Sunday, 19 August 2007

"Celebrity Do Gooders" published August 19

When you spend your career writing about and therefore living off celebrities you tread a very narrow line if you turn on them. Welcome to my very narrow line.
On one side of the line is the right for all celebrities to be someone people recognise. Work on the tele, talk on the radio, star in a movie, read the news, learn to dance. Talk about these things in the magazines and give us some inside information on your personal life because people find you inspirational. They feel they own you and your star shines a little light on their ordinary lives. That’s celebrity culture and something I will always defend for its right to have a positive influence on people. I will also defend celebrities like Jools Topp to talk about her breast cancer and John Kirwan to talk about his depression. They are talking about their own experience of these issues.
But the other side of the line is where celebrities should not tread. Putting themselves out there to discuss issues they are not qualified to talk about, such as child abuse. There are doctors, social workers and Plunket nurses to do that. People who have actually met abusers and their victims and therefore have a reasonable understanding of why these atrocities happen and how one could go about starting to fix them. You don’t find many child abuse cases at a Trelise Cooper children’s fashion show. Well not the kind you read about in the paper anyway.
Celebrities do not own the exclusive rights to expressing their anger and concern either. We all have that in spades and don’t particularly need to watch them parroting how we feel on television. We have mirrors. If they have answers because their charity has invested its funds into research then let’s hear them, we’re interested. But don’t wring hands and talk about your embarrassment and the fact that you don’t know or don’t care about “the Maori problem.”
Recently we’ve seen celebrities emerge from behind their glamour and carefully maintained images to “protest.” Christine Rankin and her team of yummy mummies had the relatively easy job of turning up and saying nothing for three minutes to show their concern about child abuse. I was so deeply affected I went to Christine’s charity For the Sake of Our Children Trust on the net to see what I could do to help. I was encouraged to talk about the problem with friends and politicians, to sign up to the charity and get others to as well, to report incidences of child abuse and to become a positive role model. Who had any idea it was so easy to solve the child abuse problem?
Jonah Lomu recently reminded us to remind our power supplier if we might die if the electricity was turned off. Ta, Jonah. And let’s not forget Breast Cancer Awareness week when celebrities find a friend’s mother who once had a lump removed and recall the pain and agony this knowledge inflicted on them when they found out.
Some might suggest that celebrity wagons are being hitched to such shocking and disturbing issues as child abuse as a way of fleshing out their brand and getting them some much needed coverage. I prefer to see it as a misguided attempt on their part to use their celebrity status to draw attention to a cause they know little about. “If just one person stops beating a child because I’m embarrassed and I think it’s a Maori problem then it’s worth it because then I’ll feel better.” That might work for the correct way to put out a fire or not be killed on a railway crossing but child abuse? Such an endemic, historic, complex issue, will not be fixed by the stroke of a celebrity highlighter.
Celebrity causes are not new. Brigdet Bardot has devoted her life to saving little animals, Angelina Jolie’s work inflicting media intrusion on unsuspecting orphans is well documented and Diana Princess of Hearts tiptoed around a few land mines in her time.
But people are still cruel to animals, children are still suffering and people are still being blown up by landmines.
And Christine Rankin gets more news coverage for the alleged firing of a TVNZ security guard who challenged her racist views, than providing any useful suggestions for this nation’s child abuse recovery.

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