The Celebrity With A Cause


The 86th Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday, and the thousands of millionaires who attended—including today’s most popular actors, writers, and directors, some of the highest paid individuals in the world— got me thinking about celebrity status and what it means to the average American. The event particularly sparked my interest in the various charities to which celebrities donate, and the philanthropic causes that they support, and I wondered whether the millions of dollars famous celebrities collectively donate each year are given for the right reasons.

I’ll admit, as an openly gay man and fan of pop music, Lady Gaga’s consistent activism and support of the Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender community makes me appreciate and respect her even more than I already would, based on her talent as a vocalist and performer. Her support toward legalizing gay marriage and striking down the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” protocol supplement my love for her.

However, as a fan of the singer, perhaps it is difficult for me to see the bigger picture–that supporting gay rights benefits LGBT individuals as much as it benefits Gaga herself. Her meat dress, which Gaga wore to the 2010 Video Music Awards, accompanied by three members of the U.S. Armed Forces who had been unable to serve openly under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, was meant to express that “if we don’t stand up for what we believe in and if we don’t fight for our rights, pretty soon, we’re going to have as much rights as the meat on our own bones,” Gaga explained in an interview on Ellen DeGeneres. Yet Time Magazine also named the outfit the top fashion statement of that year, resulting in increased worldwide attention for the pop star, and the continuation of her A-list fame.

It is much easier to see through celebrities’ activism when you are not part of the target audience or the group benefitting from their support. The best example I can give of this is Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s ever-growing family of adopted foreign children who would otherwise live in poverty, of which they have four, in addition to their own two birth children.

Do Brad and Angelina actually care about underprivileged African children, or were their adoptions just for show? Is it their responsibility to save these children and interfere with their lives? No. It almost seems as if Jolie, Madonna and other celebrities who have adopted children from abroad crave underprivileged youths, as if they were commodities.

It is also impossible to tell if they have adopted out of mere ability or out of deep concern and understanding for poverty and the desire to stop it.

What is for sure is that their continuous adoptions have kept Brad and Angelina in the public eye, and resulted in their constant attention. Adopting one child each from Cambodia, Vietnam, Ethiopia and Namibia is also not a solution to the rampant poverty in any of these countries.

Don’t get me wrong, celebrities donate money to charities that save or improve thousands of lives, or fund research toward curing medical conditions such as autism or cerebral palsy, and that is good thing.

But celebrities also have ulterior motives, the largest being to maintain their positive images and popularity and market themselves, and another being to give away some of their cash rather than having it snatched away by the IRS. As well-known figures known to have a net worth of several million, celebrities are prime targets for their IRS.

You absolutely should donate to charities. Adopt homeless children from third world countries. Just don’t do it because it’s the hottest new trend or because a celebrity you admire donates their money to a specific cause. Donate because you care.

Eli Heller is a fourth-year literary journalism and art history double major. He can be reached at