Celebrity Colonialism – Continuation of Colonial Imperialism???

Oversized shades have replaced pith helmets, but the new scramble for Africa has its share of adventurers, would-be saviors, and even turf battles. As Madonna’s publicist explains, “She’s focusing on Malawi. South Africa is Oprah’s territory.”
Dave Gilson

Dave Gibson “An interactive map of the celebrity recolonization of Africa.”

It could be argued that the practices employed by the Western celebrities are reflective of colonial imperialism.  Activities performed by celebrity missionaries don’t involve actual land-seizing and physical capturing of the resources the way former colonialists did. They rather engage in reestablishing power relations and enforcing economic subordination the way imperialism does.

As Carol Magee asserts, celebrities are simply human beings engaging in the world around them and some of them have sincere interest in and genuine commitment to a case (282). Nevertheless, their actions appear to be insistently repeating colonial patterns. Through the actions of influential celebrities, the West emerges as a powerful political formation whose ability and, more importantly, the moral duty, is to intervene in the internal affairs of the helpless Rest.  In the words of Hilde Van den Bulck, “[celebrities] and their activities can thus be seen to endorse certain views on world relationships, giving them heightened political and cultural importance and meaning” (125).

The conversation about the necessity to save the world and fix the wretched Africa, originated by the Western celebrities, is another instance of one-sided colonial dialog. Celebrities simply affirm the right to speak for others and skillfully use it to politically engage on the international scale. In the words of Duvall, “Third World peoples are virtually invisible in the coverage of celebrity activism, showing up only as backdrops to celebrity speeches or sound bites to illustrated their adoration of celebrities” (94). Celebrity missionary activities, therefore, present the repetitive pattern, when the hegemonic power becomes a spokesperson and a decision-maker for the subordinate muted “other.”

Adam Elkus, one of the initiators of the celebrity colonialism discourse,  concluded in his article that colonial practices are still colonial practices no matter what form they take or how fashionable they might be. The bottom line is, he argues, that “[one] cannot ascribe malicious motives to the celebrities – they sincerely believe they are making a positive difference. But they are not. While celebrities “find themselves” in Africa’s plains, the IMF, World Bank, and multinational corporations are out to find profit.”



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