Celebritizing Conflict: How Ben Affleck Sells the Congo to Americans (2016)
From serving as UN ambassadors to appearing as spokespersons for major NGO campaigns, global celebrities have become increasingly important actors in promoting humanitarian causes in Africa. Yet the growing visibility and proliferation of celebrity humanitarianism has been critiqued for legitimating and promoting neoliberal capitalism and global inequality. This article, using emerging literature on celebrities in north-south relations, analyzes the celebrity discourses and practices of professional entertainer Ben Affleck and his engagement in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in order to understand how celebrities intersect with and popularize representations of poverty, conflict, and development in Africa. We conclude that the celebritization of African conflicts in the DRC—as understood from the interventions of Affleck—remain linked to the needs of marketing causes, celebrities, and products, and considerably removed from the voices of Congolese on whose stories these interventions rely. As a result, the constraints of celebrity humanitarianism in an age of media saturation limit the possibilities that individual celebrities might have in engaging in alternative, more complex, and less sound-bite friendly discourses.
Richey, L. A. & Budabin, A. C. (2016). Celebritizing Conflict: How Ben Affleck Sells the Congo to Americans. Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development. University of Pennsylvania Press 7(1): 27-46.
Festive environmentalism: A carnivalesque reading of eco-voluntourism at the Roskilde Festival (2016)
In this chapter we provide a reading of popular forms of engagement in environmentalism that is alternative to familiar interpretations in the literature on ecotourism and voluntourism. In doing so, we endeavor to more fully understand the cultural meanings that are created in festive or celebratory versions of participation in popular environmentalism. We do this by applying the Russian literary philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin’s idea of the carnivalesque to a case study of eco-voluntourism at the Roskilde Festival, an international culture and music festival held each summer in Denmark. This chapter represents a view on what Robbins terms ‘environmental subjects and identities’. This view focuses on a setting outside the geographical, political and historical contexts that are conventionally the subjects of such studies, that is, communities affected by colonial practices of exploitation and/or environmental degradation. This is primarily a place-based study, which applies the Bakhtinian concept chronotope to understand the historically situated cultural context of the Roskilde Festival and its relation to Danish societal norms and forms of public engagement. Methodologically, the chapter is based on participant observation at the Roskilde Festival (henceforth referred to as ‘the Festival’), as well as a textual analysis of official Festival communication and volunteer blogs on ‘good cause’ initiatives at the Festival, focusing especially on environmental causes. All interviews were conducted in Danish, and all translations appearing here are the authors’ own.
Olwig, M. F., & Christiansen, L. B. (2016). Festive environmentalism: A carnivalesque reading of eco-voluntourism at the Roskilde Festival. In Political Ecology of Tourism: Community, power and the environment, eds. M. Mostafanezhad, R. Norum, E. J. Shelton, & A. Thompson-Carr, pp. 108-127. London: Routledge.
Celebrity Humanitarianism and North-South Relations: Politics, place and power (2016)
Discussion over celebrity engagement is often limited to theoretical critique or normative name-calling, without much grounded research into what it is that celebrities are doing, the same or differently throughout the world. Crucially, little attention has been paid to the Global South, either as a place where celebrities intervene into existing politics and social processes, or as the generator of Southern celebrities engaged in ‘do-gooding’. This book examines what the diverse roster of celebrity humanitarians are actually doing in and across North and South contexts. Celebrity humanitarianism is an effective lens for viewing the multiple and diverse relationships that constitute the links between North and South. New empirical findings on celebrity humanitarianism on the ground in Thailand, Malawi, Bangladesh, South Africa, China, Haiti, Congo, US, Denmark and Australia illustrate the impact of celebrity humanitarianism in the Global South and celebritization, participation and democratization in the donor North. By investigating one of the most mediatized and distant representations of humanitarianism (the celebrity intervention) from a perspective of contextualization, the book underscores the importance of context in international development.
Richey, L. A., ed. (2016). Celebrity Humanitarianism and North-South Relations: Politics, place and power. Oxford & New York: Routledge.
Ben Affleck goes to Washington: Celebrity advocacy, access and influence (2016)
This chapter considers Hollywood actor and director Ben Affleck as a celebrity humanitarian by examining the organization he created, the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI). ECI was crafted not from inside the eastern Congo, but in the offices of a strategic advisory firm based in Seattle, Washington State. The chapter briefly introduces the case study background of the eastern Congo. It analyses the celebrity humanitarianism in US elite politics in relevant literature around celebrity advocacy, the post-democratic context, and the US political environment. The chapter examines Affleck's entry into development causes, the establishment of ECI, and the efforts of the strategic consulting firm williamsworks. It explores ECI's dual objectives around US advocacy and grant-making in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in order to understand how celebrity humanitarianism mediates elite politics across the Global North and South. The chapter, finally, addresses how celebrity-led NGOs are emblematic of post-democratic politics and why this matters for humanitarianism.
Budabin, A. C. (2016). Ben Affleck goes to Washington: Celebrity advocacy, access and influence. In Celebrity Humanitarianism and North-South Relations: Politics, place and power, ed. L. A. Richey. Oxford & New York: Routledge.
Irony and politically incorrect humanitarianism: Danish celebrity-led benefit events (2016)
This chapter illustrates how the Danish celebritized benefit events promote humanitarianism by focusing on a case that differs from the dominant Anglo-American standard and drawing on a combination of international trends while referring to national sets of cultural norms. It argues that contextualizing celebrity-led benefit events with regard to local cultural norms is of pivotal importance to understanding the rationales behind their execution and potential impact in terms of local perceptions and practices of humanitarianism. The chapter discusses the concept of irony and how it can lead to political incorrectness, counterintuitively through notions of enlightenment and democracy. It shows that folkelighed enframes the benefit events serving democratizing and inclusionary functions. The chapter considers studies of two Danish benefit events: the annual national telethon and week-long media event Danmarks Indsamling, which is the largest fundraising event in Denmark; and an annual one-day fair-trade benefit concert, which referred to as the Fairtrade Concert.
Olwig, M. F & Christiansen, L. B. (2016). Irony and politically incorrect humanitarianism: Danish celebrity-led benefit events. In Celebrity Humanitarianism and North-South Relations: Politics, place and power, ed. L. A. Richey. Oxford & New York: Routledge.
Brand Aid: Shopping Well to Save the World (2011)
In Brand Aid, Lisa Ann Richey and Stefano Ponte offer a deeply informed and stinging critique of “compassionate consumption.” Campaigns like Product RED and its precursors, such as Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong and the pink-ribbon project in support of breast cancer research, advance the expansion of consumption far more than they meet the needs of the people they ostensibly serve. At the same time, such campaigns sell both the suffering of Africans with AIDS (in the case of Product RED) and the power of the average consumer to ameliorate it through familiar and highly effective media representations. Using Product RED as its focal point, this book explores how corporations like American Express, Armani, Gap, and Hallmark promote compassionate consumption to improve their ethical profile and value without significantly altering their business model, protecting themselves from the threat to their bottom lines posed by a genuinely engaged consumer activism. Coupled with the phenomenon of celebrity activism and expertise as embodied by Bono, Richey and Ponte argue that this “causumerism” represents a deeply troubling shift in relief efforts, effectively delinking the relationship between capitalist production and global poverty.
Richey, L. A. & Ponte, S. (2011). Brand Aid: Shopping Well to Save the World. Minneapolis & London: University of Minnesota Press.