Taking ‘Celebrity’ out of Celebrity Studies . . and putting individuals back in

There is a curious distraction in the academic study of celebrity: there are too many famous people in it clamouring for your attention. They threaten to waylay your mind with their antics and shenanigans. You try to understand their import and consequences, the forces that create them, and instead you spend your time reading about film previews, parties, endorsements and the intensely observed clothing aberrations.

Celebrity, I suggest, is best understood with less attention to the individual antics in all this clamour. Try aiming low. You are bound to get distracted, so an attempt to attribute as little attention as possible to the individuals involved may well mean that you end up according the right amount.

There are four reasons for this. The first is that celebrity is produced. It is the product of media and publicity machines, of a larger political economy of agents, publicists, editors and others who determine who gets to be seen and noticed. Talent matters, but it cannot explain success or visibility. Fame machines (or in Gamson’s words ‘assembly lines’ of greatness) don’t necessarily need wonderful individuals to work. As Chris Rojek has observed, the celebretariat are industrial products.

Indeed one film director complained that Hollywood’s star system turned diverse looking girls into identikit images ‘The eyes, the lips, the mouth, the hair, all are done in a certain typed way. Their faces look like slabs of concrete. Maybe the average Hollywood glamour girl should be numbered instead of names’ (Cecile B. DeMille, quoted in Ewen All Consuming Images, page 89). The Economist once explained the trend towards reality TV stars purely in terms of the industrial interests of the fame machines – revenues from such figures are much more easily controlled than from more serious stars.

This is approach is what Cheryl Lousley calls ‘decentring celebrity’ in her study of the political and sentimental context of Band Aid. It’s the approach I adopted when writing Celebrity and the Environment. And such attention to the machinery behind fame provides the value and substance for Graham Turner, Francis Bonner and David Marshall’s work in Fame Games.

The second reason is that what can be most interesting about celebrity is not what they say and do or who they are, not the stars themselves, but how people respond to them, what effects they have. What matters is not so much the celebrities as their audiences.

The problems of focusing on the stars, and not the process producing them, is most clearly demonstrated by those works which have made this error. They provide the third reason. For what results is a simply list – a list of names and the things which have made them noticeable. The trouble with such lists is that they make, in the end, rather boring reading. They have no particular logic defining where they should end, and what should be in them. They are collections of ultimately arbitrary detail.

I have come across this most recently in Stephen Gundle’s book Glamour. It is a very good list, and, as lists go, entertaining and well written; it is a useful source book. But Prof Gundle appeared primarily to be interested in who was glamorous and what was glamorous about them, rather than explaining the forces which made particular glamorous people so visible. He gestures to these structures, for example saying ‘Behind the scenes a large number of professionals played a vital role in creating and sustaining the contexts, events and individuals that basked in the aura of glamour’ (page 169), but in the end we do not learn enough about these processes. The result is much richer in trivia than it is in insights into the political economy of glamour. Other reviewers found the same problem. Caroline Weber in the NYT called the book ‘more of a jumbled catalog of glamour’s incarnations than a sustained analysis of its significance and staying power’. Veronica Howell in the Guardian observed that Gundle ‘can’t, or doesn’t want to, analyse the techniques that create visible physical human perfection, or the illusion of it, on which the industry of glamour relies.

Ironically the consequence of this sort of writing is that it fails to accord adequate attention to the individuals in question. Individuals do matter, but, we can only appreciate how, why and when they have mattered if we understand properly the machinery surrounding them. This is the fourth reason for decentering celebrity. We can only understand the greatness of the great once we know how much of it was down to them, and how much was a more corporate or collective decision. Paradoxically it is precisely because individuals’ decisions, characters and personalities can count for so much that we need to look beyond the individuals themselves.

This matters a great deal where celebrity, charity and politics interact. A good deal of the interactions are carefully produced and managed. But some of the more powerful and surprising have not been; their power can only be understood in the context of the creativity, anger, naivety etc of particular individuals. Two examples from Dorian Lynskey’s book 33 Revolutions per minute will suffice. Nina Simone wrote Mississippi Goddam in a fury of creativity after hearing the news of the bombing of a church in Alabama in 1963 which killed four young girls attending a Bible study. More recently the Dixie Chicks found their political voice somewhat accidentally during a conference in London in 2005. In an offhand remark on stage Natalie Maines apologized to the British audience for George Bush and drawled that ‘we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas’. The result was financially disastrous, and a somewhat fiery baptisim into US politics. Although what is interesting about this also is not just the spontaneity of the remark, but they way it has been managed into a commercial force shaping a later album, especially as criticizing George Bush becomes less of a betrayal and more of a patriotic duty.

These are by no means unusual examples. I have analysed the patterns of charitable endorsements displayed by celebrities in the Look to the Stars website. Stars most involved in charitable work are not associated with particular agencies or managers. That aspect of their public lives is clearly more individually directed. And for people particularly heavily involved in charitable tasks, such as Joanna Lumley or John Snow, their activities probably make little sense commercially. It certainly goes against the general course of action that agents prefer, which is that their clients choose 3-4 charitable organisations to support. The charitable commitments of more heavily committed celebrities can probably be most easily explained by their personal inclinations.

We can think about this in another ways. In 1986, Igor Kopytoff observed that commodities and people are normally quite distant categories in our minds, but that people can be commoditized, and have been in all sorts of ways. The example he chose to examine was slaves; Patrick Gleary, in the same volume, looked at the case of sacred medieval relics. Celebrity provides another instance: they are commodities, things that are both industrially produced, and commercially exchanged, and at the same time they are people. Attention only to the people when analysing such commodities is unlikely to be satisfactory for long; but equally so will be attention only to the commodity aspects. I began this blog with the dangers of focusing only on the people – because I perceive that to be the bigger risk. Happily we can put the idiosyncratic, the individual, the people and personalities back in best when we can understand the machineries at work.

Ewen, S. (1988) All Consuming Images. The Politics of Style in Contemporary Culture. New York: Basic Books.

Gleary, P. (1986) Sacred commodities: the circulation of medieval relics. In: The Social Life of Things. Commodities in Cultural Perspective., ed. A. Appadurai, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gundle, S. (2008) Glamour. A History. Oxford: OUP.

Kopytoff, I. (1986) The cultural biography of things: commoditisation as process. In: The Social Life of Things. Commodities in Cultural Perspective., ed. A. Appadurai, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rojek, C. (2001) Celebrity. London: Reaktion Books Ltd.

Turner, G., Bonner, F. & Marshall, D. P. (2000) Fame Games. The Production of Celebrity in Australia. Cambridge: CUP.




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Focus Group Research on Celebrity Advocacy

Qualitative methods of audience research, that combine focus groups, interviews or diaries, are a useful way to examine the meaning of some of the numbers generated by quantitative surveys of perceptions of celebrity advocacy and engagement in celebrity media (reported in the previous blog). Qualitative research involving a mixture of focus group work and diaries was used with great effect in Nick Couldry, Sonia Livingstone and Tim Markham’s work on Public Connection and in Martin Scott’s research on portrayals and understandings of distant others on television.

I am currently half way through focus group work which is exploring attitudes to celebrity advocacy in London and Manchester; we have undertaken seven groups (50 people altogether) so far. This is a small number. However I have the advantage of working with TWResearch and Alice Fenyoe whose work with the IBT and with NGOs for Make Poverty History has given her a great deal of experience in these issues, and a much larger body of research upon which to draw when interpreting the results. I think her interim report on the London groups provides some interesting preliminary findings that merit sharing and discussing. The report is viewable on line, or click here for a 7 MB download. There are four main points to draw out from it.

First, people are very much aware of diverse forms of celebrity advocacy. They are able to talk about it, discuss it at length and enjoyed talking about it and arguing over it. While the quantitative data indicated that many people were engaging with this material lightly, these engagements still allow them to absorb a great deal. This is in line with Tim Markham’s work on this topic, expressed in a recent symposium.

Second, while there were always examples of celebrity support that were unpopular there was a reluctance to condemn much celebrity advocacy too much. The reluctance was partly a result of most people defining successful interventions by the amount of money they raised. This is the third point. Charities and celebrity advocacy was thought to be about raising money and not about political campaigning or other forms of action. And because celebrity advocacy was perceived to be good at raising money for deserving causes people are tolerant of it.

Fourth, while people are able to talk about celebrities’ work for good causes, they are much less able to talk about the causes supported. People will be aware of what famous people are doing, but much less of the organisation or issue that they are supporting.

One way of summarizing the third and fourth points is that celebrities benefit substantially from these engagements with charities. People become more aware of the famous people involved; more so, in some cases, than they become aware of the charities. This is interesting because, as I have described earlier, one of the defining features of interactions between the celebrity industries and the charitable sector is their inequality. Charities do not pay celebrities for their work, they are asking for favours and are often turned away; they are at the bottom of the pile. However is it possible that working for charities is undervalued by the talent industry? If it was more realistically valued, could that change the rather unequal relations that NGOs suffer from?

These results also seem to indicate that, for the development sector, the idea that celebrity engagements keep people firmly thinking that charitable work is about giving money, not getting engaged politically. This rather confirms the fears of the Finding Frames report. Once again you have to put this in context. Different methods, such as Lucy Bennett’s work among fan communities provides a different picture of the kind of political engagements that are possible. But for people who are not fans, political engagement via celebrity appears to be thin.

I am somewhat hesitant about putting these interim findings out. The results in the last blog were rather misinterpreted by the Third Sector article on them. The article’s headline proclaiming ‘Most people take no notice of celebrities promoting charity messages’, rather substantially missed the point that people say that they are interested in what the famous advocate, even if they say that they are not interested in celebrities. However one cannot determine how research is viewed, so as always, I welcome your thoughts and comments on this.

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A survey of public responses to celebrity advocacy

In collaboration with the UK Public Opinion Monitor (UK POM) run by the IDS, I have conducted a short survey (designed with Spencer Henson and Johanna Lindstrom) of public responses to celebrity advocacy. Just over 2,000 people took part in the survey.

The results provide one of the first large-scale surveys of how people respond to celebrity’s presence in the media, and in particular their work for charities (and especially development charities). A preliminary summary of the results has been written up by the IDS and is available here. For a link to the summary of the UK POM page where a summary of the results can also be found please click here.

There are two particularly important results from this survey which I want to highlight from the outset.

First, many people are put off by celebrity, but, paradoxically, they also find famous people who are not celebrities interesting (see page 5 of the report for the numbers). This produces the a rather curious, but important, question for people in charities building relationships with high profile figures: when do ‘celebrities’ become ‘famous’ (in the public eye), and thus more interesting to more people? For the analyst this fact presents considerable challenges for interpreting trends about engagement with celebrity: what does the word actually mean for different groups of people? How can we use it in our questions?

Second, most people claim that they do not pay more attention to campaigns fronted by celebrity, but they do think that such campaigns do work for other people (see page 8). Celebrity fronted campaigns may therefore be legitimated in the public mind by their perceived popularity, even if they are not, in fact, that popular.

Other interesting results are the way that people engage with what they consider to be celebrity news – which is generally for a short time and as a result of being lead to it while looking at other media content. However that will have to be set in the context of ongoing qualitative research which I am conducting with focus groups (and which I will report on later) which indicates that celebrity advocacy and celebrities’ work with charity is prominent in many people’s minds. They are often ready and willing to talk about it. The survey also suggests that significant minorities of people (20% of respondents) respond directly to the appeals of famous people (note the wording of the question) in some way.

This survey was one of two conducted with the UK Public Opinion Monitor. The first, conducted late last year, repeated a media use survey which had conducted by Nick Couldry, Sonia Livingstone and Tim Markham in 2005. They had conducted that survey as part of their ‘Public Connection‘ research project examining the relationships between media consumption and citizenship. It had interesting findings relevant for the study of celebrity advocacy which we wanted to update as part of this research. The IDS’ preliminary report from the 2010 media use survey is available here.

I will be analysing the responses to these surveys further over coming weeks and examining patterns in responses according to gender, social grouping and media consumption. If you have any further enquiries about these responses, or suggestions for that analysis, please let me know.

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Unexpected Findings from Newspaper Analyses

In order to track the interactions between the celebrity industry and development sector I have been exploring the trends in newspaper articles which mention celebrity and NGOs.  When I began this task I had intended merely to produce a few graphs which tracked the increasing production of these articles over time. What I was not prepared for were some of the trends which emerged.

For example, the rise of celebrity since the 1980s is most clearly visible in the broadsheets. No clear increase is apparent in the tabloids since the mid-1990s when the records I used (Lexus Nexus) begin to report them. There has also been a rather steady decrease in the mention of the top development and humanitarian NGOs generally, despite sustained giving to them over the same period which is visible in John Micklewright’s research.

But the biggest surprise was to learn that, in the last few years, mention of celebrity in association with charities generally, and with leading development and humanitarian NGOs specifically is declining. Even events like Make Poverty History, which produce a clear spike in coverage of articles with in the tabloids, is associated with a decrease in celebrity articles in precisely that period.

When unexpected findings like this come out I like to get them checked by as many people as possible, and as sceptically as possible. To this end Third Sector have reported some of these findings and offered a reaction from celebrity liaison officers in charities. I have also blogged about this work elsewhere.

The original report of this research is available here. Please send me as much critical commentary as you can. I will use the feedback this process produces to write an article for submission to peer-reviewed journals.

A summary of the research follows:

I explore trends in the mention of the terms celebrity and charity by UK newspapers from the late 1980s to the present (mid 1990s for tabloids),  and then, more specifically, the use of celebrity with reference to development and humanitarian NGOs. There is a clear increase in mention of celebrity, but only in the broadsheets. Mention of celebrity is constant, but fluctuating in the tabloids, albeit over a shorter time span. There is a dramatic increase in the mention of the word ‘celeb’, but that represents only a change in terminology, and does not result in more articles. Mention of charity also increases across all papers. Note that mention of the word celebrity, celeb or celebs will underestimate the appearance of public figures in the news, since articles about the most famous people only mention the word celebrity about 25% of the time.

With respect to trends in the use of both words, the most important finding is that there is a steady increase in the mention of celebrity within articles about charity, driven by the broadsheets. This rise appears to halt in the early to mid 2000s and may now be on the wane. There is a marked decline in the mention of celebrity within articles about charity in the tabloids since 2002. Note that celebrity is still mentioned more in articles about charity than in other sorts of articles. Articles about celebrity however only mention charity relatively infrequently, with little increase over time.

With respect to specific development and humanitarian NGOs the proportion of articles mentioning them is generally decreasing. The proportion of articles about development and humanitarian NGOs which also mention celebrity has remained constant in the tabloids, and increased up to 2005 in the broadsheets, before declining. The general patterns conceal important differences in the performance of UNICEF in the tabloids and UNICEF and Oxfam in the broadsheets, whose coverage suggests strong celebrity programmes at work functioning as part of effective media teams.

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First Paper Available for Comment and Consultation

I have now written the first paper from this fellowship. It provides some insights into how the relationships between NGOs and the celebrity industry are forged and maintained and is based on a large number of interview conducted largely over the last 9 months. This paper has been sent first to my interviewees for comment and they thought it was an accurate representation of their working lives. Please let me know what you make of it. The paper (in PDF form) is available here, and a summary follows.

‘Getting It’ Summary: Most of us ‘get’ celebrity – at least we think we do. Celebrity pervades our media, social interactions and every day lives whether we want it to or not. But what is actually involved when celebrities work with NGOs? How are the relationships negotiated, and the interactions developed? How do NGOs initiate and build support among celebrity circles? How do they work with agents, publicists and managers? What are the constraints that NGOs face, and how do they cope with the interest of corporates in getting access to celebrity? This paper answers some of those questions on the basis of more than 90 interviews with different actors in the NGO and celebrity sectors, and with journalists, based largely in the US and UK. In the process it also sheds light on another issue dogging the interactions between celebrity and NGOs, namely their authenticity. I argue that there are several different reasons for claiming authenticity, and that all claims must be well performed, as well as actually exist, to be credible.

The paper seeks to draw out some common trends and themes from across the interviews, rather than draw out differences. As such it merges and blends extracts from as many difference voices as possible from the different interviews. This risks rendering different experiences homogenous and for that reason (and because I wanted to communicate what I have learnt) I have already sent the first iteration of this paper to interviewees for comment. Their responses were favourable. They did recognize the themes that I have drawn out and none suggested that this paper suppressed differences that should be drawn out.

The purpose of this draft is to communicate these findings, and to elicit further comment and critique. It is deliberately devoid of academic references in order to make it accessible to as large an audience as possible.

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Tackling Global Problems with Brand Aid

When you are trying to change the world for the better it can help to distinguish between the more immediate causes of the problem you are tackling and the larger structural ones. More immediate causes of poverty, ill health and deprivation might include things like land loss, redundancy, unsafe sex or food price increases. The longer term structural causes of these problems include things like inequality, labour relations, trade relations, debt and the values and attitudes that sustain racism, sexism and diverse hatreds. So damaging are these structural forces to people that we can call them forms of structural violence.

Tackling global problems has to deal with both the symptoms and causes. But dealing with symptoms only, without planning when and how to tackle the drivers of the problem is not adequate. One of the distinguishing features of the work of celebrity in development is the tremendous creative energy which is devoted to coming up with innovative ways to tackle global problems. They can, potentially, be powerful, game changing initiatives. The crucial question to ask is what are they changing – the rules of the game, the more structural causes of problems, or merely some of their consequences? If the latter, when and how will they take in the bigger issues.

Product (RED) is an initiative Bono launched to support the work of the Global Fund. It works by getting leading Brands (Nike, Apple, Gap) to launch specific products and lines, a proportion of the profits of which go to the Global Fund. Its raised $160 million as of December 2010, which is a lot of money, although less than 1% of the $18.2 billion given to the Global Fund over the years. The Global Fund provides support for the work of fighting HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis. Product (RED)’s funds go directly to high performing HIV/AIDS programmes in Africa such that people buying RED products can calculate exactly how many anti-retroviral (ARVs) pills their purchases  are providing.

Lisa Richey and Stefano Ponte have just published Brand Aid: Shopping Well to Save the World with the University of Minnesota Press. This book is an immensely readable, lively and edgy examination of the work of Product (RED), and its consequences for HIV/AIDS sufferers and the some high profile brands. I write this blog having just returned from the 2011 meeting of the Association of American Geographers (AAG) where we discussed the book at an authors-meets-critics session.

Lisa and Stefano explore every aspect of Product (RED) – indeed it is perfectly suited for them as Lisa studies celebrity and health care delivery (esp HIV/AIDS) while Stefano works on certification, commodity chains and corporate social responsibility. They bring a good deal of prior learning and expertise to the book. They note that Product (RED) certainly delivers valuable ARVs to people who need them, that it does not peddle negative imagery of Africa and Africans, and it also neatly sidesteps the debates raging about the efficacy of aid.

They also have some rather telling criticisms. First, the Global Fund does not get involved with broader health care delivery systems; yet the success or otherwise of ARV treatment hinges on the broader social and institutional contexts in which people are taking the pills. Certainly there can be Lazarus effects but what sustains these effects, or makes them possible in the first place? Another way of putting this is that getting ARVs to people is a really good thing to do, but we cannot believe that it is sufficient in and of itself. The Product (RED) marketing encourages that belief.

Furthermore they argue that the forms of corporate social responsibility that are being practiced by the brands involved in Product (RED) are of the distant and disengaged variety. There is not much transparency, for example, with respect to which companies have donated how much to Product (RED). They also trace a shift from conscious consumption to ‘Causumer culture’. The former, promoted by certified and fair trade products, tries to ‘make visible the ecological and social relations embedded within a commodity’ (Raynolds, 2007: 50). The latter does not make these relations visible but relies on celebrity endorsement and corporate marketing to convince consumers they are doing a good thing. (The ‘Make Luxury Count’ site provides other examples of this sort of practice.)

Initiatives like Product (RED) are hard to dissect and this book does a pretty comprehensive job in a way which is accessible to all sorts of readers. I felt there were three voices which were not so much missing from this book (it can only be so big) but which now need to be heard in debates about Product (RED). They are:

  1. People taking ARVs in Africa. What do they make of this initiative, the drugs and the health systems of which they are part?
  2. Public Figures. The authority of Product (RED) derives from the standing of Bono, Jeffrey Sachs and Paul Farmer, what do they make of these criticisms of schemes which they have supported so strongly?
  3. Consumers buying RED products. It may be hard to work out the social and ecological relations bound up in RED products, but what does this sort of purchasing do for consumers’ own personal journeys of awareness, consciousness and, potentially, activism?

But I think that the most telling points were raised by Dan Klooster in his commentary on the book at the AAG. What, he asked, are the opportunity costs of the sorts of problems that Lisa and Stefano raised? If money is being raised from the purchases of a group of consumers who are not anyway thinking particularly reflectively about their purchasing power then what does it matter that these particular forms of CSR are relatively weak? And, he noted, Bono does say that death is more important than labour issues, but hasn’t he got a point? Given that Andrew Darnton’s work shows that there are groups of people who care very little about aid or poverty might not initiatives like Product (RED) be a good way of taking from the (uncaring) rich and giving to the poor.

Brand Aid then creates the space for three important questions:

  1. How do initiatives like Product (RED) effect consumer journeys into awareness and activism?
  2. How do these initiatives affect corporate journeys into awareness, activism and engaged CSR?
  3. Depending on the nature of these personal and corporate journeys, in what circumstances do any deficiencies in the scheme matter?

Why are these questions important? Because of the importance of tackling structural violence and not merely its consequences. Any solution to major problems which fails to challenge, or plan to challenge in the future, the structural violence underlying them can only be a temporary sticking plaster. Anything which claims to solve the problem while actually reinforcing its root causes is obscene – it makes us feel good about doing bad.

It has to be clear, therefore, that Product (RED), which encourages people to carry on as they were, just shop more, is in the process also challenging, or planning to challenge, the forms of structural violence that lie at the root of the problems it is trying to address. Lisa and Stefano argue that there are issues to address with Product (RED) but we need to see how these problems play out in diverse journeys to (and from) activism, and what, if any, harm is done by any deficiencies.

Laura Raynolds. 2007. ‘Organic and Fair Trade Movements in Global Food Networks.’ In S. Barrientos and C.Dolan (eds) Ethical Sourcing in the Global Food System. Earthscan London.

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Responses to Celebrity Activism

On Sunday Feb 6th Radio 4 broadcast  a programme exploring into the work of celebrity activists and whether they were really good for their causes. There was a lot of material in it, and more in the news coverage that preceded the programme. In particular there was some useful behind the scenes insights into why celebrities take on these causes (because like most of us they want to contribute) and why politicians listen to them (too many to list here, but note Berlusconi’s), and what both felt on meeting the other.  The final picture is a positive one – of people who are able to make a difference and are putting their power to good purposes.

But what is most intriguing about this issue is why it is such a thorny question. Celebrities role in philanthropy and good causes, and particularly international development, really gets us going. Have a look at the commentary in Marina Hyde’s article about Bono, for example, or John Hilary on Bob Geldof, and the response to a recent Guardian podcast on the topic. This is an issue which generates a bit more heat than light.

When Sharon Stone says she will kiss just about anybody for peace in the Middle East then a hostile reaction is understandable, but this is an outlandish example. There are in fact very few oddities like this. Indeed with thousands of celebs out there (over 25k on the Red Pages) and thousands of charities working with, and chasing them, such mistakes are actually rare indeed.

Working out what is fueling the diversity of reactions will be hard. As a first step we need to map out the range of statements that are made. I have attempted this below. The following statements are extracted / paraphrased from diverse commentaries on celebrities’ work in development. Each is paired with its opposite.

The result is a fairly rich variety of opinion (although I am sure more could be added). Reading them it should quickly become clear that it is hard to maintain a consistent stance on this issue. But how can we use them to understand people’s world views? I have two suggestions. First, these statements could easily be modified for use in Q methodology research. Second, it allows us to build up a profile of the character of particular debates. We can use this map of views to plot which arguments are being expressed most frequently, and in what contexts. And this ultimately, might facilitate the sorts collaborations with celebrity that engage audiences, and discourage those which profit none.

Public Responses to Celebrity in Development

A1. Celebrities are unaccountable to the public and yet claim to speak for them, they should not claim that privilege. They appropriate the power and right to speak but cannot be spoken back to.
A2. Celebrities should do more to tackle development problems by speaking out more against injustice and the root causes of poverty.

B3. Celebrities do not understand enough about development issues on the ground to claim to speak as experts.
B4. Celebrities should speak out on the complicated moral issues and injustices facing the world and not prop up existing power structures with their statements and presence at powerful gatherings.

C5. Celebrities’ financial donations are ineffective charity because they do not tackle the power structures, governments and companies which are the prime causes of poverty.
C6. Celebrities should do more to tackle development problems by giving more from their deep and luxurious pockets.

D7. Celebrity interventions in development are problematic because they get expenses paid trips overseas and free publicity which is beneficial to their careers. Their publicity embroiled motives cannot be sincere.
D8. Celebrities who take on development work give generously of their time, money and power to make the world a better place.

E9. Celebrities who take on development causes are trying to give back and deserve credit for that, they are better than their idle rich colleagues who do not.
E10. Celebrities are hypocritical: they preach about giving money to the poor yet are themselves incredibly wealthy and do not pay their fair share of taxes.

F11. Celebrities intervening in development have spoken truth to power boldly and helped right wrongs.
F12. Celebrities are a product of unequal power structures that create poverty in the first place, they cannot change the system at all.

G13. By using the media spotlight on them to highlight important issues celebrities put their fame to good use.
G14. Celebrity interventions in development issues divert media attention from activist protest and grass roots change.

H15. Celebrity interventions in development are part of a rich tapestry of protests, campaigns, behind the scenes work and lobbying all of which are necessary to change the world.
H16. Celebrity cultures promote materialism, consumerism and individualism whose values are the exact opposite of what a better world should be like.

I17. Celebrity work in development is ego-boosting; there are many people achieving things for development without drawing attention to themselves like celebrity.
I18. The oversize egos that celebrities bring, and derive, from their development work are regrettable but they are not the real issue and we should focus on the things which matter.

J19. What does it matter if celebrities do well out of doing good so long as they do the good? What matters is the effect on the cause.
J20. It is regrettable – at best inappropriate – for celebrities to benefit out of their charitable endeavours and it is morally repugnant to gain so much from starving Africans.

K21. Celebrities interventions help to popularize development causes and bring obscure difficult issues to a much broader audience than they otherwise would.
K22. Celebrity work in development simply serves to strengthen the holds of elites in and onto power.

L.23. Celebrities are ineffective at bringing about real change.
L.24. Celebrities do change things, and can do so in small ways behind the scenes out of the public eye.

M.25. Celebrities just jump on band wagons embracing easy causes and shy away from the difficult issues.
M.26. It is the media rather than celebrities who are at fault as journalists and editors follow celebrities in search of easy stories rather than doing hard research about difficult issues.

N.27. Celebrity is, for reasons unspecified, unpleasant.
N.28. Celebrity is, for reasons unspecified, wonderful

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The first few months

The first months of the fellowship were all about reading, networking and analyzing databases of celebrity philanthropy as well as some preliminary interviewing.

Reading has mainly focused on the fascinating work exploring public attitudes to development, especially the work of Andrew Darnton, David Hudson and Jennifer (van Heerde) Hudson of UCL and Spenser Henson of IDS.

Analysis has focused on the database created over the last four years by Steve and Myrlia Purcell of Look to the Stars and to which they have generously given me access. It provides a list of over 2300 celebrities and their involvement in 1600 charities, with a general US focus. From it I have been able to identify the charities who have worked most with celebrities, and the celebrities who have the most charitable activity. It provides a useful means of prioritizing activities over the coming months. I am now working on an index of  celebrity engagement in philanthropy.

I have been able to interview, formally and informally, current and former press and celebrity liaison officers of some larger NGOS as well as a few publicists, agents and cause management officers for the major talent agencies. I cannot say who, as confidentiality is the absolute watchword in this work, but it has been fascinating. My thanks to all of you who have given your time so generously. I now have a growing list (50 and counting) of people with whom interviews are arranged or under discussion.

And the main revelation thus far? What has really surprised me is how recently the celebrity industry and the philanthropic community have begun to systematize their collective activities. The major talent agencies in Hollywood began setting up foundations to promote their clients’ charitable activities generally less than a decade ago. Third Sector (the trade journal for non-profits and NGOs in the UK) only introduced its celebrity column five years ago, and the Red Page’s weekly newsletter only came out three years ago (it went bi-weekly 18 months ago). Red Pages only began listing celebrity ailments systematically about 6 years ago. The Look to the Stars website is only four years old. There is no index of celebrity engagement in philanthropy (yet). Celebrity’s interactions with philanthropy are old (the Entertainment Industry Foundation for example was set up in 1942) but its current form and organisation are being significantly reworked.

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