Mike Myers, Ne-Yo and Penelope Cruz all have one thing in common: UNICEF.
They, like many other celebrities, donate and support to UNICEF. Many celebrities are actively involved in raising awareness about causes and corresponding charitable organizations. Their involvement may vary, from tweeting once to volunteering annually, but overall, celebrities’ activism can be quite positive for social movements.
Sociology lecturer Katherine Mallon said social movements need a variety of things to be successful: existing similar organizations, resources, leaders and insurgent consciousness. Insurgent consciousness is the sense that change is needed and possible.
Celebrities bring not only people and financial resources, but they can also provide the unifying idea that change is needed and possible because of their privileged legitimacy.
Sociology professor Matt Smith-Lahrman said celebrities are more well-known, so the public connects to what they have to say more than an expert they’ve never seen or heard before.
“If Angelina Jolie is talking about something vs. somebody I’ve never heard of talking about something, I’m going to listen to Angelina Jolie because I know who she is,” Smith-Lahrman said.
A celebrity representative has to be chosen carefully because he or she has to be believable. They have to convince people that their beliefs and feelings about the cause are the same as the organization’s.
Students have mixed feelings about whether celebrities are truly in support of causes.
“I actually think a lot of it is just for publicity,” said Jordan Harris, a senior communication major from Houston. “It might be 50/50. It just depends on the celebrity and on your opinion of the celebrity.”
Harris said he believes celebrities often do charity work to repair their reputations, like George Foreman. He was known to have a less-than-stellar reputation in his boxing days, but as he grew older and became known more for his charitable work, his reputation gleamed.
There are more positive than negative views that celebrity activism is good.
“I think if they do it for good causes, it’s a good thing,” Harris said. “Andre Iguodala, who plays for the Denver Nuggets, is backing the Diabetes Foundation, which is really cool.”
In many cases, a celebrity addressing an issue can bring it from the back to the forefront of the public’s mind.
A celebrity’s concern or rally for change may not immediately create a difference, but it does start the conversation about a cause.
It also changes the way the public views celebrities, like Al Gore. He was a celebrity because of his political status, but he became even more of a celebrity for the activism he’s done.
“We see him in a whole different light than what he started out as,” Mallon said.
In the end, celebrities are excellent choices to raise awareness about causes, but as a public, we should be savvy about their statements, Smith-Lahrman said.
“I think as part of the goal of education anyways, we’d hope that more educated people can see through the fact that they’re just a celebrity and do they really have anything to say?” Smith-Lahrman said. ”I think everybody has the right to say whatever the heck they want and support whatever cause they want.”