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Celebrity activism: Golden opportunities or gilded privilege?

By in Culture

It was impossible to miss celebrities using their platforms to speak out about what is happening around the world in this year’s 77th Golden Globe Awards. 

Several celebrities like Cate Blanchett and Phoebe Waller-Bridge spoke out about the bush-fires that are devastating Australia. 

Actress Patricia Arquette began her acceptance speech by saying that history books will not remember Jan. 5 for the Golden Globes, but for a country “on the brink of war,” speaking of the rising tensions between the United States and Iran. 

She later added to her statement by encouraging people to vote in 2020. As well-intentioned as these impassioned pleas by celebrities might be, something about them doesn’t sit quite right. 

Celebrity activism has a long history. Think Band Aid 1984 with their song “Do They Know It’s Christmas”, the Make Poverty History campaign featuring faces such as Brad Pitt and Justin Timberlake, or most recently, Kim Kardashian West’s “Climate change is real💔🌎 ” tweet. 

These campaigns have their star-studded casts asking the world to donate to charities so that they can make a difference together. They repeat the point that if everyone donated just a little bit of money to these charities, the world’s problems could be solved with a snap of the fingers. 

Unfortunately that is far from realistic, as the world’s issues are often far too complex for things to truly change just by donating to charities. Yet being asked to donate money by these famous, ultra-wealthy people does feel a bit rich. Why should we be the only ones to donate when some of us can barely afford groceries? 

The problem with celebrity activism is that a lot of them don’t realize they are part of the problem. These people have amassed more wealth than most of us will ever see in our entire lives, and their excessive lifestyle contributes to the increasing socio-economic divide between classes and further contributes to climate change. 

Thankfully there are some celebrities who understand this. George and Amal Clooney have not only donated half a million dollars towards March for Our Lives, but they have also created the Clooney Foundation for Justice which advocates for “justice and advancing accountability for human rights abuses around the world.” They are also partnered with UNICEF USA in helping Syrian refugee children in Lebanon go back to school. 

Celebrities can advocate all they want but if they can’t practice what they preach, everything that they say just feels disingenuous. Furthermore, sometimes the activism really is just the bare minimum to the point where it’s hardly even activism at all. 

Take Joaquin Phoenix for example. The Joker actor vowed to wear the same custom-made Stella McCartney suit at every awards show in an effort to reduce waste. 

Now besides the fact that such an act would have been hardly noticed unless he announced it — as the black and white suit is a staple of every red carpet — it really is the bare minimum one can do to reduce waste. Do students consider wearing the same outfit twice a week as ‘reducing waste’? 

Shawna Langer / Graphics Editor

Perhaps Phoenix should look to the example that long-
established activist Jane Fonda is giving in the vein of clothes related activism. 

Fonda, during one of her arrests after protesting climate change in Washington, D.C., said that her red coat will be the last item of clothing she will ever buy. She is doing so in an effort to “cut back on consumerism,” as she believes that the fashion industry is promoting wasteful consumerism and harming the environment. 

Celebrity activism is becoming performative and ineffective — so what should they do? If the world’s rich and famous want to #staywoke, they should begin by understanding that they speak from a place of privilege, and that means that they, more than anyone else, are in a unique position to be doing the most in charitable efforts.

Gabriella Fourie

Graphic: Shawna Langer / Graphics Editor

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