Unbeknownst to mankind, Shilpa Shetty weeps for the planet. Those tears that well up in her kohl-enlarged eyes are not caused by Jade Goody alone, although that does help. She is, in fact, worried, as those who share her good sense must be, about global warming. She is not alone, having the redoubtable Amitabh Bachchan for company, as evidenced by his recent comments about the subject at an awards function. As several Miss World, Universe, Planet Earth and
other contests about inner female beauty that carry cosmic references have shown, expressing concern about a noble cause at an awards show has a salutary effect on society. So many lives have been touched by these ambassadors in their bikinis and sashes, so many tears of misery stilled by these nymphs before someone offered them a Bollywood role.
The Cause-ratti: “Turn off your phone chargers,” urged Sienna Miller with the Big B during her week-long trip to India on behalf og Global Cool
Global warming is certainly a worthy cause but then, which one isn’t? For years, HIV was a cause embraced by celebrities of all hues. Africa, poverty, landmines, Tibet, debt relief, Darfur—the list is an impressive one. Adopting orphans from different parts of the world so that one has an impressive palette of children at home is again an exercise that goes down well with Hollywood. Every Hollywood star must discover new hellholes from which to rescue orphans; although, as Madonna has shown, the orphan bit is also not really necessary; one can go straight to the parents of the child in Mali.
Global warming has the advantage of being universal in its appeal as well as being high on the agenda of the press, thanks to the rock star-like performance of Al Gore in recent times. The weather in India, too, has been wayward enough for this cause to be commonly understood. Of course, the fact that these statements were made at a function in Yorkshire, where the entire industry flew down for an exhibition of self-congratulation, does not present these celebrities with any sense of irony. That such an energy-intensive exercise should be used for a cause like global warming is a minor fact unlikely to have given anyone a real occasion to think.
In fact, global warming is a cause that any right-thinking celebrity should, in a sane world, steer clear of. Nations can be electrified by the battery drainage that occurs every time Paris Hilton flashes her vacant smile. To be a celebrity is to suck up energy; the larger-than-life existence of a celebrity is nothing but an intensification of energy. Celebrities are like minor planets that absorb the energy
that we feed them with and dazzle us in return.
Miller was the guest of honour at Salman Khan’s party
In India, the celebrity cause bandwagon is out merely for a test drive, at least this time around. The kind of cause politics practised by Shabana Azmi is passé, as Aamir Khan found out. Aamir jumped in early and, in typical style, spoke frankly about an issue that is a politically sensitive one in India, a mistake most celebrities are careful to avoid. The ideal celebrity cause should be noble enough at first glance, preferably affecting people either far away or in an abstract way, should allow for photo ops and must fit in with charity events involving other beautiful people. A few dozen of the alleged beneficiaries of events are fine, but anything more does tend to lower the tone of these parties. The Narmada issue is too real, too political and besides, is ungrateful enough to heckle its own ambassadors, as Aamir discovered.
Global warming also has the advantage of affecting every individual and is possible to bring up in conversations with Shamita too, a feat few other causes can perhaps claim as their own. Every little change in weather can get attributed to it and one can bask in the enormity of one’s contribution whenever the subject is brought up. So hot, no, thank god Shilpa is doing so much for global warming. Right.
The celebrity-cause nexus is a story of parasitic codependence. The cause needs celebrities for, today, the press is loath to cover anything that involves ordinary- looking people unless they are wife beaters or tantric astrologers. Serious causes bore television audiences, not when Rakhi Sawant is always a click away. In a celebrity-saturated world, having a glamorous advocate for a cause is the entry price paid by any issue. For the celebrity, involvement in a cause allows for an impression of compassion and intelligence, both virtues of questionable need today. What is really attractive is a sense of playing God. Of using “one’s fame to help others out of their misery”. Photo ops involving world leaders are a bonus. When other avenues of feeling powerful are exhausted, when firing one’s 15th make-up person loses its charm, when cancelling appearances at the last minute becomes so passé, there is little to do but dial-a-cause. It does involve some pain, it does mean meeting ugly people in faraway places, but the rewards are worthwhile.
Of course, there are celebrities who are genuinely concerned; being celebrities does not stop them from being people. The trouble is that being a celebrity alters everything. It matters little if the concern is genuine or not; the machinery surrounding celebrities grinds them along with the rest of us. The entourage, the paparazzi, the local establishment, which lays out the red carpet, the unseemly wrangling by local celebrities to get a piece of the action, all help surround the celebrity cause with the hollow glitter that seems inescapable.
The need for getting celebrities interested in causes has spawned a new kind of NGO, one that is almost exclusively concerned with media attention. These organizations speak the language of marketing, talk of aligning cause brands with celebrity brands and see other causes as competition that they must vanquish. The celebrity transforms the nature of the intervention, and the cause is seen to benefit purely because of the media attention it receives.
Confusing attention with action, intent with effect and coverage with eventual benefit, the celebrity cause party rocks on. The Indian cause party has just started. Too many people gain too much for this trend to slacken. Sienna Miller is merely the latest Hollywood star to join the global warming party. Isn’t it great when celebrities contribute to a great charitable cause that will save mankind by merely wearing a T-shirt?
Santosh Desai is the managing director and CEO of Future Brands.
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