Celebritizing Conflict: How Ben Affleck Sells the Congo to Americans

Celebritizing Conflict: How Ben Affleck Sells the Congo to Americans Abstract: From serving as UN ambassadors to appearing as spokespersons for major NGO campaigns, global celebrities have become increasingly important actors in promoting humanitarian causes in Africa. Yet the growing visibility and proliferation of celebrity humanitarianism has been critiqued for legitimating and promoting neoliberal capitalism and global inequality. This article, using emerging literature on celebrities in north-south relations, analyzes the celebrity discourses and practices of professional entertainer Ben Affleck and his engagement in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in order to understand how celebrities intersect with and popularize representations of poverty, conflict, and development in Africa. We conclude that the celebritization of African conflicts in the DRC—as understood from the interventions of Affleck—remain linked to the needs of marketing causes, celebrities, and products, and considerably removed from the voices of Congolese on whose stories these interventions rely. As a result, the constraints of celebrity humanitarianism in an age of media saturation limit the possibilities that individual celebrities might have in engaging in alternative, more complex, and less sound-bite friendly discourses. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development University of Pennsylvania Press

Celebritizing Conflict: How Ben Affleck Sells the Congo to Americans


Lisa Ann Richey and Alexandra Cosima Budabin It's fairly clear that in the modern age there is a currency to celebrity, or celebrity is a currency, really. I've discovered that you can spend it in a lot of ways, or you can squander it. You can be taxed, as well. I really started thinking long and hard about how to use that currency as long as I had it. --Ben Affleck on his work for Eastern Congo1 From serving as United Nations ambassadors to appearing as spokespersons for major NGO campaigns, global celebrities have become increasingly important in international development assistance. Acting as ``aid celebrities,'' they are indelibly linked with humanitarian work and public engagement.2 In the policy realm, celebrity endorsement may shift attention, shape decisions, and build or erode key alliances. Meanwhile, the figure of the celebrity offers an enticing lens to refract critical issues of power, influence, and voice within neoliberal north-south relations. This essay, using emerging literature on celebrities in north-south relations, analyzes the celebrity discourses and practices of the professional entertainer Ben Affleck and his engagement in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in order to understand how celebrities intersect with and popularize representations of poverty, conflict, and development in Africa. Ben Affleck is a famous actor and director who initiated his own advocacy and grant-making group, the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI), in 2010. Soon after ECI's founding, the Chronicle of Philanthropy highlighted ECI as ``an example of a smart approach.''3 From glowing compliments from then secretary of state Hillary Clinton to invitations to testify in front of the U.S. Congress, Affleck and his organization have been the recipients of much praise. Affleck was even awarded an honorary doctorate from Brown University in 2013 for his ``contributions as a humanitarian advocate,'' which were notably linked...
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University of Pennsylvania Press
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Copyright © University of Pennsylvania Press
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2151-4372
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Abstract

Abstract: From serving as UN ambassadors to appearing as spokespersons for major NGO campaigns, global celebrities have become increasingly important actors in promoting humanitarian causes in Africa. Yet the growing visibility and proliferation of celebrity humanitarianism has been critiqued for legitimating and promoting neoliberal capitalism and global inequality. This article, using emerging literature on celebrities in north-south relations, analyzes the celebrity discourses and practices of professional entertainer Ben Affleck and his engagement in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in order to understand how celebrities intersect with and popularize representations of poverty, conflict, and development in Africa. We conclude that the celebritization of African conflicts in the DRC—as understood from the interventions of Affleck—remain linked to the needs of marketing causes, celebrities, and products, and considerably removed from the voices of Congolese on whose stories these interventions rely. As a result, the constraints of celebrity humanitarianism in an age of media saturation limit the possibilities that individual celebrities might have in engaging in alternative, more complex, and less sound-bite friendly discourses.

Journal

Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and DevelopmentUniversity of Pennsylvania Press

Published: Mar 21, 2016

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