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Celebrity Public Diplomacy: is it so bad?

by on April 22, 2012

Celebrity diplomacy is whether loved or hated by the academic community. Andrew Cooper, author of “Celebrity Diplomacy” argues celebrity diplomats can be beneficial or negative for foreign policy issues, depending on the celebrity[1]. On one hand, there are Bono and celebrity activists conscientious of the work they have ahead. On the other hand, there are messy and problematic amateurs who cannot handle the pressure and complexity of the job, such as Gerri “Ginger Spice” Halliwell[2].

Interestingly, 30 years ago celebrities were confined to titles as UN ambassadors, as Audrey Hepburn. However, nowadays celebrities have more flexibility to address issues and, usually, they do not mind to be controversial. Also, it is important to highlight the access they possess to the public or to higher officials, which is unimaginable for a diplomat[3]. However, they are often criticised for shadowing the complexity of the issues with their fame, undermining the work of aid workers and use notorious issues to sell themselves as well-informed and politically active celebrities[4]. Also, celebrity diplomats are north-centric since the majority of celebrities with this status are from the North Hemisphere and, for this reason, they are not legitimate advocators for these causes[5].

These are all acceptable and legitimate arguments but, as Andrew Cooper argued above, it depends on the celebrity. Some celebrity diplomats have made successful achievements and these cannot be undermined. Plus, they have dedicated a great amount of their time for these causes, for instance Bono who has dedicated his efforts to raise funds to develop the African continent.

Another example of a celebrity diplomat is George Clooney. Clooney has been a celebrity activist focused particularly on the situation in Darfur, Sudan. He has an extensive curriculum behind him since he has testified before the Congress; met with President Obama; addressed the UN Security Council; is involved with several organisations focused on the area; created the Satellite Sentinel Project; and, more recently, he was arrested during a protest in the Sudanese embassy in Washington D.C.  Therefore, Clooney is not a simple celebrity screaming for help, he has actually made several accomplishments.

Despite of negative arguments regarding celebrity diplomacy, George Clooney brought to the spotlight the critical situation in South Sudan and Darfur. This way, he helped activists raise awareness to the region’s genocide. His efforts in Darfur cannot be undermined just because of his pretty face or his fame. Clooney is very cautious on his work, for this reason he used techniques from Bono and advice from experts in order to better perform his assignment[6]. Therefore, he is not an amateur celebrity diplomat using the cause to promote himself.

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2 Comments
  1. mimi001 permalink

    I have two issues that I am confused about in relation to celebrity diplomacy. First, why do celebrities become diplomats and how much this is done purely in order to achieve more fame? You obviously address this issue for example regarding George Clooney,but I guess I’m not fully convinced. But on the other hand, if the work is done according to high standards then do the original reasons behind taking up the work matter?
    Also, I’m always wondering about legal issues, since a traditional diplomat is protected under international law but I assume celebrity diplomats are on their own and since they are known to be rich they might be in grave danger taking up this role! What do you think?

    • cal0265 permalink

      I agree with you regarding the prestige gained by celebrities after doing “good deeds”. However, I do believe, in the end of the day, all it matters is their achievements and if their job was properly done. If this will help millions in Darfur, I don’t mind if Clooney is more popular now than he was before the campaign (though I don’t think he got more or less famous because it).

      Secondly, you raise a very interesting point: international law. Many criticise celebritty diplomats for bot being bound by international law but just like you said they are putting themselves in a dangerous situation. Personally, I think they are in dangerous but I do not think someone will dare to touch a western celebrity since that will even catch more media attention and then their home country will have to act to protect its citizen. Using Sudan as an example… Violence is supported from one of the sides by the governement therefore, they will not want the crisis to be even more publicised and that can cause an humanitarian intervention in the country. On the other hand, if it is the other side of the battlefield they want people to endorse their cause, for this reason kidnapping or killing a celebrity will not help their cause.

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