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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 9. 21st-Century Lessons Learned and the Future of Celebrity Advocacy


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If, as Didier Fassin has argued, humanitarian intervention is a “politics of life” that “takes as its object the defense of causes,” and the “production of public representations of the human beings to be defended,”1 then scholars, NGO personnel, traditional diplomats, and others need to accept that celebrity advocates are not going away anytime soon.2 For example, Leonardo DiCaprio’s speech at the opening of the Climate Summit 2014 garnered almost 2 million views on YouTube, far more than the attention lavished on the official heads of state who also spoke at the same summit.3 To provide another example, note the commentary that came from one officer for UNICEF, who remarked: “When most people think of the UN now they think of Angelina Jolie on a crusade, not the work that goes on in the field…celebrity is at the heart of every UNICEF campaign these days and the association is being sold incredibly cheaply.”4 Dan Brockington, who defends the position that celebrity advocacy “does not matter very much,” nevertheless goes on to admit that “it is quite clear that there is a dominant and powerful belief in the power of celebrity advocacy,” and it is that “faith, rather than any demonstrated actual effects, which gives celebrity advocacy its political power and social roles” [emphasis in the original].5 ← 239 | 240 →

As I have noted many times throughout this...

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