A Selective Discourse


The other week, I came across a news story which initially roused my interest, and by the end of it I had to resist the urge to jump out of a window –I had navigated across my entire emotional spectrum in a short space of time, not to say I liked it much, but it was memorable and I suppose it’s why I’m writing about it now. Oddly enough, the story would equally be at home as part of any gossip mag or political broadsheet; mixing ethical philosophy with a sprinkle of pop culture. The story I’m alluding to involves Oxfam and the actress Scarlett Johansson – I know it seems innocuous enough, but bear with me. Oxfam made an announcement last week in which they disclosed their disapproval of the actress’s decision to take part in a commercial for SodaStream – an Israeli company which illegally operates in the occupied West Bank. For Oxfam, businesses like SodaStream which operate in the settlements only exist to further impoverish local communities and exploit its population without the constraints of legal frameworks. I imagine you nodding your head in agreement with Oxfam. Nevertheless, surprisingly, the actress was none too happy with Oxfam’s position and immediately relinquished her role as ambassador to the organization. I don’t know what was more surprising; the fact that she felt the need to go against Oxfam or the fact she evidently has a strong political affiliation.

But regardless, I can’t blame her though; what’s more alarming is the contemporary trend of having unqualified celebrities act as sponsors for humanitarian organizations. What is a celebrity – aside from a recognizable face? No different from you and I, and certainly not anymore informed than the average layman on issues of politics and philosophy. Therefore, I blame Oxfam for showing such splendid naivety; in falling prey to a vulgar corporeality. But reading this quote from the article – I can’t help but feel depressed;

“I just don’t believe we’ll achieve the enormous change we need in the world, without the power of famous voices”- Justin Forsyth – Chief Executive of the Save the Children charity.

What a strange scale that is, a balance in which celebrities hold more weight than politicians do. I think humanitarian organizations which subscribe to such hare-brained values need to revaluate their roles slightly. I mean with this sort of thinking there’s no wonder why they remain so unproductive in many parts of the developing world, or why such governments regard them as nothing more than political nuisances.

But anyway, whilst Oxfam and Scarlett are busy tossing dirt at each other – with us watching on for our enjoyment, we rarely stop to consider the underlying theme of the story. The one about humiliation of Palestinian workers who have the shame and indignity of having to work for a company which is deliberately situated on the land their homes once were.

But, I guess the only consolation is that they get to keep their jobs, I suppose, I mean what other alternative is there for them besides starving or serving merely as fodder for Israeli bullets, bombs and bigotry? Sadly, the underlying theme of the story sought to bring to our attention to the plight of the Palestinian people and the flagrant abuse of international law, but alas that story fails to hold our attention – we’d much rather admire images of Scarlett Johansson sucking out of a straw than begin to imagine the lack of humanity shown in illegal factories in the occupied territories. But that debate is for another time, the pressing concern is whether or not to characterize Palestinians in the occupied territories as losers in the global political economy? For me though, the answer is relatively straightforward.

Mohamed Hussein




One thought on “A Selective Discourse

  1. The use of famous people to support a certain charity or cause can be seen in different lights.
    “Celebrities hold more weight than politicians do” – it is sad, yes, but look at it from a the point of view of perhaps a teenager who is disinterested in politics due to their stereotypical assumption of it being ‘boring’.
    Look at how much an obsessed fan knows about a certain celebrity (ignoring the fact that it is ever-so-creepy). This popularity can be put to good use. People are more likely to follow celebrities than politicians, and when celebrities support charities, awareness is raised among their fans. Word spreads and many people know about the charity.
    Yes what is sad is that people still focus more on the celebrity and less on the cause the charity is supporting, but at least there is awareness, and at least SOME people are concerned about the charity itself.
    Veera Lamichhane

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