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.