Thursday, 21 April 2011

Celebrity or Content

It's become something of a natural phenomena recently.  Many celebrities are now sponsoring charities, political figures and views as well as campaigning for the like.  On a whole, the use of celebrities as sponsors is successful and the general public will flock to whatever cause they are supporting; the UK's comic relief is a key example of this.  But what is more important; the celebrity sponsor and whatever they may advocate or the actual content of what they are promoting?  Unlike politicians, celebrities are not accountable in the political sphere but can influence it.  What makes a celebrity more qualified to speak on something rather than a subject matter expert?

Celebrity sponsoring has never been so popular as it is today.  Due to the nature of communications today, be it the television, the internet or even radio, we are swamped with all manner of celebrities from sports, film and television.  There are even celebrity bloggers who have risen to fame as a result of their online blogging and its popularity.  So, celebrities are everywhere.  You can't turn a corner without bumping into one.  But as popular as they may be, for whatever reason, they are still ordinary people.  Many of them have very little education, some of them have PhDs.  How do you tell?  How can you know that a celebrity actually knows what he or she is talking about when they sponsor something?  Why do people take more notice of them rather than an expert in the matter.  Why do politicians want celebrity endorsements?

Very few major charities do not have a celebrity or two lending support to them.  The celebrity can ensure that an issue has a greater audience simply due to their celebrity status.  They don't even have to say anything intelligent, just as long as they don't say anything stupid and jeopardize the good work the charity may be doing.  In this case, the use of celebrity sponsorship is a great way to generate interest for good causes, but it does have it's pitfalls.

In the UK, we have an annual charity event called 'Comic Relief'.  It's a televised event and draws millions of viewers due to its popularity.  The aim of the event is to raise money for charity, investing money into projects in Africa and the UK.  It's main draw are the numerous comedians that support it as well as other celebrities that endure some form of humiliation (in a humourous way).  It's a great event and goes on for hours.  The BBC hosts it, usually over two channels.  Comic Relief has made tens of millions of pounds since it first started many years ago, all for charity.

The one thing no one has asked is, why haven't things changed considering we have thrown hundreds of millions of pounds at it?

If a business had been given the same amount of money to invest, you can be pretty sure the investors would like to see the results of their investments.  Yet, in the case of Comic Relief, no one has.

I am not suggesting that Comic Relief is squandering the money in any way, but we have been shown the same thing for a fair number of years now and there seems to be no change.  The same problems exist as before millions of pounds were thrown at it.  Therein lies one of the first problem.  If you just ask for money, eventually people are going to ask why nothing appears to be changing or nothing appears to have been done.  The celebrities are always being filmed in the poorest parts of Africa, year after year.  Surely there must have been some changes?

At the end of the day, however, no amount of money is going to change the situation in Africa until the root cause has been identified and changed.  I am sure that all the charities involved over there are doing the best they can in difficult situations and any help that celebrities can bring must be a godsend for them.  Other charities have also benefited from celebrity endorsements and this is for the betterment of us all.

However, the real crux of this blog is celebrities getting involved in politics.

There have been cases, in the UK, where celebrities have taken up the gauntlet and changed UK policy due to the amount of public support they garner.  One key item that comes to mind is an actress, Joanna Lumley, campaigning for the rights of Gurkhas.  For those of you who are not familiar with this, I will give a very brief explanation. 

The British Army recruits Gurkhas from Nepal to be part of the Gurkha regiment.  The history goes back to 1814 when the British fought the Gurkhas as part of colonial expansion of the British Empire.  The Gurkhas have been loyal and hardy soldiers within the British military for a great number of years, yet when their service was complete they were not given the same pension as that of a soldier recruited from the UK.  This was obviously unfair and Ms Joanna Lumley supported the Gurkha Justice Campaign, along with other celebrities.  The campaign was successful and the rights of the Gurkhas was justifiably recognised and British Law was changed.

The UK is about to participate in a referendum to decide how we vote in elections.  It's called the Alternative Vote and I wont go into all the details.  However, a number of celebrities have voiced their support for one of the two various camps.  As far as I am aware, none of them are experts in British Law or constitutional politics, yet they are garnering support for whatever camp they believe should win.

At the end of the day, these celebrities are ordinary citizens and have a right to their own opinion.  However, by using their celebrity status, they have been given a platform by which they can campaign for whichever camp they deem to be the best.  They have had more influence than the elected politicians, not that that should be a surprise to anyone as British politicians have nearly been branded as corrupt as a result of recent investigations.  However, the celebrities have no accountability, unlike the politicians.

A key question has to be, do any of these celebrities actually know what they are talking about or are they just giving their personal opinions?  If I started to campaign for one of the camps, no matter how well informed or qualified I may be, I would not have anywhere near the same amount of influence as even the most minor of the celebrities.  The same appears true for the politicians.  They cannot influence as many people as the celebrities.

I am not suggesting that all or even any of the celebrities don't know what they are talking about and have just been given a script to read, but common people are drawn to them as a result of their popularity rather than the actual understanding of the content and value of their motivations.  There have been cases where some celebrities have campaigned for totally idiotic ideals.  Very entertaining to watch and read about but pretty scary in the amount of people that believed them due only to their popularity.

This isn't new and has been going on for years.  In the USA, a certain Hollywood star became a governor of California.  From what little I understand, he was a good Governor and was re-elected as a result, but I wonder how much influence his celebrity status had in getting him elected in the first place?  I was even wondering if the US was going to change it's law so that he could run for President, but that was going to be a stretch no matter how popular he was.  It wouldn't have been the first time a Hollywood star became the President of the United States, but as he was not born a US citizen, it wasn't an option.

The good news is that Arnold Schwarzenegger will be making films again instead of advertisements asking the British to come and visit California!

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