International activists tentatively welcome the growing role of “celebrity ambassadors” such as Angelina Jolie and Bono, saying they can contribute to universally agreed causes but should keep contentious political opinions to themselves.
Rock stars and actors ranging from Bob Geldof to George Clooney increasingly are traveling the world in support of various causes. The latest to enter the fray is Paris Hilton, who, it was reported yesterday, will visit Rwanda as part of a post-jail commitment to use her celebrity status to bring attention to social causes.
“There’s so much need in that area, and I feel like if I go, it will bring more attention to what people can do to help,” she was quoted as saying in E Online.
Longtime campaigners for social causes around the world took a critical look at the value of such celebrity efforts at a Washington conference this week.
Such diplomacy can be one “tool” to raise public awareness, but star endorsement alone cannot have a lasting effect, said John Marks, president of Search for Common Ground, a Washington-based group dedicated to solving conflicts and promoting ethnic harmony.
“There needs to be more than just a celebrity” to have a real effect, he said during the panel discussion on Tuesday.
Thanks to Princess Diana, for example, concern about the damage caused by land mines left from conflicts went from virtually “zero public interest to an international treaty,” he said.
Effective diplomacy requires global reach, and a celebrity can provide a famous face to represent a cause, said Andrew Cooper, associate director of the Center for International Governance Innovation, a Canadian group.
Celebrity diplomacy “is not just entertainment but something [people] should take seriously,” said Mr. Cooper, who has authored a working paper on the subject.
Former U.S. diplomat James Stephenson said celebrity endorsements can supplement traditional diplomacy.
“The central issue here is that as long as celebrities advocate things that are universally accepted they … raise awareness and even push governments to act,” said Mr. Stephenson, now an adviser for the Washington-based consultant firm Creative Associates International.
But, he said, he has a problem with celebrities who advocate political opinions or push political agendas.
Such advocacy can lead to clashes between celebrities, Mr. Cooper noted. Actress Nicole Kidman reportedly complained to Scotland’s Daily Record that Miss Jolie, a fellow U.N. goodwill ambassador, had stolen the spotlight from the doctors and nurses who deserved recognition.
Singer Eric Clapton questioned the credibility of U2 lead singer Bono and of Mr. Geldof, who organized the Live Aid concert for Africa in 1985, saying, “They’re only musicians,” Mr. Cooper writes in his report.
Bono — who has been seen shaking hands with the pope, former Sen. Jesse Helms and former South African President Nelson Mandela — separates himself from the masses of “glamorous enthusiasts,” Mr. Cooper said.
At the Group of Eight summit in Germany in June, Bono’s and Mr. Geldof’s meeting with President Bush “grabbed far more media attention than the other state leaders attending.”