The world is changing and so is diplomacy. Globalisation has had a major impact on the way diplomacy is carried out, not least because there is now a whole range of non-state actors, who engage in “diplomatic” activities. Among these new actors are celebrities, some of whom have increasingly become active in promoting and raising awareness about humanitarian causes, as well as directly lobbying state leaders about policies.
Enthusiasts of “celebrity diplomacy” argue that this kind of activism holds great potential for drawing the world’s attention to issues that might otherwise go unnoticed. When George Clooney goes to a barely accessible Sudanese village to speak to people about their problems, CNN follows, and later on people will read about this village not in academic journals, but in the tabloids (Avlon, 2011). When United Nations Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie can barely suppress her tears as she relates the story of a poor refugee boy from Iraq who will never be able to become a doctor unless we help him, it is powerfully moving (Clinton Foundation, 2007).
A new level of celebrity diplomacy was reached by Bono, who has established personal relationships with global leaders and has been travelling to G8 summits and other high-level meetings lobbying for debt relief in Africa (Dieter & Kumar:260). Celebrities, like NGOs, are argued to fill a gap that is left by traditional institutions in that they enable people to identify with them and their causes through emotional attachments (Cooper, 2007a: 17).
So: Should we view celebrities as a new “generation” of diplomats? Well, it is a difficult question to answer. We seem to take NGOs, who are equally unelected and self-appointed seriously when they lobby for a cause - so why not celebrities? They do have the enormous benefit of being unrestrained by any governmental or institutional rules and to attract the media’s attention easily. But do they actually know what they are talking about? Do they understand the depth of the issues they are campaigning for? Maybe not, but those celebrities who have shown great dedication and commitment to their causes, like Bono or Angelina Jolie, actually have specialist advisors around them and make no claims to expertise (Valley, 2009; Dieter & Kumar, 2008:261).
It seems difficult to draw the line between “advocacy” and “diplomacy” in the case of celebrities and it is surely valid to say that not every celebrity who engages in humanitarian work can be described as a “diplomat”. Nonetheless, if celebrities ensure that they are well-informed about the causes they are promoting, and are dedicated to this work, their activism carries with it enormous potential in terms of visibility and outreach and should not be brushed off. If “ordinary” people and NGOs can engage in diplomacy to lobby for policy changes – why can’t celebrities?
- Avlon, John (2007) “A 21st-Century Statesman”, Newsweek, 21st February, http://www.newsweek.com/2011/02/20/a-21st-century-statesman.html#, accessed: 26.3.2011, 23:23
- Clinton Foundation (2007) “Clinton Global Initiative 2007: Angelina Jolie Makes Impassioned Plea for Refugees“, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H00apInuAjg&feature=player_embedded, accessed: 29.3.2011, 17:08
- Cooper, Andrew F. (2007a) “Celebrity Diplomacy and the G8: Bono and Bob as Legitimate International Actors”, The Centre for International Governance Innovation, Working Paper No.29, September, http://www.cigionline.org/publications/2007/9/celebrity-diplomacy-and-g8-bono-and-bob-legitimate-international-actors, access: 27.3.2011, 22.20
- Cooper, Andrew F. (2007b) “Celebrity Efforts Will Redefine Diplomacy”, The Centre for International Governance Innovation, 3rd December, http://www.cigionline.org/articles/2007/12/celebrity-efforts-will-redefine-diplomacy, 27.3.2011, 22:31
- Dieter, Heribert and Kumar, Rajiv (2008) “The Downside of Celebrity Diplomacy: The Neglected Complexity of Development“, Global Governance, Vol.14, pp.250-264
- Valley, Paul (2009) “From A-lister to Aid Worker: Does Celebrity Diplomacy Really Work?”, The Independent, 17th January, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/from-alister-to-aid-worker-does-celebrity-diplomacy-really-work-1365946.html, accessed: 22.3.2011, 16:08