The decision to name Angelina Jolie an honorary dame sullies the way we acknowledge good deeds and philanthropy. Across the world, there are literally a billion people who, relative to their circumstances, do ten times more to help others than Jolie. Instead of rewarding the true-blue charitable battlers in our world, we lavish approbation on the heavily made-up, what-do-they-really-look-like? types with million-dollar wardrobes and a penchant for copious filters and advantageous camera angles.
What few people remember day-to-day is that by enhancing her public profile with charity and war rape advocacy work, Angelina Jolie profits sensationally at either the box office, or with the price offered for baby photo scoops and a litany of other financial goodies. The same principle applies to the commerciality of Leonardo DiCaprio, George Clooney and a host of other politically-active Hollywood types. They self-promote, take massive endorsement deals from some of the world’s most powerful companies, whose products usually have nothing to do with the entertainment industry, and then wax lyrical about how unfair the world is and the evilness of Republicans or corporations in general.
We should not impugn the underlying feelings of entertainers towards global issues, or their desire to help alleviate suffering. What we should question, however, is the strong relationship between celebrities who advocate on camera in the real world and the significantly greater net worths of many of them. Being a celebrity is about being in the public eye, after all.
But if we spent more time focusing on eradicating war rape, Middle Eastern conflicts, and wealth inequality to begin with, instead of gossip magazines and red carpet sights associated with actors and the like, those issues would be ten times further towards resolution. Celebrities and the culture that enriches them actually enable the social ignorance they claim to be fighting against. In a similar vein, the consumerism that causes so much misery and want in this world largely results from the populace trampling over one another to emulate the lives of these celebrities and obtain the luxury products they endorse.
Speaking of the war rape issues encapsulated in Jolie’s film on the 1990s Bosnian War, if our Western society had been less vacuous and momentarily torn its eyes away from the flashy veneer of TV stars, high fashion and celebrity in-fighting, it might have demanded more action against the sexual and other atrocities in 1990s Bosnia, or the unprecedented butchering in Rwanda. Likewise, our illogical fixation with the lives of those like Jolie, Brad Pitt and their children, going far beyond their artistic appeal, detracts from the energy the average person could devote to global injustice or suffering in one’s own country.
When we praise a celebrity for a public stance, we invariably absolve them of entirely contradictory actions in other areas. For example, George Clooney, a well-known fundraiser for Obama, regularly appears in Nespresso advertisements. Even as an economic libertarian, I can see that Nespresso parent company Nestlé has been one of the more horrific corporate abusers of workers’ rights globally. Its tactless promotion of formulas over breast milk in the Third World has been repeatedly linked to child mortality and malnutrition since the 1970s. So why do we only hear about Clooney’s noble stance on protecting vulnerable groups in Darfur and associated Sudanese/South Sudanese conflicts? Probably because Nestlé pays too well.
In a broader sense, we hear ad nauseam how our entertainers are dedicated to justice, and how they selflessly crusade against it. All this is really doing, however, is funnelling back an iota of the attention stolen from highbrow issues by our fame-obsessed culture. When celebrities, the Jolies and Clooneys alike, make donations, they often talk about the need for wealth redistribution. Yet I see few of these same actors, musicians and others challenging bigwig executives or producers on why the catering workers on sets or sound technicians in music studios are frequently amongst the ever growing pool of skilled working poor. Why don’t celebrities remove themselves as middlemen and start demanding studios alter the way the poorest in their own industry are paid? And why does Hollywood economic and social advocacy seem to happen everywhere but in areas affecting celebrities’ wallets?
All too often, charity is used by the wealthy to show how good they are and draw attention to their deeds, even unconsciously. If the famous fundamentally believed in the need for change, they would call for it in a non-superficial way. They may be well-intentioned, but we all know that intentions can play out in real life hypocritically. Celebrities are not only not immune to this phenomenon, they are commonly the best examples of it.
The decision to praise charity-inclined celebrities, who are large beneficiaries of a capitalist, indifferent system, is nothing but a smokescreen and a fraud. Let’s hope the next honorary dame or knight in Britain is a little more deserving.