celebrity activism
April 29, 2004 11:31 AM

I'm glad to see that very little of the post-March coverage on blogs has anything to do with the celebrities who were there. But the media coverage keeps coming back to pictures of famous folk. I was thinking on this in the shower this morning, some of the same ideas pop up on Ms. Musings shortly after.

Ms. Musings linked to a Salon.com article that actually went a step further, trying to pinpoint the leader of our next generation of feminists to one of the celebrities who was or wasn't there. While I doubt anyone actually believes that Kirsten Dunst (par example) is going to rise up and lead anyone, this seems to me to highlight a problem with celebrity activism: it furthers the idea that famous people are more able to get things done than anyone else. And yet, outside of feminists, is Betty Friedan or Emma Goldman or - yes, Gloria Steinem - famous? Is Ellie Smeal? Is Gloria Feldts? Is Kate Michelman (who so completely and totally rocked it on Saturday night, can't say that enough)?

Well, no. But they're the ones who get it done. The lobbyists and the congressfolk and the people who vote for them or send them money or whatever get it done. Celebrities are just eye candy.

That's not to say a celebrity endorsement isn't useful to a cause, particularly an unknown one (i.e. freeing Tibet). Or that a little free press on an awards show ever hurt anyone. But...

Do celebrities motivate other people to come out for political events? Does anyone think, well, Whoopi Goldberg loves reproductive freedom, so I guess I do, too? Yeah, I don't think so, either. I don't have any research to prove it, but I'm guessing that celebrities promoting a particular message serves less to pass on the celebrity's sparkle to the message and more to pass on the message's sparkle to the celebrity.

That is, I think Susan Sarandon Whoopi Goldberg Cybill Shepherd Margaret Cho Camryn Manheim Ani DiFranco Janeane Garofalo Pink Indigo Girls Maggie Gyllenhaal Thora Birch Ed Harris Salma Hayek Julia Stiles Glenn Close Alan Cumming Tyne Daly Ossie Davis Ted Turner Illeana Douglas Kirsten Dunst Sarah McLachlan Moby (a selection of celebs of various generations from the list of celebs I got via email a while ago) seem cooler to us for having shown up or otherwise supported the March fo Choice, but not one of those people has the power to make me show up. Their involvement with the March more emphasized that they were cool, if I thought that before, and made me reconsider my belief that they sucked in a couple of cases (well, Julia Stiles' "feminazi" comment on Jon Stewart's show some time ago pretty much convinced me she was a twat, but maybe she's not and anyhow I'm not sure I care).

And there could be a danger that the celebrity coverage of any given issue might lead you, the fan, to believe the issue's being covered, it's under control. It's just my sneaking suspicions talking here, but I don't want people to forget that there's an urgency for each individual to take part. Not because your one vote matters that much, but because a coalition of 1.15 million voters could do a lot to change the balance of things.

The full force of any movement shouldn't be measured in which cool kids come to the party, but in the size of the party itself, and its momentum. If a celebrity can make that more visible, great. But we should never (as the folk over at Ms. pointed out) confuse popularity with leadership. That's for grade school.

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your wicked thoughts

The sad thing is, I think many people do confuse popularity with leadership. For some odd reason, celebrities are given immense amounts of entirely unearned credibility, seemingly based entirely on the fact that their face is recognizeable. You state that you don't think anyone thinks, "well, Whoopi Goldberg loves reproductive freedom, so I guess I do, too," but I disagree. Otherwise, why would, say, Michael Jordan be paid millions of dollars to endorse Nike shoes (or whatever)? And look at California. I'm thinking that Arnold wasn't elected based on the soundness of his political ideologies...

these are the thoughts of Sarah on April 30, 2004 07:25 AM

In all fairness, I don't think it's entirely unreasonable for the media to act like the March was all about a bunch of celebrity activism when that was like 80% of what the organizers were talking about leading up to the March, and when they devoted so much of the interminable series of speakers to trotting out celebrities on stage. (Why was Ted Turner there? Why did anyone need to hear what he had to say?)

The March was amazing, but I do wish that a little more thought would go into what to have people doing when they are not marching, other than being "rallied" for a few hours. Just an organized effort to get people to sit down and talk about feminist organizing with the million other people there, or some kind of coordinated workshops, or a public speaking workshop, or just about anything to work with the huge number of people who were milling around, would have been nice.

these are the thoughts of Rad Geek on May 23, 2004 08:41 PM

just about anything to work with the
huge number of people who were milling around, would have been nice

That is a very good point. Like any march, it was in part just a rally/party, more celebration of a position/movement than an effort to engage people in discussion or education. I think that's a flaw in marches and rallies in general.

Maybe I read different communication channels from the March organizers, because I only recall one email that really pushed celebrity involvement in advance of the March itself.

these are the thoughts of april on June 1, 2004 10:59 AM

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