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Celebrity Diplomacy

by on April 1, 2014

The end of the 20th to the 21st century has seen the arrival of many different new concepts, ideas and technological advances. It has also been the era of new arrivals such as One Direction, ‘The Selfie’ and Prince George, to mention but a few. Jokes aside, the 21st century has borne witness to the acceleration of celebrity culture to an extent we haven’t seen before.

The oddity of today’s celebrity culture is this; during past decades one had to hold a certain talent to become famous and to be deemed a ‘celebrity’, now we have entered the realm of ‘reality television’, in which someone can become an admired celebrity for just being, well, ‘real’. It has been also been argued that “in the contemporary era of media spectacle, it helps politicians to be global celebrities”[1], suggesting that politicians are now falling under the umbrella that is ‘celebrity’.

imageThis leads to the controversy surrounding the recent formation of ‘Celebrity Diplomacy’, a far cry from traditional celebrity diplomats such as Audrey Hepburn and Danny Kaye. “Andrew F. Cooper has conceived celebrity diplomacy as an alternative form of agency in which credible stars fill the void in public trust vacated by the political classes”[2]. Celebrity diplomacy has accelerated during the past two decades, which resulted in General Secretary Kofi Annan, before his departure, creating a new tier of celebrity diplomats termed ‘the messengers of peace’[3]. This resulted in 400 active goodwill ambassadors representing the UN before Annan’s departure in 2007.[4]

On the one hand this could be viewed in a positive light with celebrities building bridges between the political elite and the public. On the other hand this new celebrity culture could be viewed as problematic, with many intellectuals arguing that “that celebrity activism has interfaced with corporate interest to affect a form of ‘Brand Aid’ which may serve to undermine diplomatic and aid initiatives in international affairs”[5]. How different are the Audrey Hepburn’s to the Geri Halliwell’s of the diplomacy world and to what extent do celebrities ‘dumb down’ serious political issues? As Cooper points out “the days of the days of Audrey Hepburn are long gone”[6] with celebrities becoming more and more politicised.

Unlike Audrey Hepburn, Geri Haliwell or ‘Ginger Spice’ as she is otherwise known, did not build up reputable reputation that outlines the positive aspects of celebrity diplomacy during her brief stint as a UN goodwill ambassador in 1998[7]. The controversial pop star was deemed ‘insensitive’ during her trip to the Philippines where she was to promote contraception on behalf of the UN. With suggestions from the star that the country needed population control through birth control, to a predominantly catholic audience in which they hold the belief that birth control is an ‘evil’, she came across as being ignorant and angered many leading figures throughout the Church. Reverend James Reuter, Director of the National Office of Mass Media of the Catholic Church in the Philippines, stated that “this (Philippines) is a free country, we don’t interfere in the right of anybody to go anywhere or say what they believe, but we do not need population control, and any effort at safe sex is totally, utterly immoral from top to bottom”[8]. This example supports the argument against celebrity diplomacy, which summarises exactly why celebrities should not have a role in international affairs.

However, we can take such example with a pinch of salt. Yes ‘ginger spice’ and her trip to the Philippines is a disastrous example of how celebrities can cause more harm than good in terms of diplomacy, but if we take a look upon the celebrity spectrum we also see a lot of positive examples of how celebrity diplomacy works. It could be said that celebrity activism “represents a democratization of foreign policy processes in which traditional, closed forms of diplomatic practice have been replaced by more open forms of public diplomacy”[9], in which celebrities can gain trust and promote key issues that affect the world globally which overrides the self-interests of nation states. With that said it could be argued that celebrities do act self-interestedly, promoting their own ‘brand’ and boosting their own status.

An example of this could be viewed with Live Aid. “Bob Geldof ’s Live Aid and Live 8 campaigns are examples of how linking pop music with famine imagery can generate philanthropic activity among the public”[10]. However it can also be viewed as a way in which pop stars can go and boost record sales. A point that furthers this theory is that “to date, almost none of the Live 8 commitments on debt or trade justice have been met”[11].

Nevertheless, “With celebrity politics being a relatively new phenomenon, it is still too early to appraise its effects and consequences for contemporary politics”[12], will it stand the test of time and become implanted into our political culture? Only time will tell.

 

[1] Kellner, D (2010), Celebrity Diplomacy, spectacle and Barack Obama,[Online], Available at: www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/19392390903519156 [Accessed January 2014]

 

[2]Wheeler, M. (2012), Celebrity Diplomacy: A source of political legitimacy in an era of Late Modernity? [Online], Available at: http://capitalismdemocracycelebrity.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/wheeler-celebrity-diplomacy-manchester-symposium-paper-20121.pdf  [Accessed March 2014]

[3] Cooper, A. (2008), Celebrity Diplomacy, London: Paradigm Publishers

[4] Wheeler, M. (2012), Celebrity Diplomacy: A source of political legitimacy in an era of Late Modernity? [Online], Available at: http://capitalismdemocracycelebrity.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/wheeler-celebrity-diplomacy-manchester-symposium-paper-20121.pdf  [Accessed March 2014]

[5] Wheeler, M. (2012), Celebrity Diplomacy: A source of political legitimacy in an era of Late Modernity? [Online], Available at: http://capitalismdemocracycelebrity.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/wheeler-celebrity-diplomacy-manchester-symposium-paper-20121.pdf  [Accessed March 2014]

[6] Cooper, A., Kellner D., Smith, C. (2009), Celebrity Diplomacy: The Effectiveness and Value of Celebrity Diplomacy [Online], Available at: http://www.learcenter.org/pdf/celebritydiplomacy.pdf [Accessed March 2014]

[7] BBC News (1998), Ginger Spice takes on diplomatic role [Online], Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/196641.stm[Accessed March 2014]

[8] Gaurdian Staff and Agencies (1999), Church Condemns Geri Halliwell’s Philippines Visit [Online], Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/1999/jun/14/philippines[Accessed March 2014]

[9] Kapoor, I., Wheeler, M. (2012), Should Celebrities Promote Charities? [Online] Available at: http://newint.org/sections/argument/2012/09/01/should-celebrities-promote-charities/ [Accessed March 2014]

[10] Kapoor, I., Wheeler, M. (2012), Should Celebrities Promote Charities? [Online] Available at: http://newint.org/sections/argument/2012/09/01/should-celebrities-promote-charities/ [Accessed March 2014]

[11] Kapoor, I., Wheeler, M. (2012), Should Celebrities Promote Charities? [Online] Available at: http://newint.org/sections/argument/2012/09/01/should-celebrities-promote-charities/ [Accessed March 2014]

[12] Kapoor, I., Wheeler, M. (2012), Should Celebrities Promote Charities? [Online] Available at: http://newint.org/sections/argument/2012/09/01/should-celebrities-promote-charities/ [Accessed March 2014]

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4 Comments
  1. themanisred permalink

    I enjoyed reading this blog. I think that its amazing how much attention the Live Aid and Live 8 events got yet on paper they were so unsuccessful. I think with that particular case, the intentions were good and 100% genuine but the idea just didn’t pan out how it was intended. Its becoming clearer that the most common trait of celebrity diplomacy today is nothing more than a celebrity jumping on a bandwagon or doing something of little inconvenience to them in order to attach themselves to the idea of something good.

    Also, Ginger Spice #VivaForever

  2. The blog is nicely structured and shows that celebrity diplomacy is a relatively new phenomenon and also provides advantages and disadvantages of this mode of diplomacy. I think a little more emphasis should have been placed on diplomacy requiring specific skills, in particular common sense, intelligence and good judgement, ability to listen, empathy, assertiveness etc. A lack of these qualities would explain why Geri Haliwell failed miserably when she went to the Philippines.
    It could be stated that it is not sufficient that a person acquires some type of fame, in this case, being a singer and automatically qualifies them to be ambassadors of diplomacy. Sure, there is some positive role for celebrities to play such as highlighting plights around the world. Having the reachability factor enables them to connect to the masses (as the article stresses) in a nuanced, they should be utilised where possible; however these roles should really be limited. As the age old saying goes ‘don’t send a boy to do a man’s job’, in this case ‘don’t send a singer to do a diplomat’s job’.

    • Halhllujae! I needed this-you’re my savior.

    • Damien, Je pense qu’il est préférable de passer plus de temps à bien comprendre les besoins (déclarés et cachés) du client plutôt qu’en perdre à rechercher des pistes graphiques supplémentaires. Après, je ne suis pas contre fournir des déclinaisons d’une même piste graphique : différentes couleurs, le picto en haut, en bas, à droite ou à gauche de la marque, différentes échelles entre les éléments, etc.-

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