Considerable debate has arisen in the past couple of weeks about the role of celebrity.
No, this really isn’t about Donald Trump.
Specifically, is it right or fair for celebrities to publicly opine on issues that strictly speaking have nothing to do with their craft?
Should an actor use an acceptance speech at a nationally televised awards ceremony to criticize the president-elect?
Is it acceptable for a movie star or musician to make headlines deriding a country’s energy or environmental policy?
Of course it is.
It’s not only okay, it ought to be expected and encouraged.
We have created and are now forced to live in a celebrity-obsessed culture.
The voices on the radio, the faces on the big screen, are not just icons. They have achieved hero status.
At their disposal are enormous stages, and really, really big microphones and loud speakers.
They are entitled to use those. Which is not to say you have to agree with them.
Meryl Streep and Jane Fonda have been in the headlines recently, but there is a respected tradition of celebrities using their elevated status to promote political agendas or affect social change.
Bono is a big one.
The U2 lead singer is inextricably tied to international efforts that have reduced poverty and disease in the poorest countries. It is estimated he is personally responsible for supplying medicine to 7.5 million people in Africa living with AIDS. He has also provided the means for 51 million African children to go to primary school, and his efforts have reduced the rate of malaria in some countries by as much as 75 per cent.
Angelina Jolie is a former goodwill ambassador for the United Nations. Through advocacy and diplomacy she focuses on the needs of displaced populations and has given a voice to refugees in places such as Cambodia, Thailand and Sierra Leone.
George Clooney not only provided funds and media attention to the Dafur crisis, in 2006 he ran the personal risk of smuggling cameras into refugee camps and later was actually arrested at a protest in front of the Sudanese embassy in Washington DC.
Sean Penn, who shocked many in 2002 when he purchased a full page ad in the Washington Post slamming the US invasion of Iraq (at a cost of $56,000) has also advocated for gay rights and organized relief efforts in response to crises like Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
Alicia Keys co-founded an organization called Keep a Child Alive.
Ted Danson co-founded the America Oceans Campaign.
Willie Nelson started Farm Aid.
It’s uplifting that people who enjoy the dubious benefits of being rich and famous also see a responsibility in the limelight.
And it doesn’t mean you always have to agree with them. -AD