Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Celebrity Diplomacy

I have always wondered why my peers can be so obsessed with celebrities and entertainment since I am usually the last person you would find reading US Weekly or star-gazing on Melrose Avenue or at Hollywood hot spots. If I was a contestant on a “recognize this famous face” or “celebrity trivia” game show, I would spend most of the game stuttering and racking my brain for answers that I know are not there. Apart from my adolescent love, Aaron Carter, I generally preferred living my own life to stalking the famous.

While it gives me more time to read and talk about international politics, an easy way to shut me up in any conversation is to bring up popular movies, television, or celebrity gossip, all areas where I have little to contribute. Sometimes I do make an effort to catch up and peruse Perez, pick up an issue of People, or sit still long enough to watch an episode of Entourage. However, whether or not I understand or agree with the vast amount of attention paid to celebrities and entertainment, a majority of the population seems to care and probably can even recite the names of Brangelina’s brood. This helps illustrates the ability of the mass media to close the gap between the general public and VIPs.

What does interest me about these famous faces is the ways in which they have been increasingly interacting with the realm of politics in an emerging field being called celebrity diplomacy. Celebrities have become more and more visible in politics as time has gone on, but the question is - for better or worse?

Andrew Cooper, the author of Celebrity Diplomacy, explores the multiple facets to this question in his book, and concludes that celebrity politicians do in fact fill a necessary void in the system and should be used in conjunction with conventional diplomacy to raise awareness and call attention to global issues that other wise may not have enough coverage in the media.

The author of Media Spectacle, Douglas Kellner, agrees, and even furthers Cooper’s thesis to assert that effective politicians need to become global celebrities, citing none other than President Obama for his main example (there’s no surprise there).
While I can see the merit to both of their points and believe celebrity diplomacy can be an effective tool if used correctly, there seems to me to be an underlying contradiction.

Celebrity diplomats are doing a great job raising awareness about global issues that it can be difficult to inform the public about, but they do not take a firm stand when it matters most. They do what they do best, making appearances and interacting with the media, but how often are their actions judged by the outcomes? Bono probably feels justified in recently demanding that traditional radio stations should pay performance royalty fees when they play songs (in turn, padding his bank account even more) when he can say that he used the U2 Vertigo world tour to promote his ONE campaign to fight poverty. Is it ironic that this tour was the second biggest money-maker of all time?

How serious can we take celebrities who are encouraging us to fight poverty, world hunger, or AIDS, when they are dressed in top-line couture and it is probably safe to assume that off the stage they are demanding bottled Evian and bottles of Hypnotiq or Jack Daniels?

So here lies the contradiction: that money could help feed a starving refugee from Darfur, but without a celeb-led campaign to Fight for Darfur most people wouldn’t even know about the genocide in the Sudan.

For better or for worse, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, celebrities' involvement in politics is obviously here to stay, but that doesn’t mean the relationship is perfect.


  1. I worry about people putting to much faith in the words from people who don't know what they are saying. Thoroughly understand a problem and researching all possible solutions is an important first step before offering advice. While i admire the hard work being done by many celebrities to help the world, I think people should realize that a lot of times the issues celebrities comment on are very complex and maybe experts should be consulted before teen idols.

  2. The relationship certainly isn't perfect, but it's there and it can be useful.

    I know sometimes they can make mistakes, but I'm not a fan of the people who say celebs should not comment on politics or philanthropy at all because "Who cares what they think about that? Shut up and act."

    Well, if they were ordinary people we wouldn't try to stifle their free speech, so why blame them for what the media chooses to report?

  3. What caught my interest the most in your article is Cooper's evaluation of the role celebrities play in raising political awareness. And the reason why this catches my attention is the following:
    'concludes that celebrity politicians do in fact fill a necessary void in the system and should be used in conjunction with conventional diplomacy'
    Clearly, Cooper's argument presupposes that any degree of political apathy on the part of the public is indeed some sort of 'void.' However, I would like to play a little devil's advocate here.
    In his book "The Republic", Plato sets forth a number of arguments against the practice of democracy as being the most beneficial political system. He believes, that what the public believes is in its best interest is often far from the truth, and infact NOT in the public's best interest. Therefore, an elite group of politicians who remain informed on such matters should be held responsible for such informed decisions, independent of public thought.
    Therefore, is it not possible that celebrity diplomacy may ultimately be doing the system no good, or even hindering it in a sense?
    Once again, I myself am not committed to these views, but am interested in what others have to say.

  4. I don't think that many celebrities have been able to grasp the entirety of politics. Many of them become active in environmental issues, yet still consume energy like it grows off of trees. That being said, it is a free country and celebrities are allowed to speak their mind about any issue.

  5. Like you pointed out and like the speakers at the conference mentioned is that the celebrities fill in a void in public diplomacy. They bring attention to issues that may not otherwise get picked up by the general public. They bring with them their followers and maybe inspire their fans to not only imitate their style but their actions as well.

    The bait that the public doesn't always catch is that the celebrity actual has substantial knowledge of what they are advocating. For example, I think so many celebrities have gravitated towards being advocates for environmental preservation and being "green" that it has become an over-kill of marketing the issue. Therefore, making most of the public deaf to their words.