Kathleen Antrim: Celebrity champions lend image to causes, not substance 

Hollywood celebrities traveled the globe in 2006 for various humanitarian efforts, and — let’s be honest — to promote their own images and careers. Out of work or just between gigs, celebrities snatch camera time by lending their names to these issues. It seems that stumping for a cause is a prerequisite to being a celebrity.

Dressed in dapper winter gear and an Elmer Fudd-style hat, Paul McCartney posed with a harp seal pup on Canada’s Atlantic coast in 2006. He went to Prince Edward Island to assist the Humane Society International and Respect for Animals, which are trying to stop an annual seal hunt. Pamela Anderson, spokeswoman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, showed up in Nova Scotia for the same reason.

Africa is a hot spot for celebrity do-gooders. Matt Damon cruised a cotton field in Chongwe, Zambia. Returning to the U.S., he announced his six-day trip had infused him with a "passion for fighting AIDS." Mia Farrow, UNICEF goodwill ambassador, spent a week in the Darfur region of Sudan, and visited a refugee camp.

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are no strangers to Africa. In April, Jolie was photographed with NBC News’ Ann Curry in Namibia. Curry traveled to Africa to interview Jolie about her new cause — demanding that all the world’s children be educated. Pitt joined Jolie in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting to discuss human rights, poverty and disease.

In 2006, Washington, D.C., saw a parade of celebrities championing all sorts of issues and causes. Alec Baldwin breakfasted on Capitol Hill for Arts Advocacy Day to lobby Congress for more funding for the arts. Mira Sorvino, another goodwill ambassador, spoke at a Capitol Hill news conference about the genocide in Sudan. Queen Latifah spoke at the first annual National Women’s Confidence Day. Mary Tyler Moore scored a one-on-one meeting with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., regarding stem cell research.

In October, then-Senate candidate Claire McCaskill trotted Michael J. Fox out to speak on behalf of the stem cell initiative in Missouri.

Jerry Hall launched a new phone linefor the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC) in London.

In June, Daryl Hannah was removed from a tree in South Los Angeles while protesting the eviction of farmers from a 14-acre urban garden. And Martin Sheen smiled for an Associated Press camera as he marched with demonstrators to support illegal immigrants.

Actor George Clooney proclaimed himself a liberal on Larry King Live and spoke out against the genocide in Darfur. Interestingly, the very reasons he states for why the U.S. should intervene militarily in Darfur are also the same reasons why he believes we should abandon the people of Iraq. It’s simple but hypocritical reasoning.

Which begs the question: Why do we listen to these celebrity spokespeople as if they actually know what they’re talking about? I believe it’s because we live in an entertainment culture that equates being able to deliver the lines or give a good performance with intelligence. President Bush isn’t a good public speaker. He can’t deliver the lines well, so he must be stupid. But an actor, who doesn’t even write the lines but can articulate them with grace, must be smart. It’s an inaccurate and shallow method for judging intelligence, but one we seem to have adopted.

Certainly some of these causes are worthy or our attention, but I can only hope that in 2007 we will begin to evaluate causes, issues and individuals based on substance, not form.

Kathleen Antrim is a columnist for The Examiner newspapers and a correspondent for NewsMax Magazine. She can be heard Mondays at 7 a.m. on KSFO 560 AM, on "The Lee Rogers and Melanie Morgan Show."


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