Do Celebrities Have a Social Responsibility?
According to the Merriam-Webster's online dictionary, a Celebrity is - (1) the state of being famous or celebrated; (2) a person who is famous. The sway and influence of celebrities, however, reaches far beyond their chosen profession or field of influence. Celebrities are often looked upon as major social influencers and a number of them take up significant social responsibilities and causes. From living inspirational lives to endorsing causes and products, celebrities live in the spotlight of public attention.
The Influence of Celebrities
In 2014, researches published by three academicians from the UK goes on to reveal that people are more influenced by personal connections or by family when it comes to charitable causes than celebrity endorsements. Professor Dan Brockington from the University of Manchester, and Professor Spencer Henson from the University of Sussex surveyed over 1000 people each to ascertain the influence of celebrities on charity. Along with Dr Martin Scott from the University of East Anglia who ran focus groups, the three researchers are unanimous in their findings. Celebrities often become more popular when they associate themselves with charitable causes rather than the causes gaining due to the association, they said.
“When we think about what Elizabeth Taylor did for HIV/AIDS causes or Brad Pitt for Hurricane Katrina relief and international poverty, it's hard to argue that celebrities can't put causes on the map” - Derrick Feldmann, CEO of Achieve, 2011.
According to a 2011 study by Achieve and Johnson, Grossnickle and Associates, however, only 2% of Millennials (a person reaching young adulthood around the year 2000) were motivated to give to charitable causes by celebrity endorsements, while 98% only gave to a cause that earned their trust.
The good that has been and is being done by celebrities cannot be denied in many cases. Many have given millions to great causes and others have prompted donations, undertaken drives and campaigns to do good to the world. Justin Forsyth, the CEO of Save The Children says – “In my experience, the benefits of celebrity are not fabled but real – and can produce very concrete results. Without the campaigning energies of Bono, Bob Geldof and Richard Curtis, for example, I don't believe 46 million more children would be in school today in some of the world's poorest countries”. (2012)
The Causes Celebrities Endorse
In the research paper “The X Factor: What Motivates Celebrities to Support Third Sector Organisations” for Sheffield Hallam University, Sean Kelly (Director of Fundraising at Sparks, The Childrens Medical Research Charity, 2013) reports that the top reason celebrities support charitable causes is "I am in the fortunate position to help others". Most celebrities said that the best thing about working with charities is knowing that they are helping better the lives of other people. Celebrities from around the world have been very successful in supporting various causes worldwide.
Angelina Jolie (US) – this versatile actor is also a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Refugee Agency. She set up the Jolie-Pitt Foundation with her partner Brad Pitt in 2006 to provide assistance for humanitarian crises worldwide. Jolie and Pitt donated US$ 1 million to Global Action for Children and Doctors without Borders.
She transformed her personal battle into opportunity that is likely to benefit a great number of people. Jolie learned that she had significantly high chance of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer, she opted to undergo preventive double mastectomy. Holding on to her image as the epitome of sensuality and feminism seemed less important to Ms. Jolie than educating millions of women the world over about the necessity for preventive surgery in battling cancer. She decided to pen an op-ed piece in the New York Times – an article that spiked interest in the subject worldwide. Millions of women learned about genetic markers and the proactive approach to preventing cancer. Ms. Jolie’s contribution to creating awareness has been heartily appreciated by women’s welfare organizations in many countries.
Lady Gaga (US) – Lady Gaga raised over US$ 202 million in support of various HIV/AIDS programs for the MAC AIDS Fund. Her message "Live with passion. Love with protection." went viral. She also supports a number of gender and sexuality causes. In 2012, she started her Born This Way Foundation, to combat bullying of the LGBT community.
Oprah Winfrey (US) – Oprah has donated more than US$ 40 million of her personal fortune to the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls which helps girls attain education in Africa. She has also helped raise money for AIDS-affected children in Africa and donated US$ 10 million for victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Bono (Ireland) – This musical icon and lead singer of U2 has been involved with causes such as Live Aid to raise funds for famine-stricken countries in Africa. He also co-founded Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa (DATA), the ONE Campaign and Product Red. With his wife Alison Stewart he co-founded EDUN a fashion brand that promotes the African fashion industry.
Rafael Nadal (Spain) - The tennis star supports a number of HIV/AIDS and youth foundations such asCity Harvest, Elton John AIDS Foundation, and Laureus Sport for Good Foundation.
Elton John (UK) – Having lost many dear friends to HIV/AIDS, Elton John set up the Elton John AIDS Foundation in 1992. His efforts to help charities started in the early 1980s.
Annie Lennox(UK) – This British pop star has worked with Greenpeace, the British Red Cross, Amnesty International and Nelson Mandela's 46664 Foundation. She received the British Services to Humanity Award in 2008 for her efforts to raise AIDS awareness.
Nelson Mandela (South Africa)– This former anti-apartheid activist and President of South Africa set up the Nelson Mandela Foundation to raise awareness and funding for AIDS awareness and alleviating poverty in Africa.
Jackie Chan (Hong Kong/China)– This action-movie star is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and the charitable causes he is associated with include Save China's Tigers and raising funds for victims of natural disasters. In June 2006 he announced he would donate half his assets to charity after his demise. In 2008, he donated RMB ¥10 million to help the survivors of the Sichuan earthquake and helped raise US$ 3.3 million through a charity concert for Japanese victims of the 2011 Tsunami.
Salman Khan (India) – Indian actor Salman Khan set up his own charitable trust and NGO calledBeing Human to aid underprivileged children. The charity helps provide healthcare and education to children in need.
Lady Diana (UK) – Throughout her life, Princess Diana championed the cause of various charities including the English National Ballet, the National Aids Trust, the Great Ormond Street Hospital for children and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.
Hugh Jackman (Australia)– This Australian actor is a supporter of microcredit schemes and of the Global Poverty Project. He is also an Ambassador for World Vision. He and his wife Deborra-Lee Furness are patrons of the Bone Marrow Institute in Australia.
Shakira (Colombia) - This singer and songwriter is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and founded the Pies Descalzos (Barefoot) Foundation which works to provide nutrition and education to poor children in Colombia. She is also associated with fundraising for the ALAS Foundation, which works to improve the lives of poor children in Latin America.
Mark Zuckerberg (US)
- In February 2015, the San Francisco General Hospital received a USD 75 million gift from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Dr. Priscilla Chan. The pledge shall go towards building a new structure for the hospital to function from and bringing a new trauma center in addition to various facilities.
They may not be the most high-profile celebrities, but they are the most generous individuals in the world.
Source: Wikipedia.Falls From Grace
Living in the spotlight is a tough job but when one is additionally a role model to millions around the world, the going gets more difficult.
Lance Armstrong(US) – One of the best-known cyclists and sportsmen of our times, Armstrong was stripped of all his eight Tour de France awards and banned from international competitive cycling following the exposure of his doping habits and organized drug trafficking. Armstrong, the founder of theLiveStrong Foundation and a recognized cancer awareness activist, lost all his endorsements and popular support.
Miley Cyrus (US)– This singer and actress, rose to fame as the lead character Miley Stewart in the Disney Channel television series Hannah Montana. As a singer she had nine top-ten hits on the Billboard Hot 100 as of October 2013. She was ranked number 13 on Forbes' Celebrity 100 list in 2010. However, she came under severe media scrutiny and criticism from parents' groups after her controversial performance at the MTV Video Music Awards in August 2013. Courting controversy she then went on to smoke marijuana onstage at the MTV Europe Music Awards in October 2013.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn (France) – Leading French economist Dominique Strauss-Kahn was forced to resign as head of the International Monetary Fund in 2011 following a sex scandal that shook Europe. Dominique Strauss-Kahn faced allegations of having sexually assaulted a housekeeper at a New York Hotel. The scandal ended the economist’s bid for the French presidency.
Amy Winehouse(UK) – Apart from her spectacular success as song-writer and singer, Winehouse came to be known for her frequent episodes of alcohol and drug abuse. Watching their favorite star fall from the peak of popularity into the inferno of drug abuse that ultimately killed her shocked millions of her fans around the world.
Oscar Pistorius (South Africa) – South African sprinter and the only paralympian to compete in the Olympics, Oscar Pistorius made history in 2012 when he entered the 400-meter and the relay races at the Olympic Games. The following year, however, he was charged with murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Though Pistorius claimed he thought her to be an intruder, police records reveal a history of domestic violence. In 2014 Pistorius was found guilty of culpable homicide. He is currently serving time and the verdict has been appealed.
Shane Warne (Australia) – This Australian cricketer is considered one of the best spin bowlers in the history of the sport, having taken over 700 wickets in test cricket. He retired from all formats of the game in July 2013 and set up the Shane Warne Foundation to assist ill and underprivileged children. However his career was marred by controversy when the Australian Cricket Board fined him for revealing information about weather and pitch conditions to a bookmaker in 1995. In 2003, just before the start of the World Cup, he was sent home since he tested positive for a banned diuretic and in 2013, he was fined US$ 4,500 and banned for one match for using obscene language and inappropriate behavior on the field. His controversial personal life has also added to his bad-boy image in the sport.
Diego Maradona (Argentina) – Considered by many to be the best football player of all time, this Argentinian captain, who led his team to world cup victory in 1986, is also one of the most controversial. In 1991 he was suspended from professional football for 15 months after failing a drug test for cocaine and in 1994 at the world cup in USA, he he was sent home after testing positive for ephedrine. Controversies in his personal life and financial mismanagement have also led to his falling popularity.
Failing Social Responsibility “I think one of the greatest abuses of this modern time is that we should have high-profile artists, powerful celebrities. But they have turned their back on social responsibility. That goes for Jay-Z and Beyoncé, for example.” - Harry Belafonte (2012)
Jay-B and Beyonce were criticized, first by Harry Belafonte and later by Russell Simmons for not being actively involved in the Occupy Movement. The criticism sparked off a raging debate about celebrities and their social responsibilities. While Jay-B defended his stand, that he had “no time for picnics”. He said that it was impossible to get involved in a cause with no defined agenda and that even celebrities were free to choose their causes. In her blog post “No Time for Picnics: Celebrities and Social Responsibility”, Sherrie Deans Executive Director, Admiral Center says, “Jay-Z’s larger point in stating that he doesn’t understand what OWS is fighting for can be tied to a larger failing of today’s brand of activism(celebrity or otherwise).” (October, 2012)
A number of music stars have, however, been avoiding performances in Florida following the acquittal of George Zimmerman who was tried for the death of Trayvon Martin. Iconic celebrities such as Stevie Wonder and the gospel music duo Mary Mary have issued statements that as part of their social responsibility they would not play in the state due to its Stand Your Ground law, which permits individuals to defend themselves using deadly force.
Worst Celebrity Role Models In 2013 CouponCodes4u.com asked 2,000 parents across the US who they thought were the worst celebrity role models for their children. All the parents who participated in the survey had at least one child aged 8+. Here are the results:
Worst Celebrity Role Models For Young Boys:
- Chris Brown
- Kanye West
- Justin Bieber
- Lil Wayne
- Charlie Sheen
- Lance Armstrong
- Tiger Woods
- Mel Gibson
- Bruce Jenner
Worst Celebrity Role Models For Young Girls:
- Miley Cyrus
- Lindsay Lohan
- Kim Kardashian
- Amanda Bynes
- Farrah Abraham
- Kourtney Kardashian
- Hedi Montag
- Taylor Momsen
Do celebrities have a moral obligation to be role models? Social Responsibility Vs. Privacy
The balance between living highly public lives and the need for privacy to cherish intimate moments with family and friends is a very fine one. A number of celebrities choose to keep families away from the media glare. Kate Winslet and Ned Rocknroll, Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds, Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon, Rosie O'Donnell and Michelle Rounds and several other couples have decided to wed in private and often secret ceremonies. Their decisions are often understandable given the attention media pays to celebrity weddings and divorces.
Princess Diana’s death became an excellent example of the disadvantages of living in the spotlight despite living up to social responsibility. Through her life, Princess Diana championed the cause of various charities. Despite being a much adored member of the British royalty, her divorce with Prince Charles and subsequent personal relationships received much attention. The car crash that ultimately killed Princess Diana was attributed to the pursuit of the paparazzi.
According to a 2007 survey by People Press, a majority of the American public believes that celebrity scandals and gossip receive too much news coverage. 87% Americans endorse this criticism. Unfortunately, in the case of most celebrities the line between sharing and maintaining privacy is still an unclear one. As Daniel Craig says,“ It's not about being afraid to be public with your emotions or about who you are and what you stand for. But if you sell it off it's gone. You can't buy it back - you can't buy your privacy back.”
Are celebrities exempt from social responsibility? Do celebrities also need to conform to societal norms? Or should celebrities live exemplary lives because they are public figures ?