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Humanitarian Aid and the Impoverished Rhetoric of Celebrity Advocacy

Marouf A. Hasian, Jr.

Providing a comparative study on celebrity advocacy – from the work of Bono, George Clooney, Madonna, Greg Mortenson, and Kim Kardashian West – this book provides scholars and readers with a better understanding of some of the short-term and long-term impacts of various forms of celebrity activism.
Each chapter illustrates how the impoverished rhetoric of celebrities often privileges the voices of those in the Global North over the efforts of local NGOs who have been working for years at addressing the same humanitarian crises. Whether we are talking about the building of schools for young women in Afghanistan or the satellite surveillance of potential genocidal acts carried out in the Sudan, various forms of celebrity advocacy resonate with scholars and members of the public who want to be seen «doing something.»
The author argues that more often than not, celebrity advocacy enhances a celebrity's reputation – but hinders the efforts of those who ask us to pay attention to the historical, structural, and material causes of these humanitarian crises.
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Chapter 2. Bono’s and Geldof’s Legacies, Compassionate Consumption, and the Mythic Rise of “Band Aid” Celebrity Humanitarianism


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The circulation of mass-mediated representations of famines and other disasters often tests the resolve of individuals or nations who claim to believe in the importance of altruism, selflessness, and humanitarianism. For example, those who talked and wrote about events in Biafra in the 1960,1 the famines in Cambodia in the 1970s, and the arrival of African droughts in the mid-1980s were facing governments, NGOs, and survivor communities that had conflicting needs, interests, and values. Civil wars, talk of austerity,2 and changes in Euro-American foreign policies all impacted the scarcity of food, water, and other commodities.3

Commentators who watched these portentous events quarreled about whether humanitarianism was becoming a “business,” as private companies and NGOs started to fill in the voids that were created with this exodus of governmental funding for foreign aid. As Liisa Malkki has observed, deciding who should be the “emissaries” for refugees and others who suffer from both natural and man-made disasters involved choices, contingencies, and political decision-making.4 As I noted in Chapter 1, celebrity advocates interested in promoting select humanitarian causes joined in all of this philanthrocapitalism. ← 31 | 32 →

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