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Bongo’s got mouth but no trousers.

by on February 3, 2014

More and more, endorsement of charities and aid work are part of the work of being a celebrity. For decades humanitarian organisations have tried to attach themselves to public figures as a way of advertising their cause. Advertising, fundraising events and public awareness rallies all are naturally attracted to the use of popular, good looking celebrities who are comfortable in front of crowds and cameras: it’s their job. This is legitimate. As long as all actors involved operate with a degree of transparency with regard to who benefits financially and such like, then there is no problem. This is a free world and why shouldn’t charitable institutions utilise all available tools to promote their cause? However, the media sphere is changing. Current media organisations use sensationalist tactics to draw attention to themselves through an ever-increasing battleground, vying for business as they compete in a free market. Additionally, social media and other powerful platforms provided by the internet, now means that access to this sensationalism is only a click away. Factors like these have produced various new types of celebrities. In a world where an individual can go from zero to hero and back again in a few weeks, can we really compare one celebrity to another? Also, this new environment surely puts pressure on charities’ choice of proponent for their cause. The danger that they may accidentally attract endorsement from celebrities with questionable pasts or views leaves them in a precarious position.

Fundamentally though, the job of being a celebrity is not to save the world. As citizens and individuals they have the same rights as anyone and if they want to align themselves with an organisation they can. As professionals, some celebrities generate a unique type of soft power which, again, they are free to apply to anyone wishing to utilise it. Credibility diminishes however when celebrities overstretch their role and present themselves as saintly ‘knights in shining armour’ here to save the day. John Cooper Clarke’s poem, ‘Who stole Bongo’s trousers’, is a foulmouthed but appropriate dig at an unnamed ‘rock star’ and his ridiculous one-man campaign to rid the world of evil. Celebrities are quick to jump on bandwagons such as climate change and third world debt but all too often fail to apply these values when paying taxes or deciding to have their headwear transported thousands of miles across the Atlantic. Alternatively there are some celebrities who carry out their humanitarian aid responsibly. Angelina Jolie is informed and passionate about her role as a diplomat. The work she does is on specific issues and she is clearly up to speed on the finer nuances involved. When Jolie had a double mastectomy her motivation to allow the procedure was from her inherited high risk of breast cancer. However, good looking, popular stars publicly discussing such experiences can be described as brave; not only does it put important issues like cancer in the limelight but it also presents decent role models to society.

Sadly, more prevalent is the sensationalist, vacuous idiocy produced by the likes of ‘Bongo’ and his contemporaries. The actions of this type of celebrity ‘diplomat’ can have potentially disastrous effects. During the 1980’s and 1990’s there was a large rise in aid giving from the West. This investment did not always have positive effects. Stories such as those accusing institutions of using 90% of donations for internal administration and news that aid work could be perpetuating civil wars emerged, but Bongo and his mates strode on unperturbed, with their pop concerts and narcissistic meetings with political leaders. Instead of looking at a situation rationally, highlighting the failures and trying to address them appropriately, as Jolie would, up goes the cry to get the band back together. This invariably results in massive revenues and publicity for the bands but leaves suffering individuals in distant continents with, sometimes for the best, no change in their situation. Perhaps if Bongo were to lose a testicle to promote testicular cancer charities then he might have one ounce of decency or credibility. However he won’t: he doesn’t.

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More and more, endorsement of charities and aid work are part of the work of being a celebrity. For decades humanitarian organisations have tried to attach themselves to public figures as a way of advertising their cause. Advertising, fundraising events and public awareness rallies all are naturally attracted to the use of popular, good looking celebrities who are comfortable in front of crowds and cameras: it’s their job. This is legitimate. As long as all actors involved operate with a degree of transparency with regard to who benefits financially and such like, then there is no problem. This is a free world and why shouldn’t charitable institutions utilise all available tools to promote their cause? However, the media sphere is changing. Current media organisations use sensationalist tactics to draw attention to themselves through an ever-increasing battleground, vying for business as they compete in a free market. Additionally, social media and…

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5 Comments
  1. kimchi86 permalink

    I completely agree with you that celebrity diplomacy to some extent can be a useful tool to shine light on certain global issues and Jolie is a good example of a successful case.
    However, in general, despite my understanding for organisations craving publicity (and perhaps donations?), I don’t personally see how they would benefit from pop star fans tweeting once or twice about a celeb holding malnourished children in their arms. Because that is essentially what they get, the attention of the people who care (or think they care) because a celebrity does (or think they do). Surely better ways to reach out to people would be through more enabled representation, e.g. talks in schools, workplaces, documentaries, and if people aren’t moved enough by what they see and hear, then maybe that’s just the way it should be.

    • Have you fully read and understood my blog? I am not condoning celebrity involvement

      • kimchi86 permalink

        Yes, definitely. I agree with everything you said and then I just provided my own opinion on it.
        Perhaps my “however” in the second paragraph made it confusing.

  2. This entry makes some good points, which reminded me of the recent spat between Scarlett Johansson and Oxfam over her advertising work for SodaStream.

    As with your earlier post, I would like to see some evidence justifying your opinions, as well as some illustrations, references and links to relevant sites. How about a link to the poem?

    There seems to be a problem with punctuation, with question marks standing in for apostrophes.

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