Posted by: Regina | November 5, 2007

Value of celebrity activism

I’m not a complete cock-eyed optimist by any stretch when it comes to charities and celebrity involvement. For that reason, I’m carefully picking and choosing what I blog.

From that perspective, I want to link to an article from the Cord Weekly on the celebrity activism that’s going on.

I’m happy when anyone takes an interest in helping others. But we all know that some do it more for PR purposes than for a true desire to help.

Value of celebrity activism

Kimberly Elworthy Oct 24, 2007

Celebs abuse charity to gain attention, ignore the real issues

One recent afternoon I found myself in the metropolis of Canadian society – The Eaton Centre. Browsing through Sears, a very fit, hairless and not to mention topless male model informed me of a promotion: if I buy a new designer perfume today, part of the profit will go “to help Africa.”

Considering Africa has about 61 countries, I felt obligated to ask what part of Africa they were trying to help and for what cause? Unsurprisingly, he did not have a clue and directed me to the main desk. The sales associates were similarly unaware of where my money would be going.

It is experiences such as this one that make me skeptical about people who choose to make “charity work” a commercial endeavour. When someone chooses to gain profit from other people’s suffering and misfortune, it is simply unethical.

In the past couple of years, celebrity charity work has exploded. Paris Hilton is heading to Rwanda soon and Lindsay Lohan is shipping out to Kenya. Celebrities, products themselves, are using charity work to sell themselves and appeal to a “new and aware” youth market.

But what does it mean when a celebrity, who is usually more reckless, self-centered and indulgent than the average Joe, tries to tell us to open our eyes and give our well-earned money away to help those in need?

Cynics often say, according to The New York Times, that celebrity philanthropy is just a current fad and a way to get people, like Miss Lohan, a little good press after a rough year. Not only is charity a fad but Africa is the biggest thing out there this season. Africa is a continent torn by so many issues – poverty, AIDS, starvation, and genocide (in Darfur) – that everyone can help their cause of choice there.

It wouldn’t make sense, of course, to help your own country first; the USA also is ripe with poverty, illiteracy and a non-existent public health care system. Helping your own country is not “in style.” Adopting a local Caucasian baby doesn’t scream out “I care.”

The Times also goes on to say that celebrity philanthropy has become Capitalactivism, which is when celebrities use their name and qualifications to authenticate charitable products. An example of such capitalactivism is Bono’s (Product) RED campaign, where the proceeds from red products will go to AIDS treatment and prevention.

It should be noted that all this money is not going to any research about AIDS, something that could actually stop AIDS forever. It is only going to things that suppress the effects of AIDS. It is also interesting that each company decides how much of the proceeds from each item will be donated to the campaign.

According to the (Product) RED website, American Express will donate one percent of your spending to the campaign and Motorolla will give $8.50 (US) for each purchase of their red Razr cell-phone.

Apple doesn’t even say how much they are willing to donate for each one gigabyte iPod shuffle.

Although it’s better than nothing, we should not reduce a company’s or a celebrity’s interest in activism to nothing. It is the job of people who are bestowed with excesses of money to do good things with it. And this is because we all think that, “if I found myself in a situation where I needed help, someone would help me.”

I don’t see celebrities helping students get to places around the world where people need help. Students are now, and have always been, the future of society. These are the people who can truly dedicate their lives to a cause and who are looking for something to become passionate about.

They are also the people who can work towards a real solution through research instead of offering band-aids as Bono’s (Product) Red campaign does.

This option, though, does not give celebrities and companies the necessary press coverage to make their good work pay off and so it will be neglected.

Celebrities neglect to assist students, whom could actually make a difference in society, because they are more interested in promoting themselves through good press coverage than finding possible solutions to the issues people face around the world.

At the end of the day, celebrity activism is not about making change for the better. It is about profit. Right now, poverty, AIDS and war are prime marketing tools with which profit can be made.

This is a clearly cynical read. However, it does hit on some important issues for sure. I’m not interested in Paris Hilton talking about how “scared” she is to go to Africa. It’s moronic. But if she can get the teeny boppers who adore her to start giving a crap about charity work and activism, maybe it is a good thing.

Furthermore, there are many celebrities who do things quietly and behind the scenes. We never hear about those stories because they go out of their way to make sure their donations stay private. Of course, there are others that sign on to causes to attract the media to help increase public awareness of the causes they support.

I’m always leary of any campaign that wants me to purchase more crap to help, so I wasn’t with the Red campaign from the word “go”. My feeling on the Red campaign is this:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

From Good Seeing Red

I agree, that shopping is not the solution. Buy less junk and give more: Buy Less Crap dot org. However, that also was the point of the iPod post a few places down.


  1. […] of celebrity activism Regina placed an interesting blog post on Value of celebrity activismHere’s a brief overviewAlthough […]

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