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“I feel your pain”: Cosmopolitan charity and the public fashioning of the celebrity soul



Offering support for global charities has become practically part of the contemporary celebrity job description and a hallmark of the established star. Locating the expansion of this phenomenon within the post-Fordist cultural turn, this paper explores how public displays of support for “the afflicted” can be a way for celebrities to appear to raise their profile above the zone of the crudely commercial into the sanctified, quasi-religious realm of altruism and charity, whilst revealing or constructing an added dimension of personality: of compassion and caring. The paper suggests that investigating the communicative cultural flows circulating between the celebrity, their impoverished “Others” and the non-destitute, non-celebrity “ordinary” subject can tell us something both about how such power relationships are maintained and how the possibilities of change to global injustices are imagined or disavowed. To theorise these interconnections, the paper links together conceptions of the social power of celebrity with debates around cosmopolitanism, work on the mediation of distant suffering and Nietzsche's conception of “the soul”.
‘‘I feel your pain’’: cosmopolitan charity and the public fashioning of the
celebrity soul
Jo Littler*
Media and Cultural Studies, Middlesex University, London, UK
(Received 1 November 2007; final version received 5 January 2008)
Offering support for global charities has become practically part of the
contemporary celebrity job description and a hallmark of the established star.
Locating the expansion of this phenomenon within the post-Fordist cultural turn,
this paper explores how public displays of support for ‘‘the afflicted’’ can be a way
for celebrities to appear to raise their profile above the zone of the crudely
commercial into the sanctified, quasi-religious realm of altruism and charity,
whilst revealing or constructing an added dimension of personality: of compas-
sion and caring. The paper suggests that investigating the communicative cultural
flows circulating between the celebrity, their impoverished ‘‘Others’’ and the non-
destitute, non-celebrity ‘ordinary’’ subject can tell us something both about how
such power relationships are maintained and how the possibilities of change to
global injustices are imagined or disavowed. To theorise these interconnections,
the paper links together conceptions of the social power of celebrity with debates
around cosmopolitanism, work on the mediation of distant suffering and
Nietzsche’s conception of ‘‘the soul’’.
Keywords: celebrity; charity; intimacy; cosmpolitanism; celebrity soul
If a wild-child role in Girl, Interrupted seemed just the right outlet for Jolie in her
twenties, a project like A Mighty Heart, about geopolitics and real love, seems perfect
for her now. Along with her far-reaching humanitarian work, Jolie, 32, has her own real
love (perhaps you’ve heard), Brad Pitt, who she met while making Mr & Mrs Smith in
2005. ‘‘I wasnt looking,’’ Jolie says. ‘‘I was happy having lovers and being a single
mom’’ (to Maddox, who she’d adopted in March 2002 from a Cambodian orphanage
with second husband, Billy Bob Thornton). ‘‘The last thing I was looking for was
somebody to have a relationship with.’’
Now, it’s Jolie and Pitt, together, visiting sites of deprivation around the globe touring
earthquake-devastated Pakistan in 2005, spending Christmas with Columbian refugees
in Costa Rica last December trying to marshal resources for desperate families as part
of her work as the Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner
for Refugees. There is also the Jolie-Pitt foundation, through which they donated
£500,000 in May to relief efforts in Darfur. (Connelly 2007, 128131)
ISSN 1035-0330 print/1470-1219 online
# 2008 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/10350330802002416
Social Semiotics
Vol. 18, No. 2, June 2008, 237251
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The seven-page spread in the October 2007 UK issue of womens magazine Marie
Claire, from which the above quote is taken, opens with a close-up of Angelina Jolie’s
face looking at us, life size and in glossy colour. It is a look of quasi-flirtatious
intimacy, one you might give those you want to be close to you which, in Jolie’s
case, is us. The confessional and intimate nature of the interview with the Hollywood
actress is emphasised by the article’s title, ‘Angelina from the heart’’. Through look
and language, the magazine is promising that the distance between us and the star
will shrink through sheer emotional access. It claims that the distance between us and
the superstar can be foreshortened through the magazine’s mediation of confessional
celebrity intimacy.
What partly signifies Angelina Jolie’s ‘‘heartfelt’’ intimacy in this article,
alongside her attitude to her career and feelings for her partner, is her relationship
to her humanitarian and charity work, or to what might be called ‘celebrity do-
gooding’’. The roles of charity-giver and humanitarian are not just presented as
separate or add-on roles, but as profoundly interwoven with the roles of mother,
carer, actress and celebrity, as imbricated into the story of her life. Humanitarian acts
are also associated with a new maturity of character, and her investment in them is
made part of her story of extremes: of her ‘‘journey so far’’ from ‘Hollywood
hellraiser to humanitarian aid worker and doting mother of four’’. ‘‘Do-gooding’’
becomes both a facet of her image and one of a range of Angelina Jolie’s ‘‘real-life
roles’’ that can be discussed. The specific type of charity and humanitarian work is
significant here too. Its transnationalism indicates a globalised sensibility and a
cosmopolitan caring, an effect augmented by Jolie’s high-profile Benetton-style
adoption of a range of differently shaded children from a variety of countries. And
her engagement with politically sensitive subjects such as refugees, environmentalism
and Darfur marks her as a very modern breed of American liberal.
Jolie is not the only celebrity to talk about charity in this issue of Marie Claire,a
magazine well known for its glossy liberal cosmopolitanism and for its mixture of
high-end fashion and beauty alongside educational articles about global female
empowerment and ‘‘other’’ cultures (see Gough-Yates 2003, 118131). The October
issue of the magazine also features an article about actress Scarlett Johanssen’s trip
with the charity Oxfam to India and Sri Lanka (Johanssen can also be seen, earlier in
the magazine, reclining in an orange mini-dress advertising Louis Vuitton bags). The
Johanssen article is presented as travelogue: a large part is devoted to the actress’s
reactions to seeing Oxfam’s post-tsunami community work with women in Sri Lanka
and educational projects in Indian slums and an equally large part is devoted to
covering how the star ‘‘looks amazing throughout the trip her pale, clear skin
glowing as if lit from within’’ (Garrett 2007, 205).
These examples in themselves indicate something of the different forms of
connection that can exist between celebrity media coverage and charitable causes.
Whereas the Jolie article is an instance in which charity work is but a component of a
narrative about the actress’s ‘‘real’’ and ‘‘intimate’’ life, the Johanssen article is an
example of a celebrity being deployed to promote a specific campaign for a charity
(here, Oxfam) in a place where, arguably, the charity’s activities would otherwise not
feature so prominently (at considerable length in a glossy womens magazine).
Whilst specific to the magazine genre that is Marie Claire, these articles also
gesture towards how offering support for global charities has become both practically
part of the contemporary celebrity job description and a hallmark of the established
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star. For celebrity involvement in charity can be clearly seen across a broad range of
contexts. On the Beckhams’ recent move to the United States, for example, they were
advised by one British newspaper that, if they wanted to be A-listers in Los Angeles,
they should pull back on promoting consumer goods like jeans and sunglasses, and
instead ‘‘try to confine their public appearances to award shows and ‘disease parties’
(charity fundraisers)’’ (Young and McLean 2006). In such terms, public displays of
support for ‘‘the afflicted’’ are a way for celebrities to appear to raise their profile
above the zone of the crudely commercial into the sanctified, quasi-religious realm of
altruism and charity, whilst revealing or constructing an added dimension of
personality: of compassion and caring. Such confessions of caring frequently take
place on a transnational terrain. From star-studded pop concerts aiming to heal the
wounds of global poverty, to the obligatory charity photo-shoot, from the adoption
of ‘deprived’’ African children to the adoption of the role of United Nations
‘‘ambassador’’, contemporary celebrities today use a variety of different routes and
roles and emotions to confess that they do, really, truly and intimately care about
global social injustice.
If such actions are almost obligatory and par for the celebrity course, they are also
routinely and publicly mocked. It is commonplace, as I discuss below, for fun to be
poked towards such ‘‘charidee’’stunts; and such public or media satire acts in part as a
kind of critical recognition of the explicitly implicit promotional role such charity work
provides for the celebrity. Yet despite (or indeed, perhaps because of) the commonplace
nature of such public discourse, there has been relatively little academic exploration of
such confessions of celebrity caring. In this article, I contend that the subject of
cosmopolitan celebrity caring is itself worthy of further exploration. Whilst the subject
might be approached in a number of different ways, this paper attempts to open it up a
little further by considering some of the broader contexts for, and mediated
negotiations with, celebrity confessions and protestations of charitable caring. To do
so, it begins by linking together, in interdisciplinary fashion, theories of the social
power of celebrity (Couldry 2000; Holmes and Redmond 2006; Rojek 2001) with those
of the post-Fordist cultural turn (Hall 1997; Harvey 1989; Slater and Tonkiss 2000) to
provide a context for the perceived exploitations and benefits of celebrity charity. Next
it considers popular negotiations with the subject, and connecting these themes to
emergent work on the mediation of distant suffering (Boltanski 1999; Chouliarki 2006)
and recent debates around cosmopolitanism (Beck 2006; Cheah and Robbins 1998). By
discussing the historical rise of celebrity charity, public media parodies of the
phenomenon and arguments as to its validity and worth, the paper attempts to
explore what we might term as the public fashioning of the globalised ‘‘celebrity soul’’.
The historical rise of celebrity charity
‘‘It is true that the total amount raised by Live Aid and Band Aid was less than five per
cent of the government overseas aid budget for that year,’’ said Eamonn Salt.
Everyone stared at him, taking it all in.
‘‘But Live Aid did a lot of good, didn’t it?’’ said Julian, looking hurt.
‘‘Yeah,’’ said Dave Rufford expansively.
‘‘Of course, Live Aid was a tremendous help,’’ said Edwina Roper. ‘‘It completely
changed the face of giving. It was tremendous fun. It opened up a new sector of young
donors which didn’t exist before. It did tremendous things for all the agencies.’’
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‘‘Yeah. It was like this rebellion. We were telling the Tories, ‘‘Look, cunts, we’re not ‘avin
this,’’ said Dave.
‘‘Oh yes, it had its moment.’’ Corinna was yawning through her nose, ‘‘but the moment
has passed. Now every two-bit model in the business is gushing around the world doing
photo-shoots with the starving. It’s gross.’’ (Fielding 1994)
Whilst they have a long history (one often-cited example being Audrey Hepburns
work for UNICEF), celebrity involvements with charitable and ‘‘humanitarian’’
causes have become more widespread over the past two decades in the West. Helen
Fielding’s (pre-Bridget Jones) novel Cause Celeb dramatises this moment of
expansion and transition. As one of its characters tells the heroine, ‘‘Celebrities
have been promoting causes since the First World War, but you watch: this will
become huge. In five year’s time no cause will be complete without an accompanying
star to promote it’’ (Fielding 1994, 29). The novel, whose dramatic tension hinges on
the discrepancies between life in famine-strewn areas of Africa and champagne-
strewn zones of celebrity London, voices a number of sentiments about celebrity and
charity that have a much wider currency as can be seen in the scene above, in which
celebrities debate the purpose and merit of working for charitable causes. Here we
have the concept that celebrity do-gooding generates a lot of hype and PR but is
relatively insignificant in relation to international and governmental policy. We have
the idea that celebrity campaigns have the potential to change public discourse on
humanitarian issues; that they have the capacity to refresh the parts of the body
politic that ‘‘conventional’’ politics simply cannot reach. And we have the sense that
celebrity charity endorsements have become only too common: that they are already
so widespread and conventional in their use as to undercut their promotional and
social potential.
The expansion of celebrity charity involvement in the 1990s can partly be
understood in terms of both the changing natures of the domain of celebrity culture
and of those happening to the ‘‘third’’ (or voluntary, or charity) sector. From the
1980s in particular, the third sector began to expend much more time, money and
energy on marketing and branding (Kotler and Andreasan 1991). This often
involved, for non-governmental organisations and charities, the outsourcing of
brand identity and marketing campaigns to separate agencies, a rising general
interest in more ‘‘sophisticated’’ and calibrated marketing techniques, and an
engagement with the field that came to be known as ‘‘social marketing’’. It was
possible to view social marketing in a variety of ways as the voluntary sector at last
waking up to the need to more effectively communicate and promote its agendas, as
the opportunistic expansion of business marketing into colonising new areas, or
some third-way marriage of the two.
Whichever interpretation, as the expanding range of books on the subject made
clear (Bruce 2005; Landry et al. 1985; Sergeant 1999), the engagement with
marketing, branding and PR techniques in order to sell social causes had become,
for this sector, a seriously significant practice, augmented in the United Kingdom by
the shake-up of charity legislation that made charities more competitive (see Moor
2007, 7782). It is against this backdrop of the expansion of marketing practice in
the voluntary and third sector that the expanding and more divergent use of
celebrity involvement in charity can, in one important way, be understood.
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From another angle, the shifting sands of celebrity culture have also contributed
to shaping the contemporary character of celebrity charity involvement. The
expansion of celebrity-based media entertainment in the 1990s, in particular through
forms such as celebrity reality television (Andrejevic 2004; Biressi and Nunn 2005)
and the growth in celebrity-oriented magazines (Feasey 2006; Holmes 2005),
provided more outlets for the public fashioning of stars and wannabe stars. For
the celebrity, a close association with charity acts, in marketing terms, as a kind of
‘‘brand extension’’. As Grant McCracken says of celebrity endorsements more
generally, they work through a process of ‘‘image meaning transfer’’ (McCracken
1983, 310321), through which the brand is associated with the attributes of the
celebrity, and vice versa. Charity endorsement can clearly emphasise facets of a
celebrity’s persona or character: Scarlett Johanssen’s image as an empowered actress
is strengthened by being seen to be involved with global feminism, and Angelina
Jolie’s chosen charities imbue her with a contemporary kind of transnational concern
(their topical and mildly controversial nature adding to her image of a mainstream
actress with a risk-taking edge). In addition, via charity endorsements, celebrities get
wider exposure through an array of different media platforms, as celebrity charity
involvement usually generates ‘‘through-the-line’’ forms of promotion (i.e. associated
media coverage via incremental rather than paid-for promotion; see Brierley 1995),
such as the feature article about Scarlett Johanssen in India. Put crudely, then, if the
celebrity is a brand that requires wide exposure through a number of different media
in order to maintain its profile and topical currency, then one extremely cost-effective
way is to provide endorsements for a humanitarian cause.
Both of these themes the expansion of social marketing and the expansion of
the public fashioning of celebrities can clearly be viewed in the context of post-
Fordism and the ‘‘cultural turn’’. The widening disparities between rich and poor;
the expanding power of corporations in relation to that of the public sector; the
increasingly marketing-led agendas of all organisations; and the emphasis on selling
through synergistic communication strategies characteristic of the post-Fordist
economies and the ‘‘cultural turn’’ (Hesmondhalgh 2007; Hall 1997; Harvey 1989;
Slater and Tonkiss 2000) all clearly create a very fertile climate for celebrity charity
endorsement. An understanding of the emphasis on selling through cultural forms
and the ‘‘need’’ for celebrities to articulate their intimate emotions might also be
thought with reference to Eva Illouz’s recent suggestive twist on theories of the
cultural turn: that, throughout the twentieth century, ‘communication’’ itself
became (in Foucault’s terms) a new ‘‘episteme’’, a shift indicated by such factors
as the rise in the perceived importance of emotional literacy and the increasing
primacy given to ‘corporate communications’’ (Illouz 2007, 18). Together, these
contexts can be used as explanatory frameworks against which the rise of celebrity
charity involvement can be understood.
For and against
What are the problems and possibilities of the fruits of this alliance between charity
and celebrity? The plus points are perhaps easiest to see, as these tend to be loudly
championed. Perhaps the most obvious is that celebrity involvement can raise the
profile of a campaign, bringing extra media coverage and attracting new audiences.
The involvement of a rash of celebrities in the Make Poverty History campaign in
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2005 (a coalition launched to change global trade rules, reduce the debt of so-called
‘‘developing’’ countries and thereby narrow the gap between global rich and poor),
such as Chris Martin, Minnie Driver, Jamelia, Colin Firth, Bono and Bob Geldof,
was widely perceived to have helped galvanise the campaign’s popularity and
attracted wider audiences to the issue. Similar arguments were made about and used
as a rationale for Live Aid, Live Earth and Band Aid.
For smaller campaigns, the involvement of a single celebrity can work to ensure
that they do not become so insular that they simply preach to the converted, or
participate in a narrow form of what Laclau and Mouffe term ‘‘enclave politics’’
(Laclau and Mouffe 1985). Celebrity involvement can also work by ‘‘demystifying
campaign issues, raising funds by encouraging sponsorship and contributions,
mobilising public opinion and involvement, contributing to the repositioning an
organisation in the public’s perception, [and] reinvigorating a long running
campaign’’, in the words of Mediatrust, a UK organisation that works on
communication skills for the third sector (Mediatrust 2007).
In these terms, the marriage between celebrity and charity is a happy one. The
problems with celebrity charity are, however, less commonly discussed at length, and
so it is worth spending some time excavating them in a little more detail. One key
problem is the inequality of financial benefit. Such alliances do not necessarily result,
relatively speaking, in significantly more money for the needy beneficiaries,
particularly in contrast to the money gained by celebrities and corporations, and
concerns are sometimes raised that the amount of charity budget devoted to
celebrity-related promotions siphons off money from the work of aid. This problem
of the inequality of financial benefit is perhaps particularly apparent in cause-related
marketing, a strategy through which corporate brand identities link with non-profit
organisations for ‘‘good causes’’ on a particular campaign and often to produce a
specific product. One example here (others include the pink Sony Walkmans
marketed in aid of Breast Cancer Research, or the Tesco ‘‘Books for Schools’’
campaign) is Product RED, an initiative set up by U2’s Bono and businessman
Bobby Shriver, through which companies such as Armani, Apple, the GAP and
American Express produce ‘‘red’’ versions of their wares from which a proportion of
the sale is donated to The Global Fund, a charity to combat AIDS in Africa. The
American Express RED card campaign, to take one subset of the campaign, is
promoted by supermodels Elle McPherson and Gisele Bundchen (as well as Bono).
One of the 30 corporations that is used to comprise the Dow Jones Industrial
Average, American Express is ranked by Interbrand as the 14th most valuable brand
in the world (and by business magazine Fortune as the 174th largest corporation).
Against this, its 1% donation through Product RED looks particularly paltry given
the amount of added value it reaps through related kudos and media publicity.
Indeed, it could be said that both American Express and its associated celebrity
endorsers gain out of all proportion through brand association to what they ‘‘give
Second, celebrity charity endorsement can also impact on agenda-setting. For
instance, in 2005 the Hollywood actress Sharon Stone attended the World Economic
Forum at Davos and, on hearing the Tanzanian president explain how people were
dying from malaria because they lacked basic amenities, stood up and pledged
$10,000 and then challenged business leaders in the room to match her. Very quickly
within 10 minutes $1 million had been pledged; but only a minority of the pledges
242 J. Littler
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were honoured, and the United Nations stepped in to make up the shortfall. As
many asked at the time: is Sharon Stone really the person to decide what the United
Nations should be spending its money on? (Weber 2006; Sala-i-Martin 2006). The
problem here is that the power of celebrity interest can pull aid towards a particular
cause that appeals to them and away from others. This is similar to the problems with
cause-related marketing, or corporate involvement in charity campaigns; as Inger
Stole puts it, causes are selected in terms of how they will provide added value to the
brand, which means that non-profit causes that do not appeal to the corporations
target market ‘‘are ignored, even if they do vital work, while groups that provide
good marketing vehicles receive a disproportional amount of interest’’ (Stole 2006).
Celebrity and corporate cleaving to areas that are deemed to be ‘‘safe’’ topics for
their fanbase or consumer constituencies mean that crucial issues are not tackled
early enough, and their aid usually tends to focus on symptoms rather than core
problems, providing, for example, tools for illiteracy rather than addressing the
problem of core funding in schools or economic inequality (Stole 2006; see also
Ambramson 2007).
Third, celebrity charity can become part of the problem rather than the solution
* or can elide the ways in which they are part of the problem in the first place. For
instance, many aid workers argued at the end of 2005 that celebrities had hijacked the
Make Poverty History campaign. Bob Geldof, for example, glowingly praised the
work of the UK’s New Labour Government at the G8 summit in July (giving Blair
‘‘10 out of 10’’ on debt relief progress). But the non-governmental organisation the
World Development Movement argued that, as the UK Government’s target was
reached by other countries some time ago, and it had only brought its level of
spending back to what it was in the 1960s, such celebrity approval actively worked to
obscure how little progress had been made. As spokesman Dave Timms put it, ‘‘Bob
Geldofs comments after the G8 were very unhelpful, because they made people
think everything had been achieved’’ (Frith 2005). The keenness of celebrities to
make it appear that their campaign has worked to no small degree so that they can
reap the benefits of ‘‘success’’ can backfire for the cause.
Even more fundamentally, charity causes are often about, or the product of,
grinding poverty, whereas celebrities are the embodiments of personalised wealth: a
contradiction that makes this relationship, to say the least, problematic. One
particularly graphic example here was the outcry by senior UNICEF staff in South
Asia over the organisations involvement in celebrity campaigns and corporate tie-
ins. In 2006, UNICEF launched an ‘‘exclusive’’ Christmas gift collection together
with Gucci, an initiative for which Hollywood actress Jennifer Connelly supplied the
‘‘face’’. Furious UNICEF staff in Pakistan and India pointed out that the owners of
Gucci have strong links with sweatshops in Mumbai and Karachi. The anti-
sweatshop pressure group Look Behind the Label argued that, therefore, the
association between UNICEF and Gucci was ‘‘like a soldier shooting someone,
then giving them a bandage and taking credit for their survival’’ (see McDougall
2006). UNICEF’s New Delhi employees took this opportunity to argue that such
celebrity and corporate involvement was diverting their organisation from the job in
hand, damaging UNICEF’s integrity, as well as re-shaping the discursive meaning
and public understanding of the organisation and its work. As they put it:
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[i]t’s bad enough having to accommodate celebrities and their entourage in the
aftermath of every major humanitarian disaster. But when most people think of the
UN now they think of Angelina Jolie on a crusade, not the work that goes on in the field
after humanitarian disasters or on a long-term preventative level. Celebrity is at the
heart of every UNICEF campaign these days and the association is being sold
incredibly cheaply. (McDougall 2006, 227)
Interestingly, the association between celebrity and corporate endorsement is here
read as of a piece: both are sites of fabulous wealth that appear to ‘‘aid’’
humanitarian and charitable work, but by using such activity and working to accrue
more power for their own interests they are understood as distorting the agenda
towards their own ends.
Doing it for themselves
However, the idea that celebrities might be involved in charity causes as a means of
strengthening their own image and furthering their own careers is in many ways
common knowledge. ‘‘Smashie and Nicey’’, for instance, Paul Whitehouse and
Harry Enfield’s 1990s comic parody of washed-up Radio 1 DJs, featured the bland
and self-important stars constantly dropping their ‘‘many works of charidee’’ into
conversation while loudly protesting that they ‘‘don’t like to talk about it’’ (BBC
1994). The sketch lampooned the double standard, or hypocrisy, around celebrity
charity: that it is presented as a selfless, modest act but is obviously being used to
help the celebrity persona and, in Smashie and Nicey’s case, is part of their wider
continual attempt to boost their flagging careers. In this case, however, it is clearly an
unsuccessful attempt: in one sketch, Nicey begs the BBC to be allowed to work on
any show or station, even the fictitious ‘‘digital Radio 8’’.
In some ways, however
and this of course fits well with the joke Enfield and Whitehouse’s characters look
like a version of celebrity charity involvement from an earlier era. For Smashie and
Nicey do not talk about what type of charity it is, or how it relates to their personal
lives to any significant degree. They do not do the charity celebrity confessional in
the same intricately detailed way as celebrities like Angelina Jolie.
What was being lampooned by the Smashie and Nicey sketch was the
performance of false modesty and the unspoken motives of celebrity in conducting
charity work. More recently, the specificities of what celebrities gain, and the
intertwined promotional complex that celebrity charity is part of, has also become
roundly mocked.
The second series of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s BBC
sitcom Extras, for example, featured a cameo appearance by Chris Martin from the
band Coldplay playing himself. (Outside the programme, Martin has been involved
with a wide variety of charities, including War on Want, Amnesty, Oxfam and War
) In the episode, Martin breezes onto the set of a charity advert, without
having a clue what particular charity it is for:
Chris Martin: What is it today?
TV producer: It’s for people in the Third World who don’t have clean drinking water.
Chris Martin: This screen: are you going to put anything on it?
Producer: We don’t know yet.
Chris Martin: Because we have an album coming out. Greatest Hits. You could just
put a picture of the album cover on it. Simple.
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Producer: I think if we show anything we’ll show pictures of people dying because
of a lack of clean water.
Chris Martin: Could they be holding the album? (BBC 2006, episode 4)
Clearly, the joke here revolves around Martin’s inappropriate self-absorption and
above all his use of any available promotional medium to increase the visibility of
himself as celebrity and the album he is selling. This joke is extended throughout his
cameo appearance. As the scene continues, he opens his jacket to reveal a Coldplay:
Greatest Hits t-shirt. Sizing up charity ad co-star Andy Millman as a mid-range
celebrity from a television sitcom with five million or so viewers, Martin announces
off-hand that he could do a star turn on the show, to the glee of the producer and the
incredulity of Millman (who cannot see how on earth Chris Martin could appear on
a sitcom set in Wigan about factory work). Extras presents Chris Martin the
celebrity as a single-minded promotional machine, using any available source to
extend himself in the public eye and imagination; and a star for whom charity is just
another interchangeable springboard or lever (and is not of any particular interest or
importance other than that). The scene plays on this notion of celebrity self-
promotion’s relationship to an insular narcissism by showing Martin as almost
autistically unworldly in his consciousness of anything outside the mechanics of self-
promotion: ‘‘can we get on with this? I’ve got AIDS and Alzheimers and landmines
this afternoon and I wanna get back to Deal or No Deal. Plus Gwyneth’s making
Like The Office, which might be thought of as dramatising the potential failure of
post-Fordist discourses of business empowerment through the sheer embarrassing
awfulness of David Brent (Gilroy 2004, 150; Couldry and Littler 2008), Extras holds
up another seminal contemporary discourse celebrity and finds it to be both
ludicrous and problematic. It hones in on the spaces where celebrity cultures, in the
broadest sense of the term (for they target both achieved and wannabe celebrity), can
been seen not as emancipatory cultures to aspire to, but rather as, up close,
distinctively unglamorous and fairly pathetic.
By appearing in Extras as himself, in performing Gervais and Merchant’s
pastiche of his celebrity self and his celebrity involvement in charity, Chris Martin
also demonstrates his reflexivity and his self-depreciating sense of humour. From
David Bowie to Orlando Bloom to Keith Chegwin, celebrities have keenly signed up
to appear on this show that more often than not pokes fun at their own image and
zones in on their weak spots. As Adrienne Lai argues (whilst discussing how Winona
Ryder mined her ‘‘flaws’’ by becoming involved in fashion adverts that made jokes
about her shoplifting), celebrities’ openness and willingness to appear vulnerable can
be interpreted as honesty or bravery. The positive effects of gaining the public’s
sympathy and estimation may well more than compensate for the negative effects of an
embarrassing or unattractive depiction [...] along with the dictum ‘‘there is no such
thing as bad publicity’’. (Lai 2006, 225)
Whilst Extras undeniably uses and participates in celebrity cultures, it is noteworthy
for the extent to which it critiques these cultures from a number of different angles.
The programme dwells on the gaps between hot-shot celebrities and ‘‘unknowns’’,
and in doing so hones in on the boundaries and faultlines of what Nick Couldry has
called ‘‘the place of media power’’ (Couldry 2000). In many respects, the celebrity
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willingness to engage in self-depreciation that it depicts and produces involves a
return to the role of ‘‘celebrity modesty’’ so beloved of Smashie and Nicey. But it is
also a different kind of critique in that it details the sheer scale of celebrity charity
activity (represented by Martin flitting between causes) and in that it more
astringently satirises the tighter weave of cross-promotional synergies being
fashioned than in the past. The satire is more cutting, and so the degree to which
the celebrity involves themselves entails both greater ‘debasements’’ and greater
rewards for being a good sport. In other words: the stakes have become higher. This
zone of celebrity do-gooding is heightened; it becomes a faultline, an area drawn to
both in terms of increased activity within it and commentary about it. Even to those
who disparage it, it matters.
Zones of contestation and the celebrity soul
As both Extras and the Marie Claire interviews also indicate, conversations or
discourses about celebrity charity are important because they deal with some of the
most harshly discrepant zones of global power and tend to express dominant
currencies of thought about such global inequalities and about how they are and
might be reproduced and combated. Three key figures are often present in discussion
around this issue: the celebrity (mainly belonging to the global West/ North); their
impoverished Others (often belonging to either ‘‘the rest’’ of the world, or to the
zones Manuel Castells terms ‘‘fourth worlds’’); and the ‘‘neutral’’ position of
the non-destitute, non-celebrity ‘‘ordinary’’ subject (Castells 1998, 164165). The
communicative cultural flows circulating between them tell us something of how
these relationships of power are maintained and how the possibilities of change to
global injustices are both imagined and disavowed.
In a global context, the rise of the phenomenon of celebrity charity can be
situated in a broader, and predominantly Western, neoliberal culture of individua-
lisation (Bauman 2000; Beck and Beck-Gernsheim 2001). The ‘‘hyperindividualism’’
of celebrity in general, as a number of commentators have made clear, is structurally
antithetical to democracy (Dyer 1998, 2004; Gilbert 2004), and celebrity charity’s
positioning as a potential solution to social inequalities tends to both exacerbate and
highlight this division. For example, in an extremely insightful article comparing
Mother Theresa and Princess Diana (one of the few pieces of existing critical
academic work to discuss celebrity and charity) Arvind Rajagopal notes that Diana’s
successful public profile was enabled by the context of an entrepreneurial neoliberal
culture in which the individual was increasingly being positioned as the solution to
social ills whilst state welfare was being scaled back. Fascinatingly, he argues that
Mother Theresa never achieved anything like the levels of celebrity in India that she
did in Europe and the USA, and that she mainly functioned as a neo-colonial figure
of compassion and caring for the West: as an exported model of individualised
solutions to social problems, as a figure through which India could be patronised and
imperial dynamics negated (Rajagopal 1999, 126141). Such examples highlight
celebrity charity’s participation in an economy of hyperindividualised solutions to
broader social and cultural problems. Interestingly, Rajagopal’s argument also raises
the question of how these celebrity positions are gendered. For the longstanding
historical associations between femininity, empathy and emotions is clearly
mobilised in Angelina Jolie’s, Mother Theresa’s and Princess Dianas performances
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of benevolence, and shapes the force and impact of their confessions of caring. If
such an association between femininity, celebrity and compassion can also work to
be pitted against a more coercive, masculine and public conception of state power, as
Rajagopal points out (1999, 127), it can also be used to pillory female stars for
intervening in global affairs or lead them to not be taken as seriously as male
celebrities (as with the opprobrium heaped on Geri Halliwell for her charity work,
for example).
At the same time as it heightens processes of neo-liberal individualisation,
however, celebrity do-gooding is a response to suffering, and this should not be
underestimated. Its affective resonance can be strong and palpable. As Sean
Redmond has discussed, the damaged star or celebrity often mirrors or resonates
with the socially and culturally impoverished, and so different ends of the equation
of the anomie of late capitalism can create stories that end up relating to one another
(Redmond 2006, 41). Similarly, the empathetic suffering performed by the celebrity
star who ‘feels the pain’’ of the person in need can spread this feeling with any
number of consequences, from sarcasm to the jolt that makes someone engage more
thoroughly with the possibilities for justice. But as Luc Boltanski puts it, to create
the ground for a more progressive cosmopolitanism, media forms need to show
people ‘‘not only in the passivity of suffering, but also in the action they take to
confront and escape it’’ (Boltanski 1999, 190).
In Distant Suffering, drawing on and extending theories developed by Hannah
Arendt, Boltanski suggests that we live in a culture that is primarily dominated by a
politics of pity rather than a politics of justice. Boltanski is keen not to dismiss the
politics of pity entirely, as there are strands of it he thinks may act as potential
conduits for social change, and because a politics of pity is better than ignoring
suffering (Boltanski 1999, 180181), but he is nonetheless fairly elegantly scathing of
its historical ineffectivity. For Boltanski, a politics of pity has characterised
European culture since the time of the French Revolution, building on strains of
thought forged in the Enlightenment. A politics of pity, Boltanski writes, is guided by
the sense that inequalities are primarily about luck, and its responses are predicated
on the urgency of action, with questions of social justice primarily being left outside
of the equation (Boltanski 1999).
This idea of charity being primarily about luck and fortune, rather than social
politics and justice, is a very useful one. Boltanski is not discussing celebrities, but
rather the wider sites of cultural response to ‘‘distant suffering’’. But if we apply his
analysis to celebrity charity it resonates as a familiar register. Pity is often used as a
discursive mode to mediate between celebrity and suffering: the extremities involved
foreground the starkness of the opposition between fabulous celebrity wealth and
grinding poverty. The fantasy that these things are not connected, sustained by the
wish not to have to wish away privilege, often works through the register of pity
rather than engagement with political questions of cause, effect and social justice.
However, some forms of recent celebrity involvement in charity might seem to
question the idea that a politics of pity is predominant. The language of justice is
very much to the fore of campaigns such as Make Poverty History, for example (just
as it was with Live Aid), where passionate demands to change the system and a
recurrence of the word ‘‘justice’’ is unmistakable. Philip Drake and Michael Higgins
point out in their analysis of Bono’s celebrity politics that justice is often
foregrounded in his speeches about changing the system (Drake and Higgins 2006,
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92); and, to return to the Marie Claire interview with Angelina Jolie, the article
includes a report that she ‘can’t hide her annoyance’’ when talking about those in
charge of the clean-up in New Orleans and argues that ‘‘big decisions arent being
made on a higher level’’ (Connelly 2007, 131).
But as Priyamvada Gopal points out in her insightful article on Make Poverty
History, narratives of ‘‘justice’’ can be at one and the same time both a constructive
step and destructively shallow in their use. (Notably, this also chimes with the
openness of Boltanski’s analysis of the twisted contortions of justice and pity in
contemporary culture.) As Gopal argues, whilst Make Poverty History:
brought tens of thousands of young people to at least a minimal awareness of ‘‘Third
World debt’’ and so-called free trade as issues [ ...] there is also no doubt that the very
success of th[e] mobilization has relied on a discursive enactment of concern
accompanied by a insistent and comforting disavowal of material implication. (Gopal
2006, 97)
Make Poverty History utilised the myth of economic growth as a solution to grinding
poverty, she writes, which was imagined as being able to be accessed once a few
reforms were out of the way. In doing so, the campaign often, although not
uniformly, deployed a discourse of corporate globalisation and neoimperalism
(Gopal 2006, 9197).
We might extend and draw some conclusions from these points by understanding
celebrity confessions of caring, as manifest through media articles about charity
work or interviews in which the star discloses how they really care deeply for global
injustice, with recourse to Nietzsche’s conception of the soul. For Nietzsche, ‘‘the
soul’’ was a dogma, a means by which the weak deceive themselves into power by
turning their deficiencies inwards, and interpreting this as merit (Nietszche 1887, 26).
If we read the aristocracy-loving Nietzsche against the grain of himself, as it were,
the construction of the celebrity as having a caring, compassionate soul might
similarly be read as a means to compensate for and legitimate weakness: a weakness
in a wider system. For whilst the hyperindividualism of celebrity is structurally
antithetical to democracy, then there is also, to an extent, as we have seen in the
pastiche of celebrity caring, widespread understanding of this social weakness. In
these terms, the performance of celebrity soul, or the performance of the
internalisation of social anguish, becomes a necessary part of contemporary
celebrity, acting as an attempt to gesturally redress the insecurities of the system it
is part of. Such a performance can be enacted, as here, in terms of fortune and pity
rather than acting to confront a system of wealth and power they are part of. But it
can also be done, as Gopal shows, in terms that mobilise the language of justice,
which can acknowledge the structural inequalities in global social systems whilst
simultaneously denying the material implications of the wealth of the star and how
they contribute to the spaces where suffering takes place. In either way, the intimacy,
the confession of truly caring, the performance of a celebrity ‘soul’’, attempts to
present itself as plugging the gap.
1. The article also discusses how, ‘‘[r]eflecting the degree to which the personal and political
are, for them, inextricable, Jolie and Pitt purchased a home at yet another site of
248 J. Littler
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unimaginable devastation, New Orleans, where Pitt has been labouring to put his love of
green architecture and construction to good use’’ (Connelly 2007, 131).
2. See, for example,
3. ‘‘The Most Powerful Brands 2006’’, Business Week/Interbrand. http://bwnt.businessweek.
com/brand/2006/ (accessed March 2007).
4. Stole points out that this means causes that might frighten the target market can be
ignored: for example, in the early 1990s, AIDs-related charities were completely ignored
because the link to homosexuality was thought to frighten too many consumers.
5. There is also a good summary of the show on Wikipedia.
Smashie_and_Nicey (accessed November
6. Smashie and Nicey are kind of oppositional blood brothers to another seminal Harry
Enfield character from that time, Loadsamoney! the shell-suit wearing, wads-of-cash
waving beneficiary of Thatcherite deregulation. Loadsamoney! was killed off whilst
presenting Comic Relief with their ‘‘largest cheque of the night’’ a physically enormous
oversized cheque for 10 p.
7. An early example of this is the anarcho-punk band Chumbawumba’s 1986 single Pictures
of Starving Children Sell Records, a pastiche and rejoinder to the collection of pop stars on
Band Aid’s single.
8. See ‘‘Look to the Stars’’ de-
scribes itself as a site that was set up ‘‘to publicize the many wonderful things that
celebrities are doing to help the world. We hope to help charities by inspiring their
celebrity supporters’ fans to follow their heroes’ example’’.
9. The Fairtrade Foundation’s recent shift from featuring different celebrities each month on
the cover of its magazine to featuring Fairtrade farmers is one example of moving in this
direction (Fairtrade Foundation 2007).
10. Boltanski also draws on Charles Taylor to discuss the dominance of contemporary
attempts to present an ‘‘authentic’’ version of the self, which also resonates with
demonstrations of celebrity caring.
Notes on contributor
Jo Littler is Senior Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies at Middlesex University, UK.
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En esta comunicación vamos a presentar una propuesta de Unidad Didáctica desarrollada para el primer curso de ESO, en la que la traducción pedagógica se convierte en una herramienta más en el proceso de enseñanza-aprendizaje de la L2, inglés en nuestro caso. Tras su uso intensivo en el método de Gramática-Traducción y la aparición de las nuevas metodologías, en las que la comunicación paso a ser el eje principal del aprendizaje, la traducción se convirtió en una actividad denostada. Sin embargo, en los últimos años, se aprecia un aumento considerable en la investigación académica sobre el uso de la L1 y de traducción pedagógica en el aula de la L2 en todo tipo de contextos, llegando a la conclusión de que estas son no solo adecuadas sino en muchos casos convenientes. De hecho, uno de los elementos clave en las aulas actuales, la taxonomía de Bloom, sitúa a la traducción en uno de los estadios más altos de complejidad. Tras lo mencionado, pasaremos a explicar la UD, con sus objetivos, metodología y sesiones generales en las que la traducción pedagógica se convierte en una herramienta más que los alumnos pueden utilizar para la adquisición de los conocimientos y desarrollo de competencias recogidos en LOMCE LEY(también en LOM-LOE) y en el currículo andaluz, LEY. Como no pudo ser puesta en práctica en el aula, estudiaremos su adecuación por medio de un análisis DAFO
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