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Are We Fooling Ourselves or Do Celebrities Really Inspire New Volunteers?

Angelina Jolie Wearing a Headscarf in India as Goodwill Ambassador

Image source: Dailynewschannels.com

I don’t often think of celebrities as being capable of divorcing themselves from their public. Perhaps I’m jaded by US Weekly or The Oscars—If one more stick figure tells me what she’s wearing I’ll lose it emotionally—but, my own prejudice aside, celebrities are people too. Many of them are people who care deeply about the world they live in. Sure, they hire stylists to make them look celebrityish and publicists to make them act likeable. But simply being a celebrity doesn’t make you vapid or incapable of giving or caring, it just carries some baggage.

I will admit, when David Clemmons, founder of Voluntourism.org said, “they [celebrities] have life-changing experiences too,” my first thought was, “yeah like that time they forgot their Balanciaga bag on their private jet.” Of course then I thought, “well, what am I expecting of them? Don’t they have the right to volunteer just like the rest of us?” The flippant dismissal of celebrities must make it very difficult to be a serious celebrity who genuinely cares about a cause.

Clay Aiken with Kenyan Children, Traveling Through Unicef

Image source: Fieldnotes.unicefusa.org

Celebrities do play a very visible role in the voluntour/volunteer universe. They pop up in PSAs and on those supermarket donation boxes: Anjelina Jolie, Ricky Martin, even Clay Aiken has shown his ginger head a time or two. And boy do they do bring quite a lot of media attention with them wherever they go. I wonder though: is that media attention really focused on the causes they champion?

Ricky Martin with Chinese Children, Traveling Through Unicef

Image source: Dailymail.co.uk

Unfortunately, our delightful papa-razzi-driven media culture tends to focus more on the celebrity than on the cause. The text that accompanies those pictures won’t include an in-depth discussion of the rampant illness, abject poverty, or civil unrest of the region. It will discuss the celebrity’s husband or boyfriend, a good dig on a scandal, or something about an upcoming movie. This is more a critique of our media culture than it is a critique of the celebrities themselves.

Either way, it’s good that celebrities are taking an interest in the world outside Hollywood. Many of them do work to support real infrastructure projects like sewage systems or water towers and there is no doubt that those projects help people. Also, there are definitely some fans out there who are inspired by a celebrity’s humanitarian work. Sure, maybe most of us aren’t inspired as much by Clay Aiken as we are by Unicef, but he certainly isn’t hurting the cause. He’s out there giving his time. That’s inspiring no matter who he is.

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