Senior Editor Hannah Twiggs voices her criticism of celebrity endorsement and argues that Emma Watson is definitely not legitimising feminism.
From the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East to the Ebola epidemic spreading across West Africa, it seems we have more and more things we should be worrying about. Whatever the issue, it’s not the journalists or the broadsheets who are bringing the ‘big issues’ to your attention, but a rather more unexpected part of society – celebrities.
Whether it’s Bono as the face of musical philanthropy or Angelina Jolie adopting her 100th orphan from some country you’ve never heard of, the catalogue of actors and actresses jumping on the activism bandwagon has grown exponentially over the last ten years.
It can be said that the relationship between celebrity and charity operates as mutually beneficial. Celebrities lending their names to worthwhile causes do add value to campaigns but they also receive a great deal of positive publicity in return for a few pictures with starving children and a press conference here and there.
Are Jude Law’s crusade around the Congo, George Clooney’s left-wing resolutions in Darfur and Matt Damon’s dirty water #icebucketchallenge not merely carefully constructed PR campaigns designed to procure additional career attention? It’s an awfully cynical view to have. But sometimes it is hard to tell who actually cares and who is just carefully acting.
Take Emma Watson and the HeForShe campaign, for example. Having recently been appointed a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, Watson, Harry Potter child star turned feminist activist, delivered a stirring address at the UN headquarters in New York. The campaign describes itself as a ‘solidarity movement for gender equality’ calling for men to ‘stand up in addressing inequalities and discrimination faced by women and girls.’
In some respects, her speech, which the media repeatedly labelled as ‘game-changing’, was pretty awesome and it was delivered with all the prowess you would expect of a BAFTA-nominated actress. However, critics pointed out the irony of this supposedly independent young woman, who became famous for playing a vulnerable ‘damsel’ in a male-heavy franchise, as a champion for modern feminism, calling for men to come and save women from rampant misogyny. Something doesn’t seem quite right here.
It seems strange to think that the words and image of a person can be commodified. It is fair to say that an individual like Watson is very well placed to inspire those reluctant to identify as feminist because of the pervasive stereotypes attributed to the movement. She makes a topic that is growing ever more taboo more accessible and positive to the generation of women she represents, the ‘Harry Potter generation’ so to speak, whom might not otherwise be drawn into the feminism debate.
On the other hand, we are sold a commodity, a superficial ideal, a false proximity. Being the ‘face’ of a charity makes it seem more like a brand, an item of clothing you choose to wear because it’s seen as ‘cool,’ and not because you believe in the cause. Celebrity-endorsed charities begin to monopolise and some of the smaller, more worthwhile causes are sinking out of the limelight.
I can understand why celebrity endorsement is attractive to charities: the media has become disinterested in, or perhaps incapable of, highlighting an issue if some member of the celebrocracy hasn’t tweeted about it. Is celebrity advocacy the answer to some of our most perverse problems? Is Emma Watson legitimising feminism? I wouldn’t say so. It seems to have become one of the doctrines of our time that celebrity endorsement is a good and effective thing. But if all charities become celebrity endorsed, none of them are really endorsed at all.
But perhaps I’m wrong and all celebrities are truly good people and I’m just jealous because I’m not famous.