Angelina Jolie, Madonna, Bono and Bob Geldof are just some of the celebrities famous for their charity work in the developing world. This idea of celebrity humanitarianism began in 1985 with Band Aid which was a campaign to support the Ethiopian famine and became “the most famous and influential humanitarian recording in history” (Vaux, 2001, p52 cited in Muller, 2013, p65). The initiative was followed by other countries such as Canada, France, Spain and the US as well as Live Aid. Although a huge amount of money was raised ((Muller, 2013) claims a total of $150 million) there were still criticisms about the campaign. The famine in Ethiopia and the support it was given were huge in the media at the time and this left no space for other major issues which subsequently received little or no assistance. For example, from 1983-1988 Sudan had the highest number of deaths due to famine in the world at that time (Muller, 2013). Yet it did not make the news headlines and had very little relief compared to Ethiopia. Another highlighted issue is that there is still famine in Ethiopia and the food imports given by the campaign were not sustainable. I think more time should have been taken to look at the cause of the famine and how to prevent it rather than just providing a short term solution.
The campaign more recently has been brought back with both Live 8 in 2005 and Band Aid 30 in 2014 which saw a re-release of the single ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’ to support the Ebola crisis. This single featured celebrities such as One Direction, Rita Ora, Sam Smith and Olly Murs as well as YouTube celebrities Zoe Sugg and Alfie Deyes. I think the involvement of these celebrities helped engage a younger audience in the idea of charity however there is a question as to whether this enforces the idea of a ‘White Saviour’ and our colonial past. The song itself has also been criticised for reinforcing Western views whilst being ignorant over the issues. The lyrics ‘where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow’ is trying to put a bleak imagine in the listener’s head however it avoids the fact that the Blue Nile runs through Ethiopia. The lyric ‘Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?’, which is also the title, assumes that the people living there are Christians when in fact they follow the Orthodox calendar (Muller, 2013).
Other controversial acts of celebrity humanitarianism include Madonna and Angelina Jolie, as well as other famous females, adopting children. Angelina Jolie has previously commented on having “her pick of children from around the globe” which shows her superiority as well as her privilege (Bell, 2013, p16). Madonna adopted two children from Malawi, neither of whom were orphans, again reinforcing the idea of the ‘White Saviour’ and the idea that these children need rescuing by a rich, white family as their current life is not suitable (Bell, 2013). Although these celebrities think they are doing good would it not be better to give money to help the families and communities of these children? But maybe they have other motives and want the media attention to try to improve their careers?
Brand Aid is another issue which has good morals but may not be the best way to approach aid. Richey and Ponte (2011) describe Brand Aid as “branded products [that] are sold as ethical items through celebrities who link them to worthy causes in developing countries” (Richey and Ponte, 2013, p108). Although this is positive as it generates money for the causes it also creates the problem of “ethical consumption” as people feel they can justify buying a product they may not need as some money from the purchase may go towards helping people in need (Richey and Ponte, 2013). This creates more of a divide between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ and highlights the idea of superiority and our colonial past.
One campaign which I feel is using celebrities effectively is ‘We The People’ for The Global Goals. This has used celebrities to educate people about the sustainable development goals which will in turn increase the support for the initiative and ultimately help to achieve them.
There are many questions and ‘what ifs’ concerning the idea of celebrity humanitarianism which makes it very hard to decide whether celebrities are overall a help or a hindrance to global development. What I do conclude is that celebrity humanitarianism is unavoidable and has the potential to make a huge difference. Celebrity culture has become a big part of our lives and I believe we need to use this to our advantage. However, it needs to be monitored to make sure it is sustainable and backed with the right motives.
Band Aid 30, 2014. Do They Know It’s Christmas? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-w7jyVHocTk [Online Video – 25/11/16]
BBC, 2014. Band Aid 30 single artwork. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-30061576 [Online Photo – 27/11/16]
Bell, K.M., 2013. Raising Africa?: Celebrity and the rhetoric of the White Saviour. PORTAL Journal of Multidisciplinary International Studies, 10(1). http://www.learning-analytics.info/journals/index.php/portal/article/view/3185 [Online – 25/11/16]
Heraldo, n.d. Angelina Jolie and children. http://www.heraldo.es/galerias-imagenes/angelina-jolie-cumple-los-40/ [Online 27/11/16]
Müller, T.R., 2013. ‘The Ethiopian famine’revisited: Band Aid and the antipolitics of celebrity humanitarian action. Disasters, 37(1), pp.61-79. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-7717.2012.01293.x/abstract [Online – 26/11/16]
Richey, L.A. and Ponte, S., 2013. Brand aid: Values, consumption, and celebrity mediation. International Political Sociology, 7(1), pp.107-111. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ips.12011_8/full [Online – 26/11/16]
The Global Goals, 2015. ‘We The People’ for The Global Goals. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RpqVmvMCmp0&t=22s [Online Video – 26/11/16]
Wikipedia, 2016. Live 8 Logo. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Live_8#/media/File:Live8Logo.jpg [Online Photo – 27/11/16]