Some time ago, I had a conversation with a few friends about Hollywood. We were talking about stars we admire, and why. And honestly, if you asked me that question right now, I couldn't come up with an answer, but one particular star -- whom I know very little about and have seen only a few of his movies -- came up. One of his virtues, according to my friends, was that he didn't use his stardom for politics or to push a particular cause.
I hear a lot of criticism of celebrities who use their status to promote a subject -- whether it's antiwar (George Clooney), or anti-Taliban (a cause made famous by Maeve Leno, incidentally), or raising awareness in Third World countries (Angelina Jolie) -- but I don't actually understand what the downside is. If Richard Gere wants to free Tibet and testify in Congress about his knowledge, what's the problem?
The truth is, plenty of non-celebrities do a lot of great work for humanity every single day of the week, 365 days a year, but none of us pay attention. My friend Heather spent two and a half years in Niger, living in a mud hut, as part of the Peace Corps. She tells me about her experience, her other friends, her colleagues, but in the grand scheme of thing, Joe Public isn't going to pay attention to Heather. They're going to pay attention when Angelina Jolie decides that there's a crisis in Haiti and she's going to check it out. And as much as Heather learned and accomplished in Niger, there's more work to be done there than she can accomplish on her own and as who she is.
I don't mind when celebrities talk about their opinions on the war or who should be elected president. Just because someone is a pretty face wearing designer clothes doesn't mean they aren't entitled to their opinions or actions, and last I checked, we're all guaranteed by the First Amendment to say nearly anything we want to say. The only thing really these celebrities accomplish by these visits and their speeches is making us all feel a little more uncomfortable about the fact there are small tragedies happening every day around the world, some of them caused by leaders whom we've been asked to trust and consider infalliable.