Thursday, November 06, 2014

Stars Aligned

What matters more to US policy makers? The opinion of the general public or Hollywood celebrities?

It is easy for Hollywood celebrities to have a social cause they support. For example there is George Clooney who helps fund and spread awareness of the Satellite Sentinel Project, which runs satellites over Sudan to help document human right abuses in the region. There is also Leonardo DiCaprio who pushes environmental causes and supports World Wildlife. Emma Watson has recently been named UN Women Goodwill Ambassador and now promotes the movement He for She to promote gender equality. 

One can not forget Angelina Jolie who promotes projects of agriculture, education, health care, and development, who in 2012 was promoted UN High Commissioner for Refugees goodwill ambassador to special envoy of High Commissioner Antonio Guterres. Very recently Times magazine entertained the idea of Angelina Jolie running for Senate in the future when Jolie quoted “When you work as a humanitarian, you are conscious that politics have to be considered. Because if you really want to make an extreme change, then you have a responsibility.” Jolie is aware of the power she poses, and questions if running for political office may hurt the power she has. 

Other issues Hollywood also cares about are anti-piracy, the internet, technology, tax codes, international trade policy, health care, intellectual property, Keystone XL pipeline, and drones. Yes, drones. 
Not only do celebrities use their presence and their voice to promote their causes, they also use their wallets. During the 2012 election cycle, the entertainment industry spent more than $69.7 million on political campaigns, three-fourth of that going to Democrats. To name a few, NBA Magic Johnson hosted a $2,500-$15,000 ticket? event to meet President Obama, TV mogul Haim Saban hosted a $16,200 plate diner for Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, and Marta Kaufman co-creator of Friends hosted a $32,400 per ticket fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee. 
Then you have DreamWorks chief executive, Jeffrey Katzenberg, a friend and supporter of Obama. The president takes Katzenberg’s calls, and Katzenberg makes frequent visits to the White House. Katzenberg was even a key player when disputes over profit sharing between China and US film studios arose. Then two years ago when China’s president Xi Jinpin, visited the US, Katzenberg was given a seat next to him during a State Department luncheon. A week later, Katzenberg announced a $350 million deal to open Oriental DreamWorks. 
The Department of State recognizes the effects celebrities have and use it to raise the profile of international concerns and causes. Cameras will follow celebrities, so why not make something good out of that? Celebrities bring attention to different issues, especially if that issue is not the sexiest. Clooney’s work in helping to call attention to the crisis in Darfur, which was a US policy priority, resulted in far more international support than could have been achieved through official channels. 
When it comes to National Security Policy, Hollywood celebrities take notice of trade and drones. Hollywood’s insistence on tough anti-piracy provisions is partly blamed for preventing the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, an ambitious trade pact between the US and other Pacific Rim nations, from being finalized as planned by the end of the year. Hollywood was even active during the “fiscal cliff” crisis; the industry successfully lobbied Congress to extend tax deductions worth $430 million over two years for studies to keep film and television productions on US soil. The subject of drones is also on the radar for Hollywood. The industry’s interests in drones comes in the context of celebrities trying to keep paparazzi from using remote-controlled drones to launch cameras that could peer into the backyards and homes of the rich and famous.
But, lets not overlook intellectual property. Motion Picture Association of America said “movie studios lose $6.1 billion every year because of unauthorized distribution of films, although critics say Hollywood is dramatically overstating its losses from piracy.” Money does not always get what it wants. Congressional support “fizzled for industry-sponsored anti-piracy measures, including the Stop Online Piracy Act, amid a rebellion led by consumer groups and Internet companies worried about censorship, excessively harsh penalties, and giving the entertainment industry too much control over the Internet.”
As glamorous as some celebrities may be, they do get their hands dirty in promoting their views. Who knows, maybe in the future the US will have Senator Jolie with an agenda of bringing attention to development, humanitarianism, agriculture, education, and health care. 

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