Lindsay Lohan’s stupid celebrity quest to save India
These days no self-respecting or self-preserving celeb is seen without a malnourished child, developing country or war zone. Make up removed, with a shawl or ethnic beads for decoration, the ‘saving the world’ photo shoot is a must-have for their portfolio.
This week Lindsay Lohan joins the fray as she fronts Lindsay Lohan’s Indian Journey, a BBC3 documentary about child trafficking in India.
It’s heavy stuff. The country’s economic boom has seen traffickers head to India’s poorest regions in search of children who end up working long hours in inhumane conditions, with some forced into prostitution.
In response, Lohan travels the country and “questions if there is any solution to the abominable trade.” According to the documentary’s director, Maninderpal Sahota, Lohan’s childhood in the entertainment industry has given her empathy for the children’s plight.
Despite the importance of the subject matter, it’s hard not to reach for a bucket. You only have to look at the title to see this is a film about Lohan, not child workers.
As The Guardian pointed out this week, one of the most embarrassing moments in the film occurs when a girl who begs on the streets of Calcutta comforts Lohan at the behest of the translator, because the actress is so distraught about the girl’s life.
“Oh my God! Oh my God!” Lohan says, breaking down, “Sorry, I’m having a moment.”
Apart from her furrowed brow, a frequent comment during the documentary is “wow.” Lohan’s other insights include “traffickers are the ones in the wrong” and “Twitter? There’s Twitter…” when asked what people could do to help.
BBC channel controller, Danny Cohen has defended the broadcaster’s decision to use Lohan because of her potential to capture a broader audience.
“We have to think, as a channel, how we can open up issues surrounding environment, development and globalisation for a media-literate audience of teens and 20-somethings who’ll quite happily switch off and go online if you don’t keep their attention,” he told Radio Times.
It’s a logic that unfairly assumes the general public (and young people) will be stupider than the celebrity for hire.
If anything, someone who lives in the bubble of Hollywood is likely to be less tuned-in to real world issues, not more. Lohan might just as easily have the same horrified “wow” reaction if she took a tour of my apartment and beheld its unfashionable 80s décor.
While the western world is far, far from perfect, people’s willingness to give to appeals for the Haitian earthquake and the 2004 Asian tsunami along with support for the Make Poverty History campaign demonstrate we don’t always need a starlet to inform us about world issues and cajole us into caring.
We may not have the opportunity of escorted travel around world hot spots, but we’ve all got access to SBS.
Of course, Lohan is not the first celebrity to try and save the day.
Just last week, Antonio Banderas was named as a new Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Program. According to the UN, “as an advocate for the poor, [Banderas will] set his sights on the Millennium Development Goals.” He joins a bevy of UN Goodwill Ambassadors that includes Ginger Spice, Orlando Bloom, Ricky Martin and Whoopi Goldberg.
As journalist Marina Hyde argued in her book Celebrity: how entertainers took over the world and why we need an exit strategy, today’s celebrities are running riot in politics.
And what a riot it isfrom Richard Gere encouraging Palestinians to vote on the eve of the 2005 election, “Hi, I’m Richard Gere and I’m speaking for the entire world”, to Sharon Stone at the World Economic Forum, Jude Law touring Afghanistan to talk to the Taliban and Angelina Jolie’s spot on the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations.
It’s hard to think of a cause or crisis that doesn’t have a famous face attached to it.
But in situations that require nuanced politico-cultural understanding or real-time diplomacy, it’s frightening that celebs are allowed to weigh in with such gusto and get a PR payoff. Earlier this year when John Travolta flew a plane to bring medical supplies, food and scientologists to Haitian earthquake victims, it barely raised an eyebrow.
Boasting about her involvement in a raid to rescue Indian children from a sweat shop, Lohan recently tweeted, “Over 40 children saved so far ... Within one day’s work ... This is what life is about ... Doing THIS is a life worth living!!!”
The BBC was forced into damage control when activists involved in the raids said they took place before Lohan arrived in India. A spokesperson rather aptly called the incident a “misinterpretation” while the UK’s Telegraph reported Lohan’s tweeting had angered Indian officials.
Issues such as global poverty, war and economics are tricky enough at the best of times. Goodness knows governments, NGOs and experts don’t always get it right but at least this is their day job and they don’t have film careers to promote as well.
As LiLo and co. show us, celebrities might bring hyped-up emotion and publicity to world affairs but unless you’re a Twit, they don’t provide answers.
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