Pratt & Hailey philanthrocapitalism ‘represents a novel way of addressing international development, intended to bring efficiency, effectiveness, performance goals and returns on investments’ (2012:10). It presents a way of achieving development through capitalist business principles and is a form of development which is usually mediated through large scales private philanthropic foundations such as Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Private finance for growth, especially in the form of aid has always been part of how events are funded; however, in recent years, it comes to adopt an ever prominent role, which attributes to the discourse surrounding corporate responsibility.
A capitalist business approach to development promoted through philanthrocapitalism also risks limited the work of NGOs. It adopts capitalist business principles, for example, a market competition which is not always useful in the context of development as Edwards, ‘competition might progress by pushing non-profits to economise in key areas of their work’. The increasing privatisation of development will only heighten this issue and shows how these donors can come to direct development studies at the expense of trained professionals in the field. Another example of philanthrocapitalism conception of development is problematic is due to the image which creates the development which is becoming synonymous; this is due to consumerism. Which is due to high profile businesses which have to use the capitalist consumerism to which facilitate development such as Toms shoe brand and their ‘One for one’ campaign which pledges to give children a pair of shoes when they are in need (Rayman, 2015) for every purchase they receive. Lisa Ann Richey has done extensive research in this area and Stefano Ponte who characterise the phenomenon as ‘brand aid’ (2011 and focus product red created by rock star Bono. Product red teamed up large global companies such as Apple to create ‘red’ products whose purchased helped people living with AIDS in Africa. Which encourages people to use their consumer power to help those less fortunate, as the state on the website, ‘when you do the (red) thing, a (red) partner will give up a number of its profits to fight AIDS.
It is as simple as that (red.org) By harnessing consumers these programs treat development as a commodity as this allows businesses to use serious development issues to advance their business agenda further facilitating the supremacy of the capitalist West as those who hold power. Western capitalist and the responsibility to help the less fortunate ‘other’ philanthrocapitalism saturates its discourse with moralising condemnations of poverty and messianic prophecies of salvation’ (McGoey, 2014) Intrinsically linked to the commodification of development is the creation of the development celebrity.
Celebrities should be educating themselves in Development studies so that they will be disciplined and take the opportunities which arise to them much more seriously and to engage with the development interaction. By doing so, this will make the response much more useful for the associations that they are helping through the use of them using their social status and being able to maintain a good cause. There are certain types of interaction that promote and different ways how to do so. Images are skewed, landscaped and blurred, people become masses, who must now compete with pictures of celebrities sketched onto the African backdrop in a competitive consumer-driven news market. When celebrities come to Africa, news and entertainment seem to blur. With celebrities on its side, Africa has become more entertaining than ever. However, who is to blame? Stars who are trying to convince the worth or the skewered concept of development that the Western world has in the first place.
- Barnett, M. and Weiss, T. (2019). Humanitarianism in Question: Politics, Power, Ethics. [online] Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.ctt7v7ms [Accessed 26 Mar. 2019].
- Bennett, L. (2013) ‘“If we stick together we can do anything”: Lada Gaga fandom, philanthropy and social media’, Celebrity Studies, 5 (1–2) [Accessed 26 March 2019].
- Bennet, L. (2012)’Fan activism for social mobilization: a critical review of literature’. Transformative works and culture, 10, doi: 10.3983/twc/2012.0346
- Bono (2013) ‘The good news on poverty (yes, there’s good news)’, TED website, available at https://www.ted.com/talks/bono_the_good_news_on_poverty_yes_there_s_good_news [Accessed 26 March 2019].
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- Duvall, S.-S. (2010) ‘From walking the red carpet to saving the world: global celebrity, media, and commodity activism’, PhD dissertation, Indiana University, May.
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- Kapoor, I. (2013). Celebrity Humanitarianism: The Ideology of Global Charity by Ilan Kapoor. [online] Framing Activism. Available at: http://reframe.sussex.ac.uk/activistmedia/2013/02/celebrity-humanitarianism-the-ideology-of-global-charity-by-ilan-kapoor/ [Accessed 26 Mar. 2019].
- King, B (2006) ‘Articulating stardom’, in P.D. Marshall (ed.) The celebrity culture reader London: Sage, 346-67.
- McGoey, L. (2014). The philanthropic state: market–state hybrids in the philanthrocapitalist turn. [online] Taylor & Francis. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01436597.2014.868989 [Accessed 26 Mar. 2019].
- Rayman, N. (2015). ‘A Photo of Your Feet Can Give a Pair of Shoes to a Child in Need. [online] http://time.com/3848041/toms-shoes-instagram-needy-children/. [Accessed 26 Mar. 2019].
- RED. (2019). (RED). [online] Available at: https://www.red.org/ [Accessed 26 Mar. 2019].
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