Celebrity Activism: Are Good Intentions Good Enough?

“We’ll win if we work together as one, the people. The power of the people is so much stronger than the people in power” – Bono, 2013 TED Talk

“Problems should not be glamourized by the association of celebrities” – Dambisa Moyo

Bob Geldof and Bono campaigning against poverty. Source.
Bob Geldof and Bono campaigning against poverty. Source.

Bono is first and foremost, a singer. However recently he’s become the face of combatting poverty in Africa, and taken on the role as an activist, economist, politician, humanitarian and framed as an angel to save all of the ‘poor Africans.’ Throughout the 80’s, he worked with Bob Geldof on the Live Aid concerts and has heavily campaigned to fight poverty in Africa, especially Ethiopia. In 2005 he went on to campaign for the Make Poverty History Movement which was more focused on social justice rather than charity. And then in 2014, he is featured on the single ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ to fight the ebola outbreak in West Africa, raising millions of pounds.

Bono brings his good intentions to Africa. Source
Bono brings his good intentions to Africa. Source

There is an issue here. Celebrities like Bono who become activists for large-scale social and humanitarian issues are not experts on poverty, inequality and sustainable development. Yet he has met with Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, George Bush, Bill Gates and various other politicians and powerful actors to generate policy change and create global awareness (Why Poverty, 2012). He has inadvertently become the face of anti poverty. Bono already has millions of people who look up to them, respect them, hate him or talk about him across the globe and he’s using a unique platform to spread his message.

Celebrities are not experts and can often oversimplify a very complex issue such as poverty. The infamous Make Poverty History video above features many different celebrities. Dambisa Moyo is a Ghanese economist and activist who is extremely ‘anti-Bono’ due to his ignorance of the complexity of poverty and lack of results. In a recent televised debate, Moyo states that the West needs to stop being sympathetic and start being empathetic and realizing that Africans are doing a lot of grassroots work to create change (Black Wall Street, 2015). Another issue is the media portrayal of Africa and their people as the victims, and people like Bono and Bob Geldof as the white saviour (Davis, 2010), which contributes to a sympathetic view of ‘poor Africa.’ Moyo says that, ‘Africa’s debt problems should not be glamourized by the association of celebrities who’s actions are more often than not self-perpetrating,’ (Fitzpatrick, 2011) and that is where we find the problem with celebrity activism.

The 2014 release of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ sparked controversy and further encourages this ‘poor Africa’ perception. It plays on one of the main parts of Moyo’s book, where she highlights how ‘the West is patronizing Africans’ (Easterly, 2009). The video is solely focused on the singers and celebrities that resonates with the Make Poverty History video of ‘spot the celebrity.’ Sure, it starts with some graphic images, and sure, they raised a lot of money… but is that enough?

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Africa re-conquered by Hollywood. Source

Celebrities are experts at grabbing people’s attention and creating emotional responses in people. The images and videos they broadcast are heart wrenching, because they’re designed that way. Nash explains that people need to see themselves as part of the ‘global political community’ (Nash, 2008). No one’s going to sign a petition, donate money or be a part of a protest unless they’ve felt personally motivated to do so, and celebrities can make this happen. Many argue that ‘at least celebrities are doing something with their power,’ but is it really justified if the damage they are creating is greater than their ‘good acts.’ Are good intentions, good enough?

So how do we ensure that the work celebrities are doing is progressive and beneficial for those affected by the issue they represent? Alex Dewaal says that there are ‘fundamental pillars of activism which should always be followed, most of all, the act of responding to and collaborating with local people, rather than imposing outside agendas’ (Dewaal, 2013). Celebrities should be held accountable and responsible for their actions. They shouldn’t engage in humanitarian activism unless they’re willing to follow through and commit to the cause they represent.

References

Black Wall Street, 2015, ‘Debate: Foreign Aid does more harm than good’, Black Wall Street, 13 March, 45:54 – 47:46, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UWlLE7IohXo

Cole, G. Radley, B. Falisse, J.B 2015, ‘Who really benefits from celebrity activism?’, The Guardian, 10 July, http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jul/10/celebrity-activism-africa-live-aid 

Davis, H 2010, ‘Feeding the world a line?: Celebrity activism and ethical consumer practices from Live Aid to Product Red’, Nordic Journal of English Studies, Miami University, Vol 9.3, pp 111-115

Dewall, A 2013, ‘Reclaiming Activism’, World Peace Foundation, 30 April, https://sites.tufts.edu/reinventingpeace/2013/04/30/reclaiming-activism/

Fitzpatrick, S 2011, ‘The Moyo-Bono Divide: What are the Opposing Sides?’, Hubpages, 14 February, http://siouxtrick.hubpages.com/hub/The-Moyo-Bono-Divide

Nash, K 2008, ‘Global citizenship as showbusiness: the cultural politics of Make Poverty History’, Media Culture Society, vol. 30, no. 2, pp. 167-181

Why Poverty, 2012, ‘Give Us The Money’, Why Poverty, 10 December, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cgGP3zV8kdU

Further Information

Bono’s 2013 TED Talk

Band Aid 30’s cover of Do They Know It’s Christmas?

Why Poverty’s documentary exploring the efforts of Bono and Bob Geldof along with their accomplishments and criticism

These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things: MAY

I hate to start on a serious note, but honestly, where the hell did May disappear to? How is it June tomorrow?! How and why?! The only good thing about it being June is that in 15 days, I’ll be finished with Autumn session 2015! F*ck yea! Looking back, May has been a pretty hectic, busy and great month, so here’s a few of my favourite things from the month that has been.

THIS SONG! Yes I’m totally guilty of a bit of r’n’b love and this song is my awesome go to get pumped song for the month!

Alt-J and Asgeir concert + random Sydney sesh. Cheap cocktails, awesome fancy Japanese food, one of the best bands I’ve seen live, followed by a cheeky dance sesh at Scubar, this night was filled with epicness.

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Bacon and Maple Syrup Pancakes on rooftops. Yes, I know you’re probably screwing your face up right now but OMG it’s a game changer! Not only is the food amazing, the coffee is on point and the vibe is so chilled at Humber! Definitely a must for all!

Deliciousness on a plate!
Deliciousness on a plate!

Live Below the Line Challenge. Ok so definitely not my favourite week of May but definitely the most rewarding which left me feeling accomplished, successful and making a positive difference in the world. Living off of $2 is quite difficult for the tastebuds, but believe it or not, it can be done. I managed to raise approximately $350 and my team, a massive $7000 to go towards world hunger and fighting poverty.

https://www.livebelowtheline.com.au/me/ahaynes

VIVID Harbour Cruise. It was the best night ever! Feeling glam with my glam friends in a glam city! On a boat cruising around Sydney Harbour for 3 hours, with the Opera House, Bridge and building dazzled with brilliant lights, Sydney was definitely showing off.

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Wish I Was Here. An interesting, confusing and lovely movie.

I hope you all had a great month and I hope June is even bigger and better!

xxx A

Living Below the Poverty Line for 5 days – Here We Go

‘Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity, it is an act of justice’ – Nelson Mandela

This week, I’ll be living on $2 a day to raise money for people living below the poverty line across the world.

You can show your support and donate here so that together, we can help eradicate extreme poverty https://www.livebelowtheline.com.au/me/ahaynes

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The following photo is what I’ve purchased for my 5 day challenge. Goodbye coffee, goodbye yummy pumpkin seed Helgas bread, goodbye honey (why is honey so expensive?) and hello Coles’ white boring yucky bread and lots and lots of pasta! I must admit, I was quite surprised at how much I could actually purchase for $10 – even peanut butter! I’m not going to deny, it’s going to be a bit of a challenge but as soon as Saturday rolls around, I can go back to eating like normal, whereas others simply do not have that option. So that is the reason why this is such an important cause.

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xxx A