Monday, October 29, 2007

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Clearly, The National Interest knows my weak spots

Longtime readers of this blog can well imagine how I would reacted to the following request: "Pssst... Dan, would you be interested in writing an article about how glamorous celebrities like Angelina Jolie are taking an interest in foreign policy?"

The result, "Foreign Policy Goes Glam," is the lead article in the November/December issue of The National Interest. Here's the opening:

Who would you rather sit next to at your next Council on Foreign Relations roundtable: Henry Kissinger or Angelina Jolie? This is a question that citizens of the white-collared foreign-policy establishment thought they’d never be asked. The massive attention paid to Paris Hilton’s prison ordeal, Lindsay Lohan’s shame spiral and anything Britney Spears has done, said or exposed has distracted pop-culture mavens from celebrities that were making nobler headlines.

Increasingly, celebrities are taking an active interest in world politics. When media maven Tina Brown attends a Council on Foreign Relations session, you know something fundamental has changed in the relationship between the world of celebrity and world politics. What’s even stranger is that these efforts to glamorize foreign policy are actually affecting what governments do and say. The power of soft news has given star entertainers additional leverage to advance their causes. Their ability to raise issues to the top of the global agenda is growing. This does not mean that celebrities can solve the problems that bedevil the world. And not all celebrity activists are equal in their effectiveness. Nevertheless, politically-engaged stars cannot be dismissed as merely an amusing curiosity in foreign policy.

You'll have to read the entire article to see where I come down on the question of celebrity activism. I will say the following:
1) You like how I got the Unholy Trinity of celebrity bad behavior into the first paragraph? I tried, I mean really tried, to cram as many celebrity mentions into the piece as possible.

To my everlasting regret, I failed to include Salma Hayek. Clearly, I'm not worthy.

2) This was the perfect article to write during the dog days of summer. The most amusing moment came when I actually had to buy an issue of Esquire for an article... the very same one Ron Rosenbaum shredded in Slate this summer.

3) I'm surprised to discover that I'm a little more sanguine about celebrity activism than Gideon Rachman, Christopher Caldwell, Henry Farrell, and just about every woman I talked to about this story (Angelina provokes some strong reactions).

It's not like I have great faith in celebrity activism -- it's just that I'm unwilling to indict the entire category of behavior. As I argue in the essay, some celebrities are competent in their activism, and some are… something else. And some have a sense of humor about the whole thing.

4) Standard disclaimer: no celebrities were harmed during the drafting of this article.

Go check it out.

[The role of celebrities in world politics? Isn't that... a bit low-brow?--ed. C'mon, it's not like I was shoe-blogging.]

posted by Dan on 10.29.07 at 11:07 PM


Dan, have mercy on a loyal but now time-pressed reader. Why, briefly, may I not dismiss "...politically-engaged merely an amusing curiosity in foreign policy."

I've been doing exactly that. I intend to continue doing it. I hold no malice toward stars of any description, though I reserve the right to use their names when I think doing so might get me a cheap laugh. They have their money, and their entourages and paperazzi and all that, none of which I begrudge them. Why should we give them more than that?

posted by: Zathras on 10.29.07 at 11:07 PM [permalink]

I smirk in your general direction.

posted by: Jacob T. Levy on 10.29.07 at 11:07 PM [permalink]


Because one of those folks just might become the next Ronald Reagan.

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 10.29.07 at 11:07 PM [permalink]

Which one?

posted by: Zathras on 10.29.07 at 11:07 PM [permalink]


Well, Angelina Jolie would just be totally hot, and she's probably tougher than Hillary Clinton woud ever dream of being. Plus, a President with tatoos would be so cool. Plus, a gal who admtted to wanting to drink blood might just be properly advers to unecessarily spilling it.

Seriously, Z, Hell if I know. But, Reagan's own future was hardly obvious in say, the later 40s, when, in dealing with the Dalton Trumbos of the world as part of his union work, he figured out a lot of his strategy in dealing with Communists, that he used to great effect as president in the 80s.

Being a celeb and being a politician has a lot of similarities and the flow from one field to the other is something that is just going to continue. (Both fields appeal to narcissistic sorts.) If this is the way these monied sorts learn about the world, fine. If what gets us out of Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton, repeat ad infinitum... is a celeb -- I'm not sure I'm opposed, just as long as it's not Paris Hilton. (Salma Hayak isn't eligible.)

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 10.29.07 at 11:07 PM [permalink]

I wanted to see how Angelina Jolie's publicist responded to an interview request from The National Interest. But, alas, the magazine won't let us read the whole article online.

posted by: Virginia Postrel on 10.29.07 at 11:07 PM [permalink]

Said a former actor after a stint as Ambassador to Tobago, "After my long overdue vacation my next step is to return to the honesty and fair dealing of Hollywood."

posted by: Alan Kellogg on 10.29.07 at 11:07 PM [permalink]

There are celebrities that are fully engaged in trying to make a difference and others that seem to be parachuting in for the photo-op.

I've watched a DVD that a group of evangelical fundamentalists distribute that has an interview with Bono about his efforts to help Africa - and the evangelicals are now helping local churches and other groups in Africa do the hard work at the grass-roots level. My decidedly non-funadamentalist Episcopal church had a copy they were showing and they've joined in.

Bono's concern grew out of his involvement with Live Aid, the realization years later that Live Aid made no long term impact, and a realization that his faith demanded that he help in the best way he can. He makes no bones about using his celebrity as a form of currency to get attention and access to the powerful.

Contrast that with the tales about big deal stars demanding the NGO provide first class air tickets, 5 star hotels, and massage therapy when they show up for a two day photo-op. (I'd mention a particular A-list actress that was written up on a mid-level blog, but the article was yanked under legal threat - from the NGO that the actress was working with.)

posted by: ech on 10.29.07 at 11:07 PM [permalink]

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