Undoubtedly, celebrities have very influential positions due to the powerful ‘media machine’. Many A-list celebrities have committed themselves to certain causes, ‘Madonna’s Malawi’ and ‘Fundacion Pies Descalsos’ by Shakira, for example. However, in this essay I will discuss whether or not this celebrity focus distracts or attracts the general public towards development, and if indeed it has helped philanthropies at all.
Superficially, it seems that this can only be beneficial for development. However, a more capitalist vein dominates the incentives behind celebrity involvement in development. Philantrophism, it seems, is being used as a tool to promote the large vested commercial interests within the celebrity community. The ‘Bonoization of Aid’ is a good reflection of this. “In the case study of Product (RED), a co-branding initiative launched in 2006 by Bono, we show how celebrities are trusted to guarantee that products are “good.” Iconic brands such as Apple, Emporio Armani, Starbucks and Hallmark donate a proportion of profits from the sale of RED products to The Global Fund to finance HIV/AIDS treatment in Africa. In essence, aid celebrities are asking consumers to “do good” by buying iconic brands to help “distant others” —Africans affected by AIDS. This is very different from “helping Africa” by buying products actually made by Africans, in Africa, or by choosing products that claim to have been made under better social, labour and environmental conditions of production.(1)” Thus, we can infer that, as is true with most of the media orientated world, that the corporate machine dominates the new celebrity obsession with humanitarianism. This new phenomenon is a clever way to try and make these ‘trusted brands’ have more of an emotional appeal on its consumers, and has very little implications for the developing world.
However, considering the huge rise in the technological world and forums such as the internet over the past decade, celebrity ‘pulling power’ with regards to charities has seen some interest in aid. In simplistic terms, “Any publicity is good publicity”. This is further explained in the quote “as the public is offered greater choice in their media diet, the choices people make often take the form of entertainment, rather than politically orientated news. American’s are thus increasingly likely to get information about political events incidentally, via soft news outlets like Entertainment today or the Daily show, rather than to learn of them through traditional news sources”(2). Therefore, although the extent to which this kind of informal publicity is not quantifiable, it is suggestible that in this modern day, where media plays such an important role in daily life, it must provide some kind of education on the development of the third world, even if only on minimal terms. The efforts of certain individuals also must not be understated, Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie for example, who have donated millions to African charities and have made huge strides towards equal marriage rights within the US.
In conclusion, I believe this celebrity obsession with humanitarianism to be quite false. Undoubtedly, the famous elite and the corporate powers are ‘cut from the same cloth’ and thus, have the same economic interests.