#BCM310 Poverty Porn; Do celebrities use charity for self-exposure?

Throughout the previous BCM310 lecture where we tackled the topic of ‘Poverty Porn’ and its mass misrepresentation in the western media, a lot has also been discussed about the inadvertent effects of celebrity intervention. With an ever-increasing number of charity organizations, it can be difficult for us to imagine an effective campaign without the help of a well distinguished public figure who is surely going to successfully utilize the power of ‘the herd mentality’ to aid the cause.
Nonetheless, if and when a celebrity decides to dedicate their star status to a worthy cause, more often than not, it lands them in hot water over assumption their intentions aren’t exactly pure and selfless. For instance, Peter Stanford (journalist) and Justin Forsyth, (Charity organization CEO) each provide some feasible arguments on why and how celebrities may or may not benefit or even completely trivialize the concept of poverty and the how the audience perceives it through the media.

Starting from Stanford’s professional opinion, he doesn’t completely exclude the idea of a genuinely helpful celebrity and their lasting benefits but claims that in his experience, expecting a mere celebrity appearance to effectively cause people to open their hearts and minds is, in a sense, underestimating potential supporters. That means, if their effort ultimately fails, for the celebrities this is simply gaining greater exposure but the poor remain poor.

” There can be, in some circumstances, a role for celebrities in marketing a charity’s objectives, but we need to ask some deeper questions here. Why should our supporters back education as a human right for all children around the globe or decent maternity care in Malawi? Because Bono and Stacey Solomon, however well-intentioned, give it their imprimatur, or because these are crying injustices that scar our world and degrade our own humanity? Celebrities can get in the way, the messenger becoming more important than the message. ” (Stanford, 2011).

Forsyth on the other hand firmly stands behind celebrity status being a powerful catalyst in the process of reaching a new audience of potential supporters and conveying the charity’s message, provided it is very clearly stated and there is a decent output. He confirms how helpful this ‘celebrity touch’ can be,  especially considering celebrities themselves bring their skills into this process and can convince a greater number of people than a mere poster or a TV commercial ever could. A perfect example of how soft power works our perception of poverty and encourages us to emulate actions of our key opinion leaders.

” Millions of people are inspired by music, sport, and film, so we should use that inspiration to communicate the injustices millions suffer. If we’re going to change the world we need to engage and tap into people’s emotions through the force of human stories that everyone can identify with. ” (Forsyth, 2011).

Evidently, it is difficult to tell whether celebrities truly have the intention of adding this type of good deeds to their ‘resume’ or they simply feel for the impoverished on a personal level for whatever reason but it still poses the question of who truly benefits from this relationship? As someone quite familiar with the contemporary pop culture and a young adult with a number of ‘celebrity’ role models myself, I took the liberty of asking my peers their thoughts on the matter. From what I have been told, being convinced that a certain celebrity truly has good intentions with no side goal that includes advertising themselves, requires more than one appearance among those who suffer in extreme poverty. In other words, seeing Kim Kardashian decked out in diamonds and expensive shoes standing in mud surrounded by starving children – isn’t the best look philanthropy-wise and certainly not the best way of inducing empathy in viewers. This image, as a result, may bring some positive reaction out of current fans, but could also repel potential supporters.

 

Smith argues that, as our appetite for it grew, the concept of celebrity started looking like a job in itself and it resulted in revealing this symbiotic relationship between charity and celebrity, to both parties. He continues on, saying that celebrity endorsement – regardless of its inadvertent effects on the audience opinion, still remains the primary means by which most charity organizations ‘sell’ their message and gather wanted feedback from the people whose support they seek.

” And while only a cynic would suggest they are motivated by anything more than a selfless desire to help others, their efforts do little to make people remember the charity they are supporting. ” (Kelly, 2014).

Overall, it is clear there will be opposing opinions on this matter and as much as celebrities wish to provide selfless help, the positive effect their altruistic deeds have on their careers are definitely undeniable. After getting more familiarized with these concerns people had about what the true intentions of charity-oriented celebrities may be, it is safe to say that only celebrity behavior over time and some extensive side-research can be the only two objective ways to find an adequate answer to this issue – both of which take up a lot of time. My hope is that, in one way or another, this small passage on thoughts and arguments from both sides have helped you form your own impression.

 

 

 

 

 

 

References:

1. Forsyth, J. Stanford, P. (2011). Are celebrities a help or hindrance to charities? The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/jun/26/celebrity-ambassadors-charities-debate

2. Kelly, T. (2014). How charity work benefits stars most: Links to good causes make celebrities more popular. Daily Mail UK. Retrieved from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2720336/How-charity-work-benefits-stars-Links-good-causes-make-celebrities-popular.html

3. Smith, A. (2002). All in a good cause? The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/theobserver/2002/jan/27/life1.lifemagazine2

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