Forskningsgruppa for medie-, ikt- og kulturpolitikk

‘We are rock ‘n roll stars and we are bringing awareness': Media Framing and Audience Reception of Celebrities’ Quest for a Better World

Hilde Van Den Bulck (Uni Antwerp) is Visiting Scholar at the Department of Information Science and Media Studies in April. In this lunch seminar, she'll present a project on celebrities and charity:

Angelina Jolie travels the world as UNHCR goodwill ambassador while George Clooney organises a celebrity telethon to raise money for Haiti and Leonardo DiCaprio and former US presidential candidate Al Gore raise awareness for the environment. A ‘celebrity without a cause’ seems a thing of the past. The trend is not limited to Hollywood, but can be observed in many other communities, including Flanders - the Dutch speaking part of Belgium - where local film director Nic Balthazar tries to create public awareness for climate change and former athlete Kim Gevaert is ambassador for SOS Kinderdorpen (SOS Children’s Villages), amongst many others.

Focusing on the complex relationships between celebrities, media and audiences, my work aims to unravel, 1. How celebrity activism impacts on different philanthropic traditions. Scholars analyzing the welfare state (Esping-Andersen 1990; Vamstad, 2007) see the recent exponential growth of celebrity philanthropy as indicative of shifts in welfare regimes affecting different traditions of philanthropic fundraising and approaches to humanitarian action; 2. How celebrity activists provide a vehicle for mediated social discussion about views on global relationships as a world of ‘us’ and ‘them’, ‘the West’ and ‘the Rest’. Behind Jolie’s request to ‘do something’, for instance, is a view on developmental aid as social engineering, instigated by the West that considers the Rest to be unable to help itself; 3. How the media pick up on this celebrity activism and frame it. Do media pay equal attention to these celebrity activists or does it vary according to their type/level of fame, their role as activist (one off contribution versus long term ambassador) or the type of cause. How do media report on this?; and 4. How audiences perceive and decode these celebrity activist statements and activities. Do they recognize celebrities as activists? Do they know what the celebrity stands for? How sincere do they perceive this celebrity activism to be?