By: Eve Bembridge
Tracing the virtual footsteps of celebrity social media users is no new phenomenon – the past few years have seen a revolution of free press with all its tints and shades exposed, with millions of followers flocking to the tweets of their favourite stars as well as emerging sensations gaining their own mass of fans. Yet whether it’s a savvy partnership of Google and multiple services such as YouTube capitalizing on publicity and celebrity or Twitter’s latest mass of uploaded selfies, the ever-changing world of media has been fixated not only on the tabloid-esque tales of scandal but on the “do-good” aspect of the world’s most famous, bringing into question a series of ethics.
Altruistic Facade or Genuine Ethos?
After her rapidly rising status as accomplished A-lister, most-desirable woman and garnering a reputation for adopting multiple children, Angelina Jolie has become famous for her ambassador work for the United Nations as well as other charities and organizations covering issues across the globe. A passionate advocate for women’s health and education as well as producing her own creative ventures which deal with some of these issues, she has worked with some of the world’s most prominent political figures and activists in her endeavours.
Yet despite Jolie’s efforts, celebrity involvement in political and social issues is regarded with scepticism – many believe that celebrities are pushing their own PR, and that while they donate considerable amounts of money to charity, they still return to gleaming mansions at the end of the day (this isn’t to say that Jolie’s work isn’t genuine, but other celebrities have often been sent into climates where they are not well-schooled in the actual environment at hand). Disclosing another startling perspective, Monte Burke and William P. Barrett question the efficiency of celebrity-influenced charities, noting how a considerable amount of the money goes toward the overhead alone. “Celebrity foundations that use sports fundraising are often among the least efficient,” they suggest – implying that celebrities actually probably have little oversight into how their own ventures may be run.
Yet without a doubt, celebrities have shaped the charity PR circuit considerably, despite how limited or extensive their actual hands on work might be – whether it’s Leonardo Dicaprio and the World Wildlife Fund fighting for tigers or the human rights activism of George Clooney, dubbed by Look to the Stars as “one of the most charitable hearts in Hollywood.” In fact, fronting a charity seems to benefit the charity more than the celeb to some degree, and this arises from both positive and negative circumstances. Celebrities have drawn attention, advertently and inadvertently, by raising the profile of their circumstances. Toronto-based actress Lisa Ray – known for prominent roles in films such as Deepa Mehta’s Water, runs “The Yellow Diaries” on her website, a community where cancer sufferers and survivors can seek solidarity with one another. Created after being diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare cancer which causes white blood cells to produce antibodies, Ray has fought to spread awareness about the illness as well as research to provide healthy alternative treatments. Ray’s journey has been one of genuine courage and compassion, which has definitely helped to raise the profile of this often devastating disease.
Tragically, sometimes this awareness comes when it is too late, but in its wake comes, once again, a greater understanding or at least an opening up of dialogue about the issue. Vancouver-born Glee star Cory Monteith’s death became the latest in a series of celebrity deaths related to substance abuse, what the Coalition Against Drug Abuse terms “a serious public health concern.” Monteith was candid about his struggle with the substance, and despite the tragedy of his early death, acting coach Andrew McIlroy hopes that something positive comes out of the situation. “If one of Cory’s beautiful fans thinks twice about that pill or joint or drink, then let us consider that a great ‘step one’ measure of our respect for his legacy” he stated, according to CBC News. With “a substantial minority” of Canada’s youth becoming increasingly at risk according to a 2007 report by the Canadian Centre of Substance Abuse, a certain degree of openness in cases like Monteith’s are critical.
The Best Form of Hope
Rightfully, people question just how damaging this level of exposure can be to families whose loved one’s struggles are suddenly publicized on major media networks, particularly when the subject is taboo. High-profile charity events are not geared towards substance abuse, and it still has a certain degree of stigma attached to it which tabloids thrive on for scandal. But sometimes the best closure comes from opening up discussion on a subject and media can be used in a positive way to do this. And thanks to a large democriticization of the media with social networks, celebrities may not have more control with how they are portrayed by the mainstream, but they have the power to put out their own voice. Now more than ever, celebrities and the media form a big part of the charity circuit, from leading pro sports teams to actors, musicians, and public figures, and will continue to do so for years to come. It may not be as transparent and as efficient as the public would wish, but it is a start, and one which has the potential to do great good.