Come on… Just do it. Everybody else is. Peer pressure is a powerful tool, especially when it is coming from a celebrity. What if I told you that Tom Hiddleston, Shakira, and Orlando Bloom are—or were at one time—ambassadors for UNICEF, providing education, protection, and basic resources for children worldwide? Do you see them in a different light? Does it make you want to support the cause too?
Ever since “We Are the World” came out in 1985, announcing that the most popular singers of the time supported (financially) humanitarian aid to Africa, specifically to alleviate famine in Ethiopia, celebrities have been strongly involved in humanitarian causes. Some donate their time, others money. Some use their platform as celebrities to educate the people on certain issues, while some focus on their personal, direct impact with the people in need. Some support established foundations while others found their own.
Bono has financially supported and promoted numerous organizations, specifically relating to African poverty. He has spoken before international conferences and helped pass an act to provide fifty million Africans with electricity.
Ashton Kutcher and then-wife Demi Moore founded what is now known as Thorn, promoting the use of technology to fight child sex trafficking via the internet.
George Clooney founded the Not on Our Watch campaign to stop the genocide in Sudan and has spoken before the United Nations about related issues.
Oprah Winfrey has founded numerous organizations, including The Angel Network, The Oprah Winfrey Foundation, and the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Afric
Some of this you might have known already. We tend to focus on celebrities. What are they doing? What are they passionate about?
In today’s world of social media, our expectations for celebrities are significantly higher. Not only do we want them to be talented, but we want them to “good” people. This has launched a movement of celebrities supporting humanitarian causes, especially in Africa.
Should celebrities use their money and social capital to support human rights efforts? Of course, celebrities are still human beings with emotions and passions. If they feel inclined to support a worthy cause and they have the means to do so, then why shouldn’t they?
Firstly, many celebrities seem to use their support of humanitarian efforts to promote themselves and their new projects. For example, 50 Cent, after visiting Somalia, set up a Facebook campaign, promising to provide a child’s meal for every “like” he received for his Street King energy drink. Would he not send those meals if the page did not get those likes, even though he could afford to? This is extortion, using the thin veil of humanitarian aid to promote his energy drink.
Celebrities should use their wealth and social influence for the good of humankind. Period. This should never be an excuse for self-promotion.
Additionally, it is questionable whether some celebrities really know enough about the region and its culture to efficiently provide resources. Many celebrities support humanitarian efforts in countries where they have never been, “alleviating” suffering that they have never seen. This is fake help, allowing the celebrities to feel good about themselves and better their image, rather than focus on the true needs of the locals.
Some celebrities have been invited to speak on national and international panels, from George Clooney and Bono (as previously mentioned), to Ben Affleck, Nicole Kidman, and Angelina Jolie who addressed the U.S. Congress on international issues. However, are they informed enough to do so or would it be better to bring in a local or an expert who has dedicated their life to such a cause?
Moreover, some critics have called this phenomenon an example of the “white savior complex” rearing its ugly head, or “recolonization.” In fact, here is the map of Africa, where each celebrity has staked their claim. Is it really about helping the people in need or creating a good image for themselves?
Unfortunately, in our society, the focus is always going to be on celebrities. Whether we are talking about what they are wearing or who they are dating, they will automatically get attention. Why shouldn’t they try to use some of this to promote humanitarian efforts? We can never fully separate the messenger from the message. Like any celebrity endorsement, humanitarian organizations rely on the social capital of celebrities to promote their projects.
We cannot stop celebrities from endorsing humanitarian organizations, nor should we. Celebrities should research and personally see the suffering which they hope to alleviate, rather than just throw their money and fame at it. Moreover, the organization should always be the main focus, rather than the celebrity.
Budabin, A. C. Carnegie Council. http://www.carnegiecouncil.org/publications/ethics_online/0100
Gilson, D. Mother Jones. http://www.humanosphere.org/basics/2012/02/mother-jones-celebrity-map-of-africa/#prettyPhoto
Hiddleston’s Italy Group. http://www.hiddlestonitalygroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/tom-hiddleston-day-one.jpg
Stupart, R. Matador Network. https://matadornetwork.com/change/7-worst-international-aid-ideas/
Todd, J. Borgen Magazine. http://www.borgenmagazine.com/top-10-celebrity-humanitarians/