In the last few years celebrities have taken up residence in the world of humanitarianism. Traditionally, celebrities have held high-end dinner affairs or parties where they can do what they do best and give any ensuing funds to the needy of the world. But lately, they have taken the next step and have actually wanted to be photographed with the aforementioned needy. For most people, the visual juxtaposition of the grossly over privileged next to the appallingly deprived is jarring. Although there are moments of inspiration, more often than not, these photo-ops come across as feeble attempts to grab the spotlight.
It is not that celebrity causes are a bad thing. One need only to look to Oprah and Bono, the gold standard of celebrity humanitarianism, to see the capacity a celebrity has for positive change. The problem is that there is a real potential for serious harm. Most often damage is done when a celebrity speaks out of turn. When Bob Geldof responded to the G8’s promise of debt relief with “Mission accomplished” the whole issue lost its momentum. Scant attention was paid to the ensuing backpedaling of G8 countries and to the rigid conditions placed on the receiving countries.
In other situations, celebrities deign to speak from a position of knowledge and authority which are clearly absent. One case in particular springs to mind. One celebrity, who shall not be named, countered valid criticisms of her adoption process with the inane, “I’m saving a life” and that maybe other people should go out and save a life too. That same celebrity proceeded to justify her adoption process by saying that her actions have helped to set a precedent in a country where adoption laws are largely absent. The arrogance of this woman was astounding and the whole matter reeked of colonialism. The fact that she, who has limited education and experience in international affairs, , development issues, etc., honestly thinks that she should be shaping any country’s laws would be laughable if it were not so absurd. But somehow, she was deluded enough to think that being white and wealthy were sufficient credentials to ‘educate’ an African country on their adoption laws.
The fact is that people do listen to celebrities and because of this, celebrities and their pet projects can shape public perceptions and therefore, public priorities. Because there are so many contributing factors to the AIDS pandemic, issues which on the surface might appear to be unrelated can have a dire impact on efforts to curb the spread of AIDS. That is, campaigns or interventions which impact issues of social justice, poverty, human rights, family structures, and gender inequality will also impact the spread of AIDS.