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The celebrity and the disaster

September 9th, 2010 by Posted in English

This week Angelina Jolie visited Pakistan to meet flood victims and help with fundraising efforts. Faranaaz Parker of the Mail & Guardian Online challenges the use of Hollywood A-listers in such press trips and questions who really benefits. The views she expresses are not necessarily those of Oxfam. We’d like your comments on the issue.

The top news on Pakistan today was that Angelina Jolie had been to the country to meet with flood victims. “Jolie calls for more flood aid” screamed headlines, while captions below pictures of the sultry star in black robes and headscarf read “Hollywood star Jolie visiting people displaced by floods”.

One online publication said Jolie’s comments on issues are “a leading benchmark of media buzz”. No doubt the flooding in Pakistan, which has largely slipped under the radar of popular imagination and has not received even a fraction of the aid needed to deal with the disaster, is in dire need of media buzz.

But unless Jolie‚Äôs press trip also involves a targeted aid-gathering campaign which appeals for actual donations and assistance, then we must ask who benefits more from the free publicity — the 20-million displaced people left in the wake of the flooding or Jolie herself? (Should it be mentioned that Jolie’s latest movie is currently in theatres?)

What does it say about our society when the hollow pronouncements of a pampered actress garners more interest than the fact that 20-million people have been displaced and 8-million people are in need of humanitarian aid?

Is the relatively low death toll in Pakistan really the reason aid has been so slow in arriving? Will society only be moved when the numbers rise, as they surely will given the threat of infectious disease, famine and the oncoming winter?

Or do we need a few more A-listers to go out into the tented camps and destroyed homes, to ask grannies and small children to share their stories?

The very idea offends me. After all, life after the flood is not their story, it is their reality.

  1. 8 Responses to “The celebrity and the disaster”

  2. By Al on Sep 10, 2010

    My two pennies:

    “…who benefits more from the free publicity – the 20-million displaced people left in the wake of the flooding or Jolie herself?”

    Does it matter if Jolie benefits, so long as her actions are also beneficial, and not detrimental, to some of those 20 million people?

    As communicators it’s our job to share the stories of those grannies and small children (though hopefully not exclusively grannies and small children) to get the attention and support of the public. Jolie is doing the same and, as egotistical as it may appear (and may be), she’s probably doing it in the most effective way she can.

  3. By Elder on Sep 13, 2010

    I think any publicity is good as long as it raises awareness on the issues on the ground. I would further propose that the A-Listers be encouraged to donate something as an indicator of their seriousness. These celebrities have a lot money that would go a long way in alleviating the suffering of many poor people. After all, it’s some of the poor people who watch their movies.

  4. By Nanjakululu on Sep 13, 2010

    Well, I think both (the star and the displaced) may benefit, depending on how one looks at it. It is surely a convergence of interests in this regard … the displaced need help and the star needs (did you say movie in the theatre?) publicity … and, hold on, there is a third party: the media need higher circulation numbers/viewership … In this case the star combined with the flood victims is a story that sells … and perhaps considered in isolation both stories wouldn’t sell unless, of course, something funny happens or is done by the star … or the number of the dead surges as you rightly opine in this article … it is called our real world.

  5. By Mazvita on Sep 13, 2010

    I agree with Faranaaz Parker, if the trip does not also involve a targeted aid-gathering campaign which appeals for actual donations and assistance, it has the potential of just becoming an empty trip. While it is important that we share the stories of those affected by the floods it should also be communicated in such a way that will get the desired results, i.e. more aid for Pakistan that will help those affected.

  6. By JP on Sep 13, 2010

    As far as I see it, the media frenzy around Hollywood A-listers will always be the critical aspect whether there are good deeds or bad ones. As much as these Hollywood A-listers donate funds or not is not the point. The fact that they are public figures may in some way help raise funds by raising awareness — say for example, someone in Germany, USA, Britain or whichever place may see that Angelina Jolie went to Pakistan and be drawn to read an article on the floods and probably end up donating a dollar or two. This ripple effect caused by such a visit may raise millions which I believe she will not get any credit for.

  7. By Thembeka on Sep 13, 2010

    It’s a difficult one. On the one hand, the media will only cover the story if there’s a celebrity involved. On the other we must ask why human suffering and loss of life is only seen as important if a famous person talks about it. This seems like a Catch 22 situation. I think the truth is that people are really tired of being overwhelmed with suffering from Haiti to Congo to Zimbabwe, and they are tired of being asked to give all the time. I know Oxfam gets a lot of money from individuals, but I think these apppeals should be made to rich governments not to ordinary citizens. This is going to get worse, not better, as climate change and natural disasters increase (such as the MANY earthquakes in the past year) and we may end up in what the Americans call “poverty porn” as relief agencies try harder and harder to catch the attention of an overwhelmed public.

  8. By Overtoun Mgemezulu on Sep 28, 2010

    It is easier to criticize the celebreties than reflect on how much we as ordinary people have done to the victims of the disaster. Yes the celebreties might gain the publicity but lets not forget that they invest time and money to reach to the poor.

  9. By Kudeko on Sep 28, 2010

    The subject says that Jolie went to meet flood victims. This she did, I guess the victims were psychologically happy to meet an idol as I could be. The Lady should equally be happy to do this noble cause. She was on a mission not holiday tour. On the other hand I read she went there to help in fund raising. Our worry should be whether after her efforts noboby has been moved to decide to do something. Before criticking the strategy I would love to hear that such efforts never work. Or if they benefit such idols – then how? Who knows she may be featuring a related movie whose proceeds go to Pakistan!

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