The Blog

Celebrity Activists: Misguided Mercenaries or Genuine Do-Gooders?

Coming off the back of a campaign victory - securing Citizenship in the secondary National Curriculum - I am reflecting on how success was achieved, the milestones reached and what ultimately lead to Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, safeguarding the subject as a programme of study at key stages 3 and 4.

Part I: Discovering the pros and cons of celebrity-backed campaigning and the first of three critiques on its impact.

Coming off the back of a campaign victory - securing Citizenship in the secondary National Curriculum - I am reflecting on how success was achieved, the milestones reached and what ultimately lead to Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, safeguarding the subject as a programme of study at key stages 3 and 4.

With dramatic changes sweeping across the National Curriculum, I partnered with Democratic Life in early 2012 to help strengthen and extend young people's entitlement to high-quality citizenship education in England.

At the time, a review of the curriculum was taking place and Citizenship education was at risk of becoming a 'non-priority' subject. A consequence of this would have been the removal of bursaries to help attract the best quality graduates to teach the subject.

When we consider that Citizenship education teaches young people about politics, the law, the economy and other essential skills to contribute to our democracy, you begin to appreciate the importance of the subject's status within the curriculum.

Knowing I had little lobbying experience and no real political clout - other than being a 'young person' in the political sphere - I decided to tie-in Democratic Life's campaign with my own initiative, Hands up who's Bored, which looked at ways to break through the yawn barrier of British politics to a largely apathetic population.

Concentrating on those aged between 11-18, I managed to secure significant funding from a large and well-known European brand as well as the use of their external PR agencies and after long, welcomed the support of a celebrity endorser.

Naive to the inner workings of the PR machine and the use of celebrity to drive key messages to a wider audience, I was presented with a pool of public figures who had expressed an interest in the campaign.

Flattered and somewhat overwhelmed, I discussed the celebrity candidates with media-savvy consultants who were keen to point out the many positives a celebrity ambassador would bring to my fledgling campaign.

Almost instantly, the shroud of celebrity had fallen before me as I came to realise how incompatible many of these individuals were in their association with the campaign.

After spending some time researching the names given to me, I couldn't find anything connecting my campaign's theme to their personal endeavours or indeed their careers in the spotlight. I had even been given the name of an ex-politician who, in the eyes of many, epitomised everything young people had come to loathe about the British political system.

Feeling as if I had taken a crash course in crisis management and pre-emptively acknowledged the fact that my campaign would more than likely sink when associated with a number of these individuals, I began questioning the worth of celebrity in relation to these types of campaigns.

I looked at the culture of celebrity activism and the many stars who had taken on supporting - and sometimes leading - roles in political campaigns and was presented with absurd case studies and at times genuine, heartfelt sincerity for the causes they partnered with.

To illustrate my point, I present my first of three examples of celebrity activism. Critiquing each over the next few weeks on the impact they made to their chosen cause, this week I look at one of Hollywood's funny men and the one bill in America's constitution dividing a country.

Jim Carrey and Sandy Hook

Starring in "Kick-Ass 2" as Colonel Stars and Stripes, Jim Carrey recently denounced the very film in which he shoots and bludgeons people to death with a baseball bat in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre.

The Hollywood a-lister has been a strong advocate for gun control laws in the United States for a number of years and campaigned for restrictions on semi-automatic weapons and ammunition but you must question his moral compass when, as Kick-Ass creator Mark Millar correctly pointed out in response to Carrey's motives, "nothing seen in this picture wasn't in the screenplay eighteen months ago," referring to the fact that the Sandy Hook massacre had yet to take place when Carrey accepted the role.

Knowing, as he would have done, the Kick-Ass franchise before taking millions of dollars to star in the movie - the synopsis of which involves superhero's killing mobsters using creatively murderous methods - I am baffled as to how Carrey's stance on gun crime could have been sidelined during the making of this film.

Did he simply forget that he had been an advocate for gun control laws until after the movie had entered post-production? Did he want a way out of the lengthy promotional tour leading up the movie's release or did Sandy Hook genuinely ignite the realisation that he was contributing to a culture that sees brandishing a firearm as cool?

Whatever it was, this type of selective amnesia reveals the many inconsistencies in his argument and to confuse matters further, he recently backtracked on a number of his past anti-gun sentiments and apologised to those who support the rights of gun owners.

Using, as he did, Twitter to attack and then apologise for his rants on gun control, Jim Carrey is an example of how, on the one side, the weight of a celebrity can shed light on a particular issue but at the same time, damage the very foundation the argument was built on.

I'm not questioning the man's politics but fame or not, if you believe in something enough to have an opinion on it then you should have the conviction to adapt your lifestyle and indeed your career choices around its cause regardless of what events proceed it.

Putting my crisis management hat back on, I have learnt a great deal from Mr Carrey's misadventure. I believe the true advocates for the introduction of more stringent gun controls had their head in their hands when, as Mike Flemming Jr pointed out from Deadline Hollywood, Carrey could have used the opportunity to engage with the press and discuss the issues as opposed to decline all press activity surrounding the film.

He could have also used the promotional opportunity to publicise the many pressure groups that exist in America who agree with his stance instead of the unilateral course of action he decided to take. These organisations might have also been able to provide him with some guidance on how best to broach the subject without damaging his career - something I suppose his management should have done.

In any case, this timely example made little impact on the on-going debate around gun control. In reality, it showcased the contradictory behaviours some celebrities exhibit when their actions refute the causes they are fighting for.

Next week, I analyse the good in Johanna Lumley and fly the flag for those celebrities who, despite the potential for disaster, use their status to the benefit of others. I also discuss what happened after a suitable ambassador was found for my campaign and how my perceptions on celebrity activism improved thanks to his help.