Now is the period when I get cracking on my 15,000 word dissertation. This year it is:
What are the concerns of celebrity humanitarianism?: A study of authenticity, spectacle and mobilisation.
I won’t bore you with the academic criticisms surrounding this debate, I will just share some thoughts and ideas which are helping to target my research. In the celebrity-saturated world in which we now live, arguably as a result of mass-media and the Internet, the presence of the ‘famous’ is almost impossible to ignore. But since the 1980’s, with BandAid, we are also becoming inundated by images of celebrities engaging with humanitarian and advocacy causes.
But why? Celebrities images are carefully constructed, managed and maintained by both themselves and their publicity teams, and this includes any work for charitable causes. Appearing on a charity single, attending a benefit gala, donating to the latest disaster, or even taking ambassador trips out to the ‘third world’ are but some of the examples of the types of activities celebrities choose to engage with. Their presence is immediately a source of news for the media, regardless of whatever cause they supported, and it presents them in a favourable light. The cause, and the work it does is often overlooked…
This then raises the debates surrounding authenticity, which is the topic for my first chapter. How many of these celebrities are helping humanitarian causes solely for publicity? Are they doing it rectify a recent media mishap? Do they genuinely care for the cause for personal reasons? Is it now just an accepted aspect of celebrity lifestyle?
In my second chapter, I then discuss the charity ‘media event’ (or pseudo event, as Boorstin so aptly describes it). Children In Need and Comic Relief in the UK, and Jerry Lewis’ annual Muscular Dystrophy telethon in the US are but a mere few of the examples I analyse in the ‘celebrification’ of charity, and the ways in which the work of said causes are minimised to short sympathy-inducing clips that do not deter viewers to far away from the celebrity entertainment.
Finally, chapter three looks into the ways in which celebrity support for a charity can (or even can not) lead to the mobilisation of action by their fans.
It’s weird to be ‘that’ girl, but I am thoroughly enjoying the research for this!