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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

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Celebrities and Altruism


Whenever there is a movement that becomes popular, or prominent, enough to gather a large following, there is inevitably going to be some level of celebrity support. If the cause is relative to social justice issues, then usually those celebrities who do support it are termed as activists. I disagree.

In 2004, there was no greater or nobler cause that a celebrity could support than the “Save Darfur” movement. Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, declared before Congress that what was occurring in the region of Sudan was in fact genocide. According to USA Today, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, described the situation as “little short of hell on earth.”

Soon after that, celebrity after celebrity flocked to advocate for and give support to the victims of violence and the refugees displaced by it. Celebrities such as Mia Farrow and George Clooney lent their time, resources, and most importantly their star power to what was characterized as a conflict between a government and one of its minority groups. For a while, the “Save Darfur” campaign was the cause that ignited many of the stars, politicians, religious leaders, and activists to advocate for victims, but over time, the cause faded from people’s minds.

In September, over 10 years after Secretary Powell’s declaration of genocide, USA Today ran a piece entitled “Whatever Happened to Save Darfur,” where the publication mused about how there were still millions of people displaced by the violence, yet all the celebrity and international support for victims of the conflict had ceased. To this day, millions of Sudanese citizens live in refugee camps, displaced by the violence in Darfur. While at the onset of the crisis, celebrities were crucial to spreading the word about the conflict and providing sources of aid, they eventually found a new cause to support, leaving refugees and victims in dire straits.

In light of this, we must ask: Are celebrities actually being useful activists? This is not meant to diminish the contributions made by celebrities like Farrow or Clooney who did do a lot of charitable work for the “Save Darfur” campaign. However, in the long run, who was actually better off? The celebrity who did a good deed and got public recognition for it? Or the Sudanese child displaced by military violence?

I think often we get caught up in patting celebrities on the back for doing the bare minimum, rather than focusing on what is actually being done to combat whatever issue the celebrity is facing. Matt McGorry, star of “Orange is the New Black” and “How to Get Away with Murder,” is prime example of this type of contrast. McGorry is a vocal proponent of feminism and equal rights on his Twitter feed. As a white man, he feels compelled to speak up for feminist causes, which is laudable because too often, people who aren’t actually affected by an issue do not speak about it. However, in this case people fall over themselves to praise him for being so forward-thinking while ignoring the fact that he is just repeating the same ideas and statements that women, people of color, and LGBTQ individuals have been saying for years. All the while he is getting the credit and praise. Is that really activism?  I think activism requires hard work and dedication to a cause, not just tweeting about it; getting your hands dirty and actually affecting physical change, not just sitting at home and reaping the benefits for being a “good person.”

Considering celebrities like McGorry or those who supported, and then abandoned, the Save Darfur campaign, I think that it’s unfortunate we place so much weight on what celebrities say and not enough on what they’re actually doing.

As it stands today, there are still plenty of people in the region of Darfur that require outside assistance. The issues that McGorry brings up occasionally on his Twitter account are still pervasive in our society, so has actual change occurred?

Rather than focusing on celebrities who are just “phoning it in,” so to speak, we should focus on what they are actually doing to further the causes they claim to support. If celebrities are to be role models and activists, I think we should hold them to a standard of following through on their words or even what is said on their telethons.

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