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Celebrity activism, proving that U2 can be part of public diplomacy.

by on April 4, 2014

Throughout history celebrities have been used to boost awareness revolving around public diplomacy, here lies a two-way street which has also givens way for celebrities to use their status to not just align with governments but push their own agendas. Celebrity activism in this sense has a more positive aura surrounding it amongst the public as it does not work with the political elites of government to reach a cause but instead brings fringe issues into the limelight by raising awareness.

Through social media, a simple tweet can do more for a cause today than a well planned out campaign might have done in 15 years. In some cases it takes little effort to work off the brand of celebrity status, take for example Kim Kardashian’s sudden foray into activism bringing the Armenian Genocide of 1915 into the worldwide agenda, all it took was one tweet (shown below)

“Hundreds immediately retweeted her call to commemorate the 1915 extermination of Armenians in Ottoman territories, among them her brother Rob (over 3 million followers) and sisters Khloe and Kourtney (over 7 million followers each)”[1]. This tweet in essence caused the #ArmenianGenocide hashtag to be the most searched term on Twitter and Google. In the United States, Senators today (4th April 2014) have called for Turkey’s non-recognition of the Armenian Genocide to be revised in the interest of human rights. Not to say that the Kardashian family were responsible for these new developments, but it perhaps show evidence of a celebrity directing attention.

Not all instances of celebrity activism are as simple as a Kardashian tweet. In order to experience real strides in diplomacy, celebrity activism has often had to go further than a simple tweet to raise awareness. Some celebrities, like Joanna Lumley, have dedicated large amounts of their time and used their fame to fight for causes successfully; in 2010 she was instrumental in securing better rights for Gurkhas in Britain with the ‘Gurkha Justice Campaign’[2] by staging various protests and calls for lobbying.


Gurkhas celebrating with Lumley

One of the most well known of celebrities-turned-activist is Bono, initially of U2 fame, now a legitimate activist and star in his own right. He has been participating in political activism and public diplomacy dating back to the 1980’s and even as recent as the early 2000’s. His prominence in this field has poised critics and advocates of his work to turn his involvement into an area of discussion in its own right known as ‘Bonoization’. Critics of Bono and the alleged Bonoization of activism often point towards his close personal relationships with “compromised political leaders” (Wheeler, 2013) being a sign of a possible sub-agenda to his activism. While the Bonoization of aid is a phrase generally used to dismiss and trivialise Bono’s efforts in public diplomacy, he has without doubt been pivotal in opening the gateway for celebrity diplomacy, even being named by ‘the National Journal’ as the most politically effective celebrity of all time[3].

A caricature cynically  mocking Angelina Jolie's flood relief efforts in 2010

A caricature cynically mocking Angelina Jolie’s flood relief efforts in 2010 (click to enlarge)

In fairness, it isn’t farfetched to ask whether celebrity humanitarianism is just another method of politics or just under the farce of capitalist power. What is interesting isn’t the individual examples of celebrity activism working in the public sphere, but more so the effectiveness of even the most trivial catalysts of activism. In 2014, a simple tweet can start a movement, but then what happens next? As participation has increased, the old adage of “awareness is action” has diminished in truth, it is not enough anymore simply because causes are being drowned out by the noise of others “activism”. Should we believe that because a celebrity can have influence in public diplomacy that we can too? Or do these said celebrities actually have more of a platform than us, at the least?






Wheeler, M (2013). Celebrity Politics. Cambridge: Polity Press. p168


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  1. An interesting article, It seems there is a clear divide in the effectiveness of celebrity activism with some issue being treated with more integrity based on the approach certain celebrities take.
    I agree that celebs like Kim K are in the spotlight and sheep like people will align their views with her regardless of her stance, but if it is for a legitimate cause then who are we to complain?

  2. This is a very interesting blog. Celebrity humanitarianism debate is something that has been a new phenomenon in the political spectrum. But I believe that without our input celebrity humanitarianism would be render useless. Because charities only go for celebrities that attract the masses, therefore we give them the power they have to gain massive influence.

  3. Not a bad blog but what about the counter argument. Bono gets out there a lot but with tax avoiding and hat transportation could it not also be said that he is a hypocritical vacuous nit-wit. With celebrity diplomacy exploding after band aid twenty years ago, shouldn’t we see some signs of these aid efforts having a positive effect by now rather than Geldof getting the band back together as sales of boom town rats albums slump?

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