This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
So Scarlett Johansson has stepped down as an Oxfam ambassador. She’s certainly global but it seems Palestine is a huge stumbling block when it comes to celebrity.
Ambassadorships of all kinds are in great demand today. They’re sought-after status symbols, especially for starlets who want to prove they’re more than their looks.
Mind over matter is yet another ideal that doesn’t often work that way. Even in our supposedly liberated age.
But then when justice becomes involved with celebrity – Oxfam included – what should we expect? You can’t beat a pretty face gracing a justice poster. Justice box-office pays the bills.
Perhaps Johansson is the Samantha Power of the acting guild. Power bailed on Palestine, too.
And for the same reason. Some academics need to prove they’re more important than their last book. Why get stuck at faculty meetings when you can hobnob with United Nations enablers?
Actors and academics feathering their own nest. It’s an old story.
In the end though you can’t watch a Johansson film or read a Power book without feeling betrayed. Or wondering what was there in the first place.
Money talks. Career talks. It makes no sense to sink your ship over principle when the world is your oyster.
Now I’m sure Johansson thought about the issue deeply – with her publicist. No doubt Oxfam did as well – with its publicists.
Surprised? Progressive justice outfits have their make-up artists too.
So while we’re jumping off the Johansson bandwagon, we should look in the mirror. We enjoyed seeing her on our side. There are others to recruit.
Just call Angelina Jolie. Maybe she’d be willing to add an Oxfam hat to her UN portfolio.
If that doesn’t work contact Bono. Not sure if he’s officially an ambassador but Bono is known as the face of “fusion philanthropy.” Whatever fusion philanthropy means, since Bono is worth over a billion dollars it’s worth making the call. Or taking a private jet for a visit. Provided by a well meaning private donor of course.
Publicist culture is an easy nut to crack. When you enter the celebrity arena know that principles are for sale and constituencies – even progressive ones – pay your fare.
So what is the lesson here?
Think of life as a food chain. Everyone has to eat.
Include actors and not-for-profits, the United Nations and the World Council of Churches.
Don’t forget Oxfam.