Foreign Policy Goes Glam

November 1, 2007 Topic: Society Tags: Diplomacy

Foreign Policy Goes Glam

Mini Teaser: Stars shilling for political causes are everywhere these days. But are they actually making a difference? This weekend's New York Times Magazine also tackled the topic. Drezner offered his 

by Author(s): Daniel W. Drezner

THIS INCREASE in influence comes with a warning, however: With great power comes the great potential for blowback. A September CBS/New York Times poll revealed that 49 percent of Americans think celebrities should stay out of politics. Since 2003, the polling data suggests increasing public hostility towards celebrity activism.

Both elites and ordinary citizens have their reasons to resent star power. Celebrity activism rubs many policymakers and pundits the wrong way. To some, star power upsets their sense of fair play. Christopher Caldwell complained recently, "Philanthropy is a route through which celebrity can be laundered into political power." He makes an interesting point. Why should the leads of Mr. & Mrs. Smith be listened to on weightier affairs of state? Who appointed Bono the global secretary of development? Does Pamela Anderson merit attention for her causes ahead of learned policy experts? To other aspirants of the foreign-policy community, the offense is more personal. Power is a zero-sum commodity, and if celebrities are rising in influence, that means others are falling. This will not sit well with those who feel pushed aside, especially if they have toiled for years in graduate school and low-paying policy jobs.

Among "ordinary" citizens, celebrities are all too aware that the ingredients for a fall from grace are interwoven with the sources of star power. At its core, star activism hints that the famous are somehow better than you or me. Some Americans view celebrities who pontificate on politics and policy as taking advantage of a bully pulpit that they did not earn. There's a fine line between principled activism and righteous indignation, and the celebrity who crosses that line risks incurring the wrath of the common man or woman. Americans are addicted to celebrities because we like to see them on top-but we also enjoy their fall.


Daniel W. Drezner is an associate professor of international politics at the Fletcher School at Tufts University and the author of All Politics Is Global (Princeton University Press, 2007).

1 For a very amusing skit that satirizes this point, see 

2 See Richard Price, "Reversing the Gun Sights: Transnational Civil Society Targets Land Mines", International Organization Vol. 52, No. 3 (Summer 1998).

3 See Joshua Busby, "Bono Made Jesse Helms Cry: Jubilee 2000, Debt Relief, and Moral Action in International Politics", International Studies Quarterly, No. 51 (June 2007).

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