Celebrity Activism: Helping or Harming?

Unless you were born in 2013 you’ve either watched or at least heard about the above video. In 2012 the American NGO Invisible Children produced a 30 minute movie calling everyone to “make Kony famous” in the hopes to eventually find and arrest him. Initially 20 celebrities including Angelina Jolie, Justin Bieber and Ellen Degeneres were recruited to use their voices in order to spread awareness of the initiative, and due to it’s widespread success many more joined the cause. The video spread motivation and inspiration; finally it seemed we could do something about the horrors of the world.

One share on Facebook and all was right with the world… except it wasn’t. What the video and cause failed to do was actually portray the complexity of the issue in Uganda, and even misrepresented facts on the issue. Not only this but it perpetuated this Western idea that awareness is what will ultimately solve the world’s problems. Jimenez (2013) writes:

“The tragedy behind these sorts of campaigns is that they are motivated by the belief that problems around the world remain unresolved due to the lack of international awareness of their existence or global commitment to resolve them. If only enough people knew and cared about a certain conflict or problem, the assumption goes, then the combined energy and support could be harnessed in order to trigger an immediate flood of solutions. “

This mindset, however is highly problematic. While awareness is important for raising funds, more complex solutions are essential in providing aid to developing countries.

The issue with a celebrity putting their name on a cause is that the reputation of said cause could rely on that of the celebrity. If the celebrity loses credibility or respect from the public, so too could their charity or cause. The founder of Invisible Children, Jason Russell, rose to celebrity status after the success of the Kony 2012 video. However after suffering from a psychotic breakdown and the resulting events of the below video (apologies for the source), many lost faith in the Kony cause. Russell was quoted saying:

“The thing that sucks the most is that it gives people an excuse not to do anything.

“People are like, ‘Didn’t that filmmaker take all the money and then go crazy naked in the street?’”

So while I’m not questioning the good intentions of celebrity activism, there certainly are some implications. It’s important to mention that Kony still hasn’t been captured, three years on, and there are still existing problems in Uganda. While celebrity-spread awareness may placate our “white saviour complex” for a couple of weeks, it may not be the most effective solution in providing aid.

Deibert, M 2012, ‘The Problem with Invisible Children’s “Kony 2012″‘, Huffington Post, 7 May, viewed 1 September 2015, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-deibert/joseph-kony-2012-children_b_1327417.html?ir=Australia&gt;

Cole, G, Radley, B & Falisse J B 2015, ‘Who Really Benefits From Celebrity Activism’, Guardian, 10 July, viewed 1 September 2015, <http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jul/10/celebrity-activism-africa-live-aid&gt;

Jimenez, A 2013, ‘Why Celebrity Activism Does More Harm Than Good’, Waging Nonviolence, July 29, viewed 1 September 2015, <http://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/why-celebrity-activism-does-more-harm-than-good/&gt;

Piotrowski, D 2014, ‘What ever happened to African warlord Joseph Kony?’, news.com.au, June 12, viewed 1 September 2015, <http://www.news.com.au/world/africa/what-ever-happened-to-african-warlord-joseph-kony/story-fnh81gzi-1226951404637&gt;

Invisible Children 2012, Kony 2012, online video, 5 March, YouTube, viewed 1 September 2015, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4MnpzG5Sqc&gt;

TMZ 2012, New Jason Russell Video — UP CLOSE Naked Meltdown — Kony 2012, online video, March 18, YouTube, viewed 1 September 2015, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjdH2LDH5LM&gt;

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What Could Be Better Than Free?

Better than free

Above is my first ever info graphic (*pats self on back*)! I wanted to outline Kelly’s (2008) 8 Generatives that are better than free. I found his approach to the issue of the long tail really interesting and thought it would be a good idea to break it down. In a world full of free information and content, it is imperative to understand what is valuable in order to sell a product. Kelly has accumulated a great list of product attributes that are better than free, but I’m curious to know if this list could be added to. Are there other generatives that can’t be copied that aren’t on Kelly’s list?

The Rise of Liquid Labour and the Fall of Dolly Parton

Dolly

Yes, yes I know what you’re thinking: “Another meme, how original…” When thinking about this week’s topic of liquid labour what really resonated with me was this idea of how work and personal life have begun to combine. With thanks to advancements of communication networks like the web, there is a constant supply of information workers on hand for any given job. Due to this, along with the continual accessibility of information, there is almost an expectation of workers to be available for work. The sheer speed of information flows has workers feeling that they need to keep on top of their work 24/7.

The rise of communication networks also has begun to make the concept of traditional office spaces somewhat irrelevant. In traditional work, just like the factory, the office almost stands as a symbol for the work space. Once a worker leaves said work space, they are no longer at work. This, however, is becoming less and less true with many workers taking their work home with them via the web. With the majority of information work not being in a physical space, but on the web, is there a necessity for a specific physical space designed to carry out this work? Why should workers feel motivated to wake up early to travel to an office when they would be perfectly fine doing the same work at home in their pyjamas?

Which brings me to my meme this week. Has Dolly Parton’s 80s hit 9 to 5 also become irrelevant?

Real Beauty or Real Profit?

In a word devastated by zero-sized models, photoshop and unrealistic body standards there stands one hero who can bring salvation to women. And that hero’s name is Dove. Or so it appears…

Real Beauty

In 2004 Dove began their Real Beauty campaign which featured pictures of women of different ethnicities, ages and body types. Untouched by airbrushes, these campaign photos were intended to change the way women viewed their bodies. The campaign gained major success with multiple viral videos, magazine spreads and television advertisements. However along with the praise this campaign received for breaking the mould, there were also a number of criticisms. While it certainly has positive results and messages in some aspects, I want to examine some of the issues with the campaign and how it might not be doing as much good as we think.

One of the criticisms of the campaign was the use of the word real, which I wrote about in one of my first blog posts way back in my first year. If you like it is available to read here, but I would like to touch more on Dove’s goal for this campaign. The clue here is the word “campaign” because essentially Dove’s aim is to sell their product. Certainly Dove, like any other company, can’t be blamed for trying sell their product but there is something hugely problematic in trying to use the idea of raw and untouched beauty to then sell a beauty product. Essentially Dove might as well be saying, “You’re perfect just the way you are (after you buy these 6 Dove products).” It is also important to note that the parent of Dove, Unilever, is also the owner of Fair & Lovely, which perpetuates a light-skinned beauty standard, and Axe Body Spray that is responsible for ads like the following: In this aspect, the Real Beauty campaign isn’t better than any other beauty advertisement, but it really isn’t particularly worse either. It is also important to note that the parent of Dove, Unilever, is also the owner of Fair & Lovely, which perpetuates a light-skinned beauty standard, and Axe Body Spray that is responsible for ads like the following:

Certain videos from the Real Beauty campaign, like the one below, have also sparked controversy.

Some argue that instead of supporting the women this video is targeting, it instead forces them to self-evaluate and judge their own beauty. Krashinsky, S (2009) explains the issue:

‘Is asking women to subject themselves to public physical evaluation really the best exercise for a brand built on promoting self-esteem?

“It puts it all on women: We should just shape up and increase our self-esteem, as if it were that easy,” said Jean Kilbourne, the creator of the documentary film series Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women. “It so trivializes the extraordinary pressure there is on women to conform to a certain ideal – and the awful contempt that lies in wait for us when we fail.”’

While this campaign definitely has its limitations, I think its most positive result is the discussion that it has inspired. While its refreshing to see beauty advertisers stray from the monotonous use of one type of body, ultimately it is this discussion that will help us understand and (hopefully) improve the relationship between body image and the media.

Krashinsky, S 2009, ‘Dove’s beauty campaign “has turned on the women it claims to champion”‘,  Globe and Mail, 9 April, viewed 22 August 2015, <http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/marketing/doves-beauty-campaign-has-turned-on-the-women-it-claims-to-champion/article23869798/&gt;

Celebre, A & Waggoner Denton A 2014, ‘The good, the bad and the ugly of the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty’, The Inquisitive Mind, viewed 19 August 2015, <http://www.in-mind.org/article/the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-of-the-dove-campaign-for-real-beauty&gt;

Doveunitedstates 2015, Dove Choose Beautiful: Women all over the world make a choice, (online video), April 7, Youtube, viewed 19 August 2015, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7DdM-4siaQw&gt;

Challenging Racial Stereotypes with Blackface?

Is there ever a good time to use blackface? My initial reaction to that question would be an outright, “No. Never.” Which was why I was surprised when I found the work by Indigenous Australian Bindi Cole entitled Not Really Aboriginal (2008). In a series of photographs Cole depicts several Indigenous family members with faces painted in black minstrel paint and traditional headbands around their heads. Cole states her intentions with this collection in a blog post:

“The first being that when I identified as Aboriginal, people would often respond by saying, but you’re not really Aboriginal.  This was because I don’t fit the stereotype of what Aboriginal is ie. living in a remote community, very dark skinned and suffering from dysfunction.  However, my grandmother always taught me to identify as Aboriginal and to be proud of the heritage I shared with her.”

In her artwork she also comments on many people’s assumption that she, along with many other Indigenous Australians, only chose to identify as Aboriginal in order to reap the amazing so-called “benefits” that came along with the identity.

“Wathaurung Mob” – Not Really Aboriginal by Bindi Cole 2008

This artwork was hugely important in creating discussion about what it means to be Aboriginal and addressing stereotypes. In 1981 a ‘Report on a Review of the Administration of the Working Definition of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders’ proposed that the definition of an Aboriginal or Torres Straight Islander is a person :

  • “Of Aboriginal or Torres Straight Islander descent
  • who identifies as an Aboriginal or Torres Straight Islander AND
  • is accepted as such by the community in which he/she lives.”

In no way does this definition mention skin colour, living arrangements or financial situations and yet still these ideas of the “poor, country Aboriginal” is constantly perpetuated in our media. Which is why artworks like Not Really Aboriginal are important, if not imperative.

Which brings me back to my question on blackface, and whether it was appropriate in its use by Cole. When it comes down to it, I don’t think this could be classified as blackface. Yes, these people are painted with minstrel paint, but the intention is not to mock or make a fool of. Instead it is subverting and reclaiming what once was (and arguably still is) a prominent tool of oppression in order to make a statement about othering in Australia. Not only this but the added confrontation of what in normal circumstances would be considered heinous causes the viewer to reflect further into the issue.

References:

Khan, J, Harvey, J L & Cole, B 2008, Not Really Aboriginal, Centre for Contemporary Photography, viewed 12 August 2015, http://www.ccp.org.au/docs/catalogues/BindiCole.pdf

Cole, B 2011, Not Really Aboriginal…, Bindi Cole Chocka, weblog, October 26, viewed 12 August 2015, http://bindicole.blogspot.com.au/2011/10/not-really-aboriginal.html

Watson, B 2013, ‘Facing up to the Stereotypes’, The Australian, November 16, viewed 12 August 2015, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/facing-up-to-the-stereotypes/story-fn9n8gph-1226759272154

Creative Spirits 2015, Aboriginal Identity: Who is ‘Aboriginal’?, Creative Spirits, viewed 12 August 2015, http://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/people/aboriginal-identity-who-is-aboriginal#top

Cole, B 2008, Wathaurung Mob, photograph, Centre of Contemporary Photography, viewed 12 August 2015, http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-z0krpZUZ5j8/Tqc8DEPeKVI/AAAAAAAAAM4/pXEykNMCakk/s1600/Wathaurung+Mob.jpg

Sex Work and Networks

Above is a video on my thoughts on this week’s topic of the Network Society Paradigm in DIGC202. I’ve tried to stay away from my opinion on whether sex work should or shouldn’t be illegal in real life or online. I’m focussing more on the issues of creating virtual law for centralised and decentralised systems. I wish I could have gone into more depth but I’m limited with the word count. Let me know your thoughts down in the comments so we can look further into this topic!

Fears of the Telegraph: Then and Now

meme

In the case that you’re a rookie and can’t read morse code, the above meme translates to: “Telegraph news too fast you say? Tell me more.” This meme is in response to The New York Times’ comment on the effect the telegraph had on news quality. The excerpt from an 1858 article, which was seen in this week’s lecture, claimed that the capability of the telegraph to share information instantaneously was in some ways causing news to become trivial and of lesser quality. It stated that perhaps it was becoming

“too fast for the truth.”

It was these ideas and fears of instant communication that inspired this meme, as looking back in retrospect these fears could be seen as almost silly. With the sheer amount of instant communication that exists today it is clear to say that the “idea of now” was nothing to fear. However, after reflecting further on the New York Times’ fears of 1858, I came to the realisation that perhaps we still have similar fears, and that perhaps we haven’t advanced as much as we thought. Thinking about it, I often see the criticisms of breaking news and commenting on how the need for instant coverage can often lead to compromising accurate information. So before we follow Willy Wonka’s condescending lead, perhaps we should acknowledge that the New York Times’ comments could have some merit. The alternative is to admit that we are just as silly as they were back in 1858.