Understanding Celebrity Humanitarianism and Celebrity Advocacy
Lisa Ann Richey and Dan Brockington
HACK CELEBRITY HUMANITARIANISM AND ADVOCACY
Four Tips for hacking these books on Celebrity Humanitarianism and Advocacy:
You can read the opening stories, explaining how the late Princess Diana was tricked into joining the landmine campaign and how Sir Bob Geldof attracted celebrities to Ebola.
Or you can read the whole first chapters and get introductions to the entire collections (Richey humanitarianism; Brockington advocacy).
Alternatively try these blogs which respectively explain how celebrity advocacy is constructed, how it is consumed, and what its politics are like.
Or you can watch this 50 minute power point presentation, which summarizes the thesis of Celebrity Advocacy, and this short video on Celebrity Humanitarianism.
Celebrity Humanitarianism and North-South Relations
In this book Lisa illustrates the social structuring of celebrity through institutional forms of life, or in other words, the staging of inequality. The ways that celebrities across contexts of North versus South are convening elite power across states, NGOs and businesses to shape development and humanitarian institutions and communicating their initiatives in spectacular ways leads to the promotion of neoliberal development solutions that do nothing to challenge global or local inequality.
Its easiest to say what this book is about by showing what it does not do. This book does not look back to a pre-celebrified or idealized past when “development”, “humanitarianism” or North-South relations were more “authentically” concerned with mitigating the negative effects of poverty and inequality. That would be as naïve as it was ahistorical. For at the heart of the humanitarian impulse is the push for modernity that we see in both colonialism and development. Nor does it assume that celebrity humanitarianism is somehow rendering humanitarianism similar. It would be intellectually arrogant and culturally Anglocentric to assume that global celebrity cultures of iconic suffering are unilaterally shaping “local” celebrity cultures across the globe. However, to understand their relationships, linkages, misconnections and transnational flows, we need far more attention to the actual practices of elite leadership in comparative contexts. And that is what this book does.
The argument of this book hinges on four paradoxes of celebrity advocacy. The first paradox is that celebrity advocacy occupies a significant proportion of the public domain, but does so without always engaging particularly well with much of the public. Celebrity is populist in form, but not always popular in character. Second, that failure to engage the public does not really matter. Celebrity advocacy can be a remarkably effective tool for working with corporate and government elites. It works partly because they experience closer, less mediated, encounters with celebrity advocates and partly because these elites, and the NGO elites lobbying them, are unlikely to notice any lack of engagement by the general public. It would be hard to. Good evidence of what public engagement with celebrity constitutes is scarce. The assumption that celebrity advocacy is popular is deeply rooted. What matters, however, is that they believe that celebrities are embodying the affective will of the people. Third, it is not just elites who may be deceived as to the nature of celebrities’ influence, in the glare of publicity we, the viewers and consumers of celebrity spectacle, are also blinded. We may think that the publicity is the important aspect of celebrity. But publicity can be a sideshow; what matters goes on behind the scenes.
My argument therefore is that celebrity advocacy which is now so well organised by NGOs marks, ironically, a disengagement between the public and politics, and particularly between the public and the civil society organisations which try to represent development and humanitarian needs. It is not an expression of the popular will because the evidence indicates that interest in celebrity seems rather thinner and more variable than we might expect. Its rise has not been fuelled by popular demand but by corporate power. Celebrity advocacy is by and for elites. It provides a means for NGO elites to work more effectively with corporate and policy elites, not the broader population. As such celebrity advocacy is part of the lived practices of post-democracy.
And what are the consequences of this state of affairs for the achievements of celebrity advocates for development? My argument here is that thus far the influence of celebrity on development issues and problems per se has been relatively limited. Celebrity is rather good at sustaining an NGO sector, but not necessarily good at tackling inherently problematic development issues. However I will also argue that the new development actors that celebrities constitute could be used more imaginatively, and progressively, than at present. The final paradox is that the very post-democratic politics which can make elites oppressive may also contain within it the possibilities of making celebrity advocacy progressive.