Beyond Activism: Emerging Models of Celebrity Diplomacy

Beyond Activism: Emerging Models of Celebrity Diplomacy
Former President Barack Obama, George Clooney, right, and Laura Davis of Newton Supply, Co., second from left, at a CEO roundtable on the margins of the 71st session of the U.N. General Assembly, Sept. 20, 2016 (AP photo by Carolyn Kaster).

Editor’s note: The following article is one of 30 that we’ve selected from our archives to celebrate World Politics Review’s 15th anniversary. You can find the full collection here.

Despite the amplified role of celebrities in global affairs, the notion that celebrities have assumed the role of diplomats is much contested. The classic definition of diplomats as agents of the state and the national interest would appear to exclude celebrities, just as it does all nonstate actors. This restrictive view, however, does not reflect the degree to which at least some top-tier celebrities have gained recognition as actors with an elevated standing in world politics.

Before examining this small, more “professional” cluster of celebrities who advance beyond activism to diplomacy, it is useful to analyze the role of celebrities more generally in global affairs. Celebrity activism is replete with examples of prominent individuals from the world of show business deviating dramatically from the script developed in a sophisticated, sustained and subtle manner by the “professionals.” In identifying the shortcomings of this larger array of activists, it will become clearer what it is that sets the top-tier celebrities with a true claim to diplomatic status apart.

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