Celebrity charitable campaigns: more harm than good?

Last week whilst looking through the Guardian online, I came across an article written by George Clooney. Not about Clooney, but by Clooney. My interest piqued, I read through the article which listed a series of proposals attempting to restore peace to the Sudan.

It wasn’t that the article was badly written – it wasn’t – or the generous attitude Clooney adopted towards America that irritated me. It was merely the fact the Gorgeous George (to use his full title) was pontificating about issues both beyond, and unrelated, to his sphere of influence. On reflection though, is that a bad thing?

Being a celebrity today is a multifaceted job. Nowadays a celebrity ceases to be a person, and instead becomes a brand. And an increasingly important side to that brand is an awareness of politics and the wider world. Sure, we can say these celebrities do these ‘good deeds’ out of the kindness of their hearts, but there is also a less charitable motive hidden amongst the cameras documenting their every gift.

Angelina Jolie managed to redeem herself in the eyes of the public after allegedly stealing Brad Pitt, through much publicised campaigns in Africa, Cambodia, and most recently Haiti. In 2001 she became a UN Goodwill Ambassador and her image transformation from ‘homewrecker’ to ‘the new Mother Theresa’ was complete. Celebrity charitable giving has become synonymous with damage limitation. However, there are those celebrities (like Mrs Jolie-Pitt above) who appear to view their fame as a right to comment on the world’s inequalities and atrocities.

Clooney’s article on the Sudanese crisis is a case in point. Ben Affleck and Scarlett Johansson visited the Congo and Rwanda respectively in 2008. Affleck was there to draw attention to the humanitarian crisis, whilst Johansson sought to highlight the suffering of AIDS victims. When do trips such as these cease to raise awareness of the issue, and instead raise awareness of the celebrity?

Arguably, Princess Diana was the first celebrity to harness the power of charity and mould it to benefit her image and popularity, and in doing so help a vast number of people – not in the least herself.

The problem arises when celebrities, who have no in depth or specialist knowledge, feel equipped to speak on behalf of those less privileged than themselves. By what right does Bono, who met the French President Sarkozy in 2008 to discuss DATA (an AIDS related charity), have to comment on these matters beyond his own fame and accumulated wealth? By all means, celebrities endorsing charities can be hugely beneficial and altruistic; however, there is a danger the celebrity will eclipse the cause, and the charity becomes subsidiary to the stars’ ambition. Then no-one is being helped, lest of all those most in need.

8 comments

  1. And by what “right” do you pontificate about celebrity charity? It’s simple. You have a platform.

    How great it is that some celebrities occasionally use their platform to educate and inform instead of just enticing us to watch their next film or buy a fancy handbag.

    Frankly, I am more interested in what Clooney has to say about his travels to Sudan, his interviews with Southern Sudanese representatives, and his interactions with the people there than I am in your criticism of him.

    Do you have any “in depth or specialist knowledge” about Clooney, his motivations, his knowledge about Sudan? Funny, your article doesn’t once mention an interview, a phone call to his rep, or reference to any reliable source. Your criticism is based upon assumption and perhaps a begrudging resentment of celebrity.

    “There is a danger the celebrity will eclipse the cause.” There is no amount of celebrity that could eclipse genocide.

    Ann Curry has produced a documentary called “Winds of War” about Clooney’s trip to Sudan in October. It airs tonight, December 3, on Dateline NBC at 10p.m. Perhaps you should watch it, learn a bit about what Clooney was actually doing there, and then reassess your opinion of him.

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  2. The comment above says it all.

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  3. There will always be some people out there that cannot tolerate (or should i say, jealous of) other people doing something noble and getting attentions and appreciation. Celebrities are a group of individuals that are liked, loved or to some extend worshiped by others. They are influential to those that like them. these celebrities may use their impact factor to motivate people to do some extraordinary things. For bad example, wild sex life and drugs. For good examples, George Clooney’s devotion to the Darfur crisis and the Haiti telethon (millions of dollars managed to be raised for Haiti in such a short period of time.).

    These stars are gifted somehow to shine and grab attention from the others. However, only a few manage to use it properly as a mirror to reflect the light of attention to the places or issues that normally immersed in the darkness of ignorance.

    It is easier to say, to write, to criticise than to do. Just ask yourself, do you dare to go to places like Darfur now? How many people dare to step onto the volatile land nowadays? and, How many rich, well known people out there with career on peak of the moutain dare to put aside their luxurious lifestyle and go into the unstable world? In addition, Sudan is endemic of lots of dangerous diseases, drug-resistant malaria for instance is a deadly illness that can infect a tourist even with prophylaxis treatment..now, again, ask yourself, do you dare to go to that place, and carry out the responsibility to spread the messages and bear the risk of being assassinated by the opposite groups? If you don’t have the gut, the ability, and the sincerity to do all these, then stop criticising a man that has done such a noble thing.

    I still cannot sense the sincerity of a few celebrities in doing charities and all sorts of adoptions around the world; they may be using charity as a platform to polish their image or increase their publicity as you have said. Nevertheless, they still manage to raise public awareness on the issues they “fight” on. But, for George Clooney, he manages convince me regarding his devotion and sincerity in his charity works. Even though he earns extra publicity via the platform of charity, he deserves it. At least, he make full use of his impact factor to help, instead of criticising or bad-mouthing others.

    Let’s start contributing our little effort for a better living of mankinds.

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  4. It’s not Mrs Jolie-Pitt! They aren’t married, its only their kids who have surname Jolie-Pitt. Whats the point of a celebrity bashing column that doesn’t even get that right?

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  5. [i]And by what “right” do you pontificate about celebrity charity? It’s simple. You have a platform.[/i]

    Brilliant.

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  6. In 2001 she became a UN Goodwill Ambassador and her image transformation from ‘homewrecker’ to ‘the new Mother Theresa’ was complete

    Errrr Jolie and Pitt only started smashing each other in ’05, EVERYONE KNOWS THAT

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  7. 8 Dec ’10 at 10:22 pm

    Leonard "Bones" McCoy

    Not celebrity-charities as such, but I hate it when people suddenly contract a disease then preach that you should give generously to their relevant charity, when prior to their falling ill, they couldn’t give a flying fudge themselves. Rank hypocrisy.

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  8. I think this article raises a fantastic point about how charity can unfortunately be harnessed by some to improve public image, despite however good a persons intentions are there is always the potential that the star can draw away from the cause. Although the raised profile this can give charities is not necessarily a bad thing of course…

    It reminds me of that scene from Comic Relief where Ricky Gervais was pretending to be in Africa so people would think he was really great and charitable and then the other celebrities decide they want to join in on taking the shortcut instead of actually doing charitable deeds.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DgIRjecItw

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