Celebri­ties With a Cause

Rich, fa­mous and with mil­lions of fans and fol­low­ers to boot, so­cially con­scious celebri­ties are us­ing their in­flu­ence for the greater good, writes KAREN TEE

Prestige (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

WHEN LEONARDO DICAPRIO fi­nally won his first Academy Award ear­lier this year on his fifth nom­i­na­tion, most view­ers ex­pected the ac­tor to speak about the tri­als and tribu­la­tions he en­coun­tered to earn this ac­co­lade. In­stead, he used most of his ac­cep­tance speech to draw at­ten­tion to a mat­ter that is ar­guably of more press­ing im­por­tance than his ca­reer: Cli­mate change.

His im­pas­sioned speech about mak­ing an ac­tive change to pre­vent fur­ther dam­age to the en­vi­ron­ment was sig­nif­i­cant for the heart­felt emo­tion he poured into his words. That Dicaprio, a long-term en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist, would use his mo­ment of glory to speak about a mat­ter other than him­self seemed au­then­tic too, es­pe­cially be­cause many know him as not just a Hol­ly­wood ac­tor, but also a de­voted ac­tivist.

While celebri­ties have of­ten lent their voices to cham­pion var­i­ous causes, what sets this gen­er­a­tion of fa­mous cru­saders apart is their un­prece­dented ca­pa­bil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate di­rectly with their fans via so­cial me­dia and the In­ter­net. As a re­sult, their mes­sages are per­ceived to be much more per­sonal, com­pelling and most of all, cred­i­ble.

For ex­am­ple, if you are among the 7.7 mil­lion fol­low­ers that Dicaprio has on his In­sta­gram, you would know that al­most all of his 290 posts thus far are re­lated to the en­vi­ron­ment and con­ser­va­tion. Be­yond merely re­post­ing im­ages, he has even made per­sonal trips to far-flung des­ti­na­tions, such as the In­done­sian rain­forests, and speaks at con­fer­ences around the world to draw aware­ness to this cause, which in turn lends au­thor­ity to his ad­vo­cacy.

While many celebri­ties use so­cial me­dia for vain­glo­ri­ous rea­sons (Kar­dashian self­ies any­one?), a grow­ing group of them have been par­tic­u­larly suc­cess­ful in driv­ing pos­i­tive change through this medium. For ex­am­ple, Harry Pot­ter ac­tress and UN Women Good­will Am­bas­sador Emma Wat­son’s var­i­ous me­dia in­ter­views and speeches for the He­for­she cam­paign are shared on her Face­book page (and have col­lec­tively been watched and shared mil­lions of times). Amer­i­can model Kar­lie Kloss, who has 4.8 mil­lion fol­low­ers on In­sta­gram, uses her ac­count to pub­li­cise the schol­ar­ship she of­fers to teens and young women who wish to study cod­ing.

Ac­tress Sophia Bush, who uses Twit­ter and In­sta­gram to pro­mote char­i­ta­ble causes along­side shout-outs for her lat­est tele­vi­sion ap­pear­ances, told The Huff­in­g­ton Post: “It’s been very cool in the last cou­ple of years to see how peo­ple who are lovely and gen­uine, and have good in­ten­tions for the planet re­ally get the at­ten­tion they de­serve. And they are draw­ing in these fan bases of peo­ple who also be­lieve that the real rock stars are the ones that are chang­ing and sav­ing the world.”

How­ever, while many stars try to save the world one tweet at a time, re­cent re­search has shown that celebrity pro­mo­tion of char­i­ties is “largely in­ef­fec­tive”. A 2014 study, car­ried out by Pro­fes­sor Daniel Brock­ing­ton from The Uni­ver­sity of Manch­ester, Pro­fes­sor Spencer Hen­son from Uni­ver­sity of Sus­sex, and Dr Martin Scott from Uni­ver­sity of East Anglia, found that while aware­ness of pop­u­lar char­i­ties were high, about 66 per­cent of those sur­veyed

found it dif­fi­cult to link celebri­ties with the NGOS and char­i­ties these fa­mous peo­ple sup­ported. “The ev­i­dence sug­gests, there­fore, that the abil­ity of celebrity ad­vo­cacy to reach peo­ple is lim­ited,” the re­searchers wrote.

Still, celebrity hu­man­i­tar­i­an­ism is not com­pletely in vain, par­tic­u­larly when the stars are able to demon­strate a gen­uine con­nec­tion to their cause. “There were still a rel­a­tively large num­ber of oc­ca­sions in which seem­ingly au­then­tic celebri­ties did ap­pear to gen­er­ate a dis­tinct sense of prox­im­ity and agency vis-à-vis dis­tant suf­fer­ing,” writes Scott in his pa­per.

In other words, the celebri­ties who show a real mo­ti­va­tion for their good works, as op­posed to merely pay­ing lip ser­vice, are the ones who are most likely to in­spire pos­i­tive change. For ex­am­ple, celebrity cru­saders who have fronted long-term and highly pub­li­cised ac­tivist cam­paigns in­clude U2 front­man Bono for erad­i­cat­ing Aids and poverty in Africa; An­gelina Jolie, who has worked tire­lessly with the United Na­tions Refugee Agency (UNHCR) for years to ad­vo­cate on refugee and dis­place­ment mat­ters; and Michael J Fox, who raises funds and aware­ness for Parkin­son’s dis­ease re­search. Their names are not only syn­ony­mous with these causes but they have suc­cess­fully drawn pub­lic at­ten­tion and aware­ness to these is­sues.

It helps too if the celebri­ties walk the talk and have per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences that con­nect them to their char­i­ta­ble work. Su­per­model Christy Turling­ton Burns, who is more com­monly known these days as an out­spo­ken ad­vo­cate for ma­ter­nal health, first found out about such is­sues when she suf­fered a near-fa­tal com­pli­ca­tion dur­ing her own preg­nancy. This led her to pro­duce her doc­u­men­tary, No Woman, No Cry, and es­tab­lish non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion Ev­ery Mother Counts char­ity in 2010.

To keep the fo­cus on the char­ity, Turling­ton has even man­aged to chan­nel her per­sonal fit­ness rou­tine to­wards the cause. She says: “I ran as a child and re­dis­cov­ered my love for it when I started train­ing for my first marathon in 2011. I was mo­ti­vated to run to raise aware­ness and funds

for Ev­ery Mother Counts and ed­u­cate the pub­lic about one of the big­gest bar­ri­ers women face when bring­ing life into the world. Ev­ery mile I run, whether it’s to train or race, the women I have met over the years are with me. I have found ways to in­te­grate run­ning into my day and be­cause my main work is Ev­ery Mother Counts, that’s how I jus­tify tak­ing the time to train.”

An­other model, Kar­lie Kloss, who in­ci­den­tally cites Turling­ton as one of her great­est in­spi­ra­tions, has also par­layed her fame and per­sonal in­ter­ests to­wards a phil­an­thropic ef­fort. In her case, the self-de­scribed nerd is en­rolled at the Gal­latin School of In­di­vid­u­al­ized Study, a small in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary col­lege in New York Uni­ver­sity and takes com­puter pro­gram­ming classes at the Flat­iron School in New York City. Her ex­pe­ri­ences prompted her to set up her Kode With Kar­lie schol­ar­ship to of­fer young women the chance to en­roll in a two-week pre­c­ol­lege cod­ing class. With only 18 per­cent of Com­puter Sci­ence de­grees in the US awarded to women, Kloss sees this as a way to make this field more ac­ces­si­ble to am­bi­tious young women.

She tells Elle UK: “With the abil­ity to code, you can prob­lem-solve in a re­ally pow­er­ful way. Ev­ery in­dus­try is be­ing trans­formed by tech­nol­ogy and you ei­ther adapt or get left be­hind. So I think why cod­ing has grown to be so pow­er­ful, es­pe­cially for young women, is that it gives you the un­der­stand­ing and the skills to be a part of the change and a part of writ­ing the fu­ture.”

De­spite the pub­lic­ity, it can be chal­leng­ing to mea­sure the suc­cess of celebrity ad­vo­cacy. For ex­am­ple, there was con­tro­versy over Dicaprio’s In­sta­gram post, fea­tur­ing him in a pho­to­graph with an orangutan in In­done­sia’s Leuser Ecosys­tem. He could be banned from fur­ther entry into the coun­try if his com­ments are judged as “in­cite­ment” by the im­mi­gra­tion depart­ment. Bono’s One char­ity has also come un­der me­dia scru­tiny for giv­ing out just one per­cent of the funds it has raised to the needy, al­though rep­re­sen­ta­tives have tried to clar­ify that the char­ity’s main aim is to spread aware­ness, as op­posed to run­ning on the ground ef­forts.

How­ever, when done right, it is very grat­i­fy­ing and mo­ti­vat­ing for su­per­stars and their sup­port­ers to see change hap­pen­ing. To date, Turling­ton’s Ev­ery Mother Counts char­ity has awarded US$2.6 mil­lion to mother’s health pro­grammes in places such as In­done­sia, Haiti and Uganda. On a smaller scale, Kloss awarded 21 scholarships in 2015 and ex­panded this four­fold to 80 this year.

Ul­ti­mately, the big­gest suc­cess of cause celebs would still be each star’s abil­ity to draw eye­balls to­wards the causes they cham­pion. There are, af­ter all, few peo­ple in the world who are as well placed as these su­per­stars to use their in­flu­ence to in­spire le­gions of oth­ers into ac­tion. And if this con­sis­tent stream of well-mean­ing in­for­ma­tion is a way to break through the inane chat­ter and self­grat­i­fy­ing self­ies that are all too com­mon in so­cial me­dia to­day, then we say, fol­low these cause celebs away.

What sets this gen­er­a­tion of fa­mous cru­saders apart is their un­prece­dented ca­pa­bil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate di­rectly with their fans via so­cial me­dia and the In­ter­net

From left: emma Wat­son With Un sec­re­tary- Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon at the he­for­she cam­paign launch; an­gelina Jolie ad­vo­cates mat­ters re­gard­ing refugees and dis­placed cit­i­zens; christy turling­ton Burns es­tab­lished ev­ery mother counts to raise Funds and aware­ness For ma­ter­nal health

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Singapore

© PressReader. All rights reserved.