The notion of celebrity politics, which pertains to both the individual’s involvement in international development and national politics, gained popularity in the 1960s (West 2012). Various celebrities have decided to include themselves in this form of development practice, for both humanitarian and political reasons (West 2012). Less than half a century later, mass attention was drawn towards Africa’s struggle with Aids, debt, and trade that is inhibiting their development. The continent has multiple United Nations offices stationed in various countries that are working towards increasing fair trade, reducing foreign debt, and financing research to battle the local Aids epidemic (Mutume 2005). U2 singer Bono involved himself in the fight against global extreme poverty, specifically in Africa (Piknerova and Rybakova 2017). The main techniques of aid used by Bono detailed in this essay are his involvement in the Product RED campaign and the co-creation of the organization Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa, also known as DATA. Despite the quantity of work that Bono is incorporated in, celebrities' involvement in development is often insufficient in effecting real change as the campaigns’ are riddled with the deception of the public, the donor is quite distanced from the recipient, and the lack of knowledge on development work leads to the failure of addressing structural issues to ultimately disregard those who are receiving aid. Both the advantages and disadvantages need to be highlighted in order to fully explore this issue. The disadvantages are discussed here in more depth, displaying how Bono contributed poorly to the idea of celebrities effectively contributing to development. Bono’s involvement in Product RED and his organization DATA display how the public is often uninformed on the humanitarian cause when it is a celebrity promoting it, the lack of development experience contributes to the infectivity of an organization and the disconnection between the donor and the recipient is larger when a celebrity is involved.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Celebrity Intervention in Development
Celebrities’ intervention in development practice promotes the idea that the influential power of celebrities can be used for a humanitarian cause. Further, a celebrity spreading awareness of an issue of development gives it greater publicity than if it were being promoted by an average individual (West 2012). Additionally, celebrities lack a distinct connection to a certain spot on the political spectrum (West 2012). This lacks an inhibition of where celebrities can lay their interest, whereas politicians are more restricted in their public interests (West 2012). Despite this, celebrities can still promote organizations that rely on less-than-standard morals. The celebrities’ involvement in a development issue can inhibit society from truly understanding the issue, which allows for organizations and the celebrities involved with them to provide aid to work in ways that are not beneficial to the recipient country (Richey and Stefano 2008). Additionally, this type of aid often fails to address the deeply embedded issues within recipient societies and their governments as there is a lack of knowledge on development practices (West 2012). Lastly, when participating in this form of development practice, many celebrities and their related organizations are distanced both socially and politically from the lives of those in the recipient society (West 2012).
Deception of the Public
Celebrity involvement in development is often regarded as good because of its implication that those of high affluence are using their power for good. This is evident in both of Bono’s development examples highlighted here; his organization DATA and his involvement in Product RED. The aim of these two organizations and campaigns is humanitarian-centered. However, the involvement of celebrities in humanitarian organizations can mask the untrustworthy activities that are happening within them. Most significantly in this essay, Bono has shown how his organizations are misleading to the public, specifically Product RED. Product RED is an organization “created to raise awareness and money for The Global Fund,” (Richey et al. 2008). The organization partners with large brands to create red-coloured products, with an aspect of the donation going towards The Global Fund (Richey et al. 2008). The Global Fund then uses monetary donations to fight Aids, Malaria, and Tuberculosis in various countries through a multilateral aid relationship (Richey et al. 2008). Multilateral aid is when aid is given from an organization on behalf of multiple states (Haslam, Schafer, and Beaudet 2017:181). The idea that buying a product will fix centuries of colonialism and its lasting implications is highly questionable. Colonialism, which is the territorial conquest of one country over another, is a huge concept that cannot as easily be solved (Haslam et al. 2017:581). It is hardly ignorable; but to the masses of people buying Product RED, the issue evidently goes unnoticed. It is irresponsible for Bono, The Global Fund, and Product RED to endorse such a falsehood idea of development. It is in this exploitation and degradation of African culture to sell more products that the organization deceives the public and, ultimately, disregards the recipient countries in Africa. This disregard can be explained by the lack of knowledge or experience that celebrities have in development work.
Celebrities' Lack of Knowledge of Development Work
Bono is not a politician; therefore, he is not tied to one end of the political spectrum or the other. His work in development can be connected to various organizations or causes that some politicians are restricted from based on their political standing (West 2012). However, celebrities do not have the same level of experience as many politicians or professionals involved in the field do. This experience becomes crucial when working with other politicians, foreign ministries, and other stakeholders in a country’s development. Those who specialize in the field of international development, like those who are heavily involved with The Global Fund, have a better ability to create programs for recipient countries than celebrities who do not have the same amount of knowledge on development work. Foreign aid needs to be strategically placed by an organization that is aware of the risks of implementing an unfit development plan. Popular solutions, which the unknowledgeable celebrities would be more inclined to implement, do not always solve issues (West 2012). More foreign aid in corrupt countries does not improve average lives (West 2012). In 2002, Bono co-founded an international organization, Debt, AIDS, Trade, African, that sought to bring increased debt relief, aid to fight emergencies like Aids, and trade reform to Africa (ONE 2019). This organization later merged with The ONE Campaign in 2004 to fight global poverty and disease (ONE 2019). From a dependency theory view, DATA is a neocolonial organization. Dependency theory notes the explicit power relations between developing and developed countries, also often referred to as recipient and donor countries (Haslam et al. 2017:54). One of the concepts in this theory is neocolonialism, which is the idea that “the economies of formal independent countries remain subject to the control of others,” (Haslam et al. 2017:28). Bono’s organization, DATA, works developmentally in such a way that it promotes “commercial colonialism” (Monbiot 2013). This practice could potentially maintain neocolonial relationships, which is widely known as an implicitly poor development technique. It is the lack of knowledge that the DATA’s cofounders, namely Bono, had on how to handle the development of African countries that resulted in the inefficiency of the organization. This correlates with the notion that celebrity donors are quite distanced from the recipients of their aid.
The Disconnect Between Celebrity Donors and Recipient Societies
A celebrity’s endorsement of a humanitarian charity is highly beneficial to societal awareness of the topic. This cannot be denied, as half of Americans under the age of 30 get their information from celebrities and other nontraditional news sources (West 2012). It can be inferred from this fact that much of society has more interest in the information celebrities are providing than those of traditional, un-bias news sources. However, the aid that comes from celebrities often leaves a social gap between the recipient society and the donors. This phenomenon can be explained by the idea that celebrities are increasingly entering the center of western politics, which threatens the sincerity of development practices (West 2012). Many individuals worry that there will be “more superficiality and less substance in our political process,” (West 2012). The implications of this on celebrity foreign aid are up for discussion, but it suggests that the act of celebrities promoting development campaigns cannot be trusted as much as politicians doing the same. In terms of Bono’s development work, it becomes questionable to assume that his ability to advocate for certain development campaigns is trustworthy. Further, those viewing the development campaigns may then donate without understanding the entirety of the issue and are solely trying to support the artist. This is exemplified in Bono’s involvement with Product RED. The use of celebrity, in this case, is to promote the product and the issue it is addressing (Richey et al. 2008). This technique appeals directly to the masses in the current consumer society (Richey et al. 2008). A consumerist society is one in which the masses of individuals are interested in aid and development only if it is trendy (Richey et al. 2008). The likelihood that many of the buyers of Product RED products are fully engaged with issues surrounding Aids, Malaria, and Tuberculosis is, evidently, very low. The gap between those donating and those suffering from such diseases grows with every purchase of Product RED.
The topic of celebrity involvement in development is highly debated. There are evident advantages to the topic, but it is the disadvantages that are stronger. There is also a deep correlation between the disadvantages. The public is often unaware of harmful development practices that are occurring, like the unaddressed colonization within African countries and Product RED’s inability to address it. This lack of public knowledge can be a result of two different yet connected disadvantages. The celebrities lack the level of knowledge that is needed to fully address the development issue, such as Bono’s incorporation of neocolonialism into DATA. Celebrities and organizations act in such ways because of their social disconnect from recipient societies. Bono may have participated in an extensive range of development practices, but his efforts are still insufficient in effecting real change as the campaigns have misled the public, he remains quite distanced from the recipient society and failed to address the structural issues with developing societies. More is needed from Bono than to visit Africa and weakly participate in their culture (Piknerova and Rybáková 2017). For a celebrity’s engagement in development to be effective, they need to utilize their power to implement effective development strategies, not just the most popular ones. As well, their voices should not overpower the voice of the recipient. When it comes to issues of colonialism and neocolonialism, the voices of those affected need to be heard for real change to occur. Foreign aid should never be about the celebrity more than it is about the recipient society, but this has not been the case with Bono’s development practices.