Uncharitable Celebrity

Celebrity. It is part of the solution to all problems. That and raising awareness. Child starving in Africa? Then better send for Roger Federer, Whoopi Goldberg or the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra… they are all UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors after all. Want to stop the use of land mines? Send for Princess Diana… except you cannot now, because she is dead. A shame, because plenty of countries still make land mines, including such trivial and unimportant countries as the U.S.A., China and Russia. Apparently she built up a fat dossier on the topic of land mines, and according to her complementary therapist this may have been the reason Di had to die. Yup, making enemies with the British arms industry must be the explanation. That and getting into the back of a car driven at high speed by a drunk. And not putting her seat belt on, as stated in the verdict of the official enquiry. Bullying at your local school? Send for Big Brother halfwit Jade Goody… or maybe not, but she used to be listed amongst the celebrity supporters of the charity Act Against Bullying. Obviously not every charity can call on the same quality of celeb as UNICEF can. Dangerous driving? Send for Eddie Irvine, Dick and Dom or one of the girls in Atomic Kitten. They are supporters of the road safety charity, Brake. Obviously all these celeb campaigners never mix in the same circles, otherwise Eddie Irvine probably should have mentioned the importance of seat belts to Princess Di.

Some people are just greedy for love and attention. It is a fact. Not all are celebrities. Not every celebrity is greedy for love and attention. But it is reasonable to suppose that celebrities may be greedier for love and attention than the rest of us. If the most useful thing you have done in your life is to look good in a dress, then it follows you may want to bump up your usefulness ranking, and hence the amount of love and appreciation you get, by looking good in a dress whilst attending a charity event. All the better if you have time on your hands and no need to do a proper job. Princess Diana, for example, left behind a fortune worth UK£21.5m. In her will, not a penny was given to land mine charities or any other charity. Almost all went to her children, doubtless to protect them from the economic hardships usually associated with being a member of the royal family. She did remember to put her butler in her will, giving UK£50,000 to Paul Burrell. I guess she did not anticipate he was going to make a lucrative career out of exploiting her memory. But there was not a penny to help any of the poor sods who risk life and limb by digging up land mines. Put this into context. Taxpayers paid UK£12.5m for enquiries into how Princess Diana died. UK£12.5m to find out somebody died in a car crash because they did not wear a seatbelt and the car was driven by a drunk. Now put that into context. If you want human life to be dissolved down to some grim numbers, take a look at this report into the cost-benefits of land mine clearance. It states that the annual spend on land mine clearance worldwide peaked in 2004 at US$400m. At the present rate that mines are cleared, the combined value of Princess Diana’s estate and cost of enquiries into her death would have paid for 3 years of mine clearing efforts in Cambodia, which are 98% funded by donors. The report also estimates the value of a human life – in the third world – is US$400,000. It uses a method based on how people value their own lives in developed countries, and hence is more generous than a measure based purely on GDP or income. A purely economic measure may put a life’s worth at US$2,000. According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, there are 2 new casualties from land mines every hour. 40 a day, 1500 a month… and that it is just the reported figure. The actual rate is probably higher still.

I just do not get it when it comes to celebs and charities. Celebs sell magazines, television shows and the rest. Magazines, television and the rest get paid for by advertising and however much the consumer is forced to stump up in subscriptions. If we look at just the UK satellite television provider Sky, in the last financial year they made a UK£499m post-tax profit on the back of UK£4.5bn of revenue. Their profits, alone, are double what the world is spending on clearing landmines. At 31st March 2008, Sky had 8.9m customers, each generating UK£424 of revenue on average. If those subscribers gave just 5% of what they currently spend to be entertained by movie stars, sports stars and the miscellaneous dross of modern celebrity, the annual worldwide spend on land mine clearance would double. Put it another way. The BBC reportedly pays Gary Lineker around UK£500,000 a year to front its football highlights programme, Match of the Day. That means a few hundred hours of an ex-footballer talking about football is worth more than a couple of human lives. David Beckham, another person whose main contribution to life is to kick a ball accurately, is the richest UK sportsman. The greater part of Beckham’s wealth is due to promotional deals with Adidas, Pepsico and a host of other names. Beckham’s picture is used to sell perfume in Tokyo and underwear in New York. The latter deal, with Armani, will secure Beckham a reported US$20m over three years. This advertising power is the same reason why Beckham is also a UNICEF ambassador. That seems to me to be setting the wrong example. Beckham, Goody, Princess Di, even Dick and Dom… they all reflect an obsession with concentrating power, wealth and esteem in the hands of a elite. Want to be successful? Be like Beckham, or Princess Di, irrespective of what the real worth of their accomplishments are. Want to be a failure, at least by the same measures that make the celebs a success? Then spend your life digging up land mines. Nobody will know your name and you will be paid bugger all. If you are good at kicking a ball, or wearing a dress, and use that skill to draw attention to suffering, you can expect excessive wealth, love and praise. That sounds like a much better deal than spending a life doing something about actually alleviating suffering. There is something wrong with a world which distributes its wealth so poorly that there is not enough money to dig up mines but plenty of money available for photos of footballers wearing their undies. If you want to change the world, celebs are not part of the solution. A world which revolves around celebrity is part of the problem.

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