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Johansson in her (former) work for Oxfam

Johansson in her (former) work for Oxfam

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.

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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11 Responses

  1. goldmarx
    January 30, 2014, 11:24 am

    How sad that ScarJo not only disagreed with BDS, but did so in such a zealous fashion.

    Oy, Her!

  2. MHughes976
    January 30, 2014, 11:38 am

    Not quite sure of your point, Marc! It’s true that we all have a survival imperative and we all want a good reputation, but those aren’t bad things, are they? I’m not sure that I blame anyone who’s in the public eye for wanting to maintain a reputation or for taking advice about how to do so. If Oxfam thought seriously about what to say about all this I’d commend them – and they do seem to have come out of it with reasonable dignity.

    • W.Jones
      January 30, 2014, 2:03 pm


      I wish Oxfam America, along with the other people it helps with projects, would also make a project in the territories.

  3. kma
    January 30, 2014, 12:08 pm

    why do you think Scarlett Johansson doesn’t fundamentally support the expansion of Israel into the West Bank and the destruction of Palestine?
    she made this clear in her statement. that was no accident. the PR and money is only about how to dump Oxfam, not about whether she worked for Sodastream or not.

  4. pabelmont
    January 30, 2014, 12:20 pm

    SodaStream’s “ambassador” was glad to take on the acting job, the publicity job, to earn the big-bux that go with celebrity sponsorships. But she didn’t know the territory! she didn’t even know there WAS a territory to know. (Occupied Territory.)

    Think of all the athletes doing high-paid-sponsoring gigs for athletic gear, shoes. And a few of THEM have lost their ambassadorial-jobs due to social gaffes of various kinds. Racism. Fights. Drugs. Doping. Ordinary stuff they should have known about. Personal failings, if you will.

    Now most of the athletes (and company-ambassadors, too) have NOT had to learn much about international politics, international law, human-rights. Poor Scarlett! So surprised to find herself innocently on the wrong side of (what finally came to be known as) Oxfam’s principles. (Took Oxfam long enough to discover them, too.)

    Gosh. If you live in a world dominated by capitalism, neoliberalism, and all those other death-to-principles-isms (which use huge and not-so-huge payments to get folks to forget their principles: look at the USA’s Congress, bought relatively cheaply by AIPAC these days!), may have to watch your back.

  5. W.Jones
    January 30, 2014, 1:59 pm


    A Palestinian village living right under Sodastream’s plant is asking Scarlett Johansson to back out of Sodastream. Is it possible in any way for their sad plea to succeed? If so, how?

  6. Maximus Decimus Meridius
    Maximus Decimus Meridius
    January 30, 2014, 6:34 pm

    It is to be hoped that this debacle might lead charities to think a little harder about which celebs they choose as ‘ambassadors’. Maybe they will realise that having a (supposedly) pretty face and a high profile just isn’t enough. Oxfam should have sat down with Johansson and explained their work and their stance on all issues – especially ‘controversial’ ones like the ‘settlements’ – and told her that, if she was to be associated with them, she could not do anything which contradicted Oxfam’s principles, and that if she did, she could no longer be linked to them. That might have made Johansson and Oxfam think twice about forming a partnership in the first place, and made it much easier for them to cut her loose when this scandal broke. Now, nobody comes out of this looking good.

    • Citizen
      January 31, 2014, 7:55 am

      She’s been to a lot of places around the world, working for Oxfam. I’d bet she was given a briefing before she stepped off the trip-to jet each time. Don’t know how much in each case she was given a political painting of the landscape, and a handful of code words and praises.

  7. crypticvalentin
    January 31, 2014, 2:10 am

    Angelina Jolie has a job as spokesperson, she’s a propagandist for The Pentagon..

    • Citizen
      January 31, 2014, 7:56 am

      So, Angelina’s like her father? He’s a big time AIPAC fan, and a neocon, don’t you think?

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