“Positive Influences of Celebrity Culture,” Melanie Secre (2014) — Inquiry 3

Writer’s Letter

I began Inquiry III by choosing the articles that I was going to use in the paper. It was very convenient to have multiple articles to choose from because I had more information and flexibility when writing. I thought that it would be very difficult for me to find sources because my topic is pop-culture based. I was surprised by how much information there was in academic, news, and pop-culture sources that was applicable to my argument. However, I did struggle with choosing quotations. I felt that the academic sources in particular included so much information, and it was difficult to decide what evidence would best support my argument. After choosing the information I wanted to include, my writing process went smoothly. Overall, it was fairly easy for me to write Inquiry III because I was allowed to express my opinion on the topic. While writing Inquiry II I struggled to keep my opinion out, so I had a feeling that writing Inquiry III would be easier.

The biggest criticism I received from my conference draft was that my argument was not clear enough, so I made my thesis statement more explicit in the introduction. I also edited my conclusion to ensure that I summarized my paper and restated my argument. During the peer review session a classmate suggested that I explain my argument after presenting a counterargument. I made these adjustments throughout my paper where it was appropriate.


Positive Influences of Celebrity Culture


Celebrities are often seen as self-centered and greedy people, but what if they are more than that? Glamorous red carpets events are just one aspect of being a celebrity. There is a whole new trend in the celebrity lifestyle, and this trend is charity. In almost every magazine there is a picture of Angelina Jolie saving children in Kenya, or Taylor Swift reading to cancer patients in a children’s hospital. It is clear that the publicity of these good public deeds aids the celebrity, but that doesn’t mean that their acts are not important. Charities and non-profit organizations are dependent on celebrities. Society has a very negative perception of celebrity culture, and this should change based on their interactions with non-profit organizations.

In the United States, celebrities have a very strong influence on culture. Americans model their clothing, hairstyles, interests and hobbies after their favorite celebrities. Therefore, celebrities have a huge influence on the actions of others. Julie Salamon of the New York Times recognizes the influences celebrities have on their fan’s investments in her article “Weighing the Benefits of Celebrity Charity.” Salamon determines, “Celebrities may not exactly be the prophets of our age, but they have a strong grip on people’s imaginations, and on their wallets…So despite, or because of, their aura of glitz and glamour, they can provide a moral example for us to follow when they do something good.” (Salamon). Big donations from celebrities are publicized for more than one reason. Although celebrities receive good press from donating a large sum of money to a charity, they can also influence others to donate too. Leonardo DiCaprio followed Sandra Bullock’s lead after she donated $1 million to tsunami relief in 2005: “Ms. Bullock’s generosity was quickly followed by other high-profile acts of charity: Leonardo DiCaprio gave an undisclosed amount to Unicef” (Salamon). Celebrities not only influence their followers, but other celebrities as well. By publically sending in a donation to a non-profit organization that other celebrities can see, others can decide to send in a donation of their own. Both of these impacts result in an increase of funds for the charity.

Celebrities also bring a lot of attention to whatever they do. They can’t walk down the street without getting their picture taken by the paparazzi, or being recognized by fans. Similarly, celebrities bring a lot of attention to charities, which is especially beneficial for lesser-known organizations. Koen Panis and Hilde Van Den Bulck wrote “Celebrities’ Quest For a Better World Understanding Flemish Public Perceptions of Celebrities’ Societal Engagement” based on their study of the association of a celebrity with a non-profit organization. They conducted a variety of surveys testing the association of celebrities with their respective organizations. They found that 68.9% of the experimental group could name one celebrity, 33.9% were able to name two, and 17.8% successfully named three (82). This leads Panis and Van Den Bulck to conclude, “As these celebrities may gain more media coverage, this may reinforce the existing media attention gap between well and less institutionalized non-profit organizations, at least when it comes to top of mind recall” (88). Celebrities bring more attention to non-profit organizations. By doing so, celebrities rally more support for a charities that they are passionate about. This works especially well with lesser-known charities because a celebrity endorsement will spark interest in their fans to learn more about the organization. The publicity promotes the charity, and association with a celebrity helps the organization gain supporters. This makes a small charity grow, thus the services they can provider are greater and of better quality.

It has been proven that celebrities successfully promote charities, and thus help them gain support and funds. However, there are arguments that attempt to justify why celebrities’ involvement in non-profit organizations detract from the cause. Daniel Biltereyst, Oliver Driessens, and Stijn Joye wrote “The X-factor of Charity: A Critical Analysis of Celebrities’ Involvement in the 2010 Flemish and Dutch Haiti Relief Shows” based on a study they conducted that evaluated the effects of celebrity endorsements on the organizations raising Haiti relief funds. They discovered that celebrities can misinform the public by oversimplifying the situation: “This discourse is focused on the mediated spectacle of giving: raising relief aid by dwelling on pity and an overtly positive goal of hope while largely ignoring the complexity of the disaster situation and its underlying structural and geopolitical causes” (723). In urgent and face-paced situations, like an unforeseen earthquake in Haiti, celebrities can be misinformed because the details of the situation are being clarified in such a short period of time. This leads celebrities to give misinformation to the public when endorsing a charity. However, this tendency to misinform the audience is not exclusive to celebrities. During a time of crisis, where new information about the incident is discovered rapidly, it is just as likely for a reporter to misinform as it is for a celebrity. Furthermore, the glamour celebrities bring to a crisis is thought to detract from the urgency of the situation because a celebrity on a news program does not evoke the same sense of despair as a reporter at the scene of a destroyed home in Haiti. Although, this sense of despair is not always the best way to receive help because some people respond better to an authority figure, such as a celebrity, then they do to emotional appeals.

Through their research, Biltereyst, Driessens, and Joye also established four key roles that celebrities play when endorsing a charity. They recognized, “First, celebrities grant charity appeals an aura of exclusiveness and glamour; second, they render distant suffering relevant to domestic audiences; third, they function as principal motivators; and, finally, they contribute to the commodification of charity” (722). As previously described, celebrities weaken the element of suffering, and in order to promote charities, they market them like they would a product. This is not necessarily negative because if they successfully convince others to support the charity, then the strategy is effective. However, celebrities ameliorate philanthropy through the other two described roles. Celebrities bring glamour to charity events, and that is beneficial to the charities. By glamourizing charity, more people are inclined to participate because it makes them feel special or important. This adds to the motivation that celebrities provide for others to aid charities.

Celebrities have been proven to be motivators, but they are also used as a marketing technique for many companies. Companies in virtually every market in the United States use celebrity endorsements. In the article “Celebrity Endorsements Lead to Increases in Charitable Donations from the Public,” Ed Moorhouse compares the relationship between celebrities and charities to a business relationship. Celebrities endorse products, and the means through which they promote charities is very similar. If non-profit organizations are able to market themselves well, then they can be distinguished from other organizations. The best way to do this is often through celebrity endorsements. Julie Ruth, a marketing professor at the Rutgers School of Business – Camden, explains, “Both of those aspects — credibility and likeability — add value to a brand, which in turn makes it easier and more likely that consumers would choose the particular brand. We believe it’s a fairly similar process for celebrities and nonprofit organizations, as reflected in donations” (Moorhouse). Nonprofit organizations that use celebrity endorsements to advertise their charity receive more donations than nonprofits that do not. This is why celebrity culture is so important. Celebrity endorsements ensure that the charity’s philanthropy is well known, and the value of donations increases because people trust the credibility of the organization. Thus, nonprofit organizations that advertise celebrities contributing to their cause are much more successful.

Celebrities are very influential in the success of nonprofit organizations, yet there is still a stigma about celebrities that many people do not understand. Celebrities are often criticized for their million dollar paychecks. Most people think that they use this money to buy expensive cars, clothes, houses, and other personal items. Although it is true that some of this money goes to those purposes, a large majority of their income does not. Celebrities who receive great sums of money take great pride in helping others with those funds. At the top of Forbes Magazine’s list of 30 most generous celebrities are Jamie Gertz and her husband Anthony Ressler with a donation of $10,569,002 to the Ressler-Gertz Foundation (Antunes). The Ressler-Gertz foundation is an education based nonprofit organization that provides scholarships, and financial aid to students who could not afford education otherwise. By the end of 2011 the Ressler-Gertz foundation was reported to have $25.4 million in assets, and an income of $19.5 million, which makes them one of the largest and most successful nonprofit organizations (The). Education in the United States has become increasingly important as Americans are in high competition with people from other countries. Without the contributions from Ressler and Gertz, the organization would not be nearly as successful. Both Ressler and Getz donate immense amounts of their time and money to assist the organization, which contradicts the common belief that celebrity culture is unnecessary and destructive.

Celebrities influence philanthropy in a variety of ways. They globally motivate people to contribute to charities, they give hefty donations themselves, they provide publicity for the charities, and they set a good example for the rest of the world to follow. Charities are very dependent on the contributions that celebrities provide, regardless of their intentions. Although celebrities receive good press for their donations, the impacts they have on charities exceed the benefits that they reap. Celebrity culture is very prominent in the United States. Although celebrity culture should not extend any further, their presence is necessary. Celebrities serve as role models for many people, and when they give to society others are influenced to do the same. Celebrity culture has a huge impact on the success of charities, and the awareness of their philanthropies. There is a negative connotation connected with celebrity culture; however, celebrity culture is essential to survival of philanthropies around the world.

Works Cited

Antunes, Anderson. “The 30 Most Generous Celebrities.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 11 Jan. 2012. Web. 08 Oct. 2013.

Biltereyst, Daniel, Driessens, Oliver, and Stijn Joye, and. “The X-factor of Charity: A Critical Analysis of Celebrities’ Involvement in the 2010 Flemish and Dutch Haiti Relief Shows.” Media, Culture & Society 0163-4437 34.6 (2012): 709-25. Academic Search Complete. Web. 9 Oct. 2013.

Moorhouse, Ed. “Celebrity Endorsements Lead to Increases in Charitable Donations from the Public.” Rutgers News. Rutgers Today, 26 Sept. 2013. Web. 14 Oct. 2013.

Panis, Koen, and Hilde Van Den Bulck. “Celebrities’ Quest For a Better World Understanding Flemish Public Perceptions of Celebrities’ Societal Engagement.” Javnost-The Public 0163-4437 (2012): 75-92. Academic Search Complete. Web. 9 Oct. 2013.

Salamon, Julie. “Weighing the Benefits of Celebrity Charity.” Editorial. New York Times. New York Times, 8 Jan. 2005. Web. 14 Oct. 2013.

“The Ressler-Gertz Foundation.” FindTheBest. FindTheBest, n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2013.