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Celebrity Activism Blows

July 23, 2009

Today, public voting begins on something called the Come Clean 4 Congo Video Contest.  It’s this competition held by the ENOUGH Project to raise awareness about violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Entrants are told to make a YouTube video encouraging viewers to text “CONGOPLEDGE” on their cell phones to “228466,” which spells “action.”  Get it?  “Congo pledge to action?!”  It doesn’t get more creative than that, gentle reader!  Anyway, entrants then submit the video and people vote which one’s the best.  The prize is a trip to LA or a puppy or a coupon or something.  Well, when you click around ENOUGH’s YouTube channel to see what this contest is all about, you’ll find this rather mind boggling video that I just have to flag, even though it’s not Darfur-related.  It features actresses Emmanuelle Chriqui and Jenna Dewan talking about Congo and things like the sexual violence taking place there…while chatting about boys and suggestively eating phallic-shaped popsicles.  I’m not joking.  Take a look:

Is it just me, or do the two guys spying on them make this thing extra-strength creepy?  It reminds me of the opening scene of a shitty skin flick.  You know the lame, soft-core kind that pathetically try to have some semblance of a plot and use gentle lighting and soft-focus lenses?  Christ, how I hate those!  I’d love to meet someone who directs them.  I’d drag him into an alley and beat the crap out of him for unleashing such hell upon humanity, the whole time screaming “Yeah, that’s why I’m watching, genius!  For the plot!”  I’m confident the world would thank me.

Anyway, I don’t think this is one of the videos that you can vote for.  It seems like some sort of promotional one that the ENOUGH Project added to their channel as an example of the kind of video an aspiring entrant could make.  Is this really exemplary of the kinds of videos they want people to submit?  Ones with very little educational value and lotsa sex appeal?  I mean, what did you learn from this video, other than what it would look like if a hot chick went down on the Cookie Monster?  (SDAP: Sullying Wholesome Images of Your Childhood Heroes, Since 2009).  To me, it certainly seems like an odd way to discuss something as serious as sexual violence, but apparently, the ENOUGH Project finds this appropriate enough to leave on their YouTube channel.  Do they really think it convinces viewers that caring about Congolese people is “sexy and fashionable,” as they claim in a blog post about the video?  Furthermore, is that why they want viewers to care in the first place?  Seriously, what purpose does this serve other than giving jerks like me a chance to make fellatio jokes?

Somewhere, a Smurf is masturbating furiously. (YouTube)

Somewhere, a Smurf is masturbating furiously.

See?!  Never, ever provide grist for my dick joke mill, people.  That’s just inviting trouble, like letting a pedophile teach kindergarten.  Also note that even the stupid lapdog looks embarrassed; his face turned from the camera as if to say, “Please leave me out of this.”

Now, far be it from me to criticize someone just for making an inappropriate sexual reference.  That’s like the pot calling the kettle a pervert.  For me, the obvious problem with this specific sexual reference is that part of its goal is to spread awareness about sexual violence, which I find wildly inappropriate.  However, if this was just Chriqui’s and Dewan’s own video that existed independently of an advocacy organization, I honestly wouldn’t be that upset over it even though I disagree with the use of the sexual allusion.  They aren’t professional activists, they’re B-list actresses, so it’s not completely outrageous when they make such an inappropriate video.  The thing that really makes this thing so offensive to me is that it’s on the ENOUGH Project’s YouTube channel.   Isn’t ENOUGH supposed to be the “adult” here?  The responsible advocate?  In and of itself, this video is just a couple of celebrities’ earnest yet misguided attempt at activism, but when it’s on ENOUGH’s internet space, it becomes something that an anti-genocide advocacy organization endorses.  They – the professional advocates – are saying that alluding to oral sex is okay when you’re talking about the use of rape as a weapon of war.  I’m willing to forgive the actresses, who aren’t professional advocates, for doing that, but ENOUGH should know better.  To the best of my knowledge, these women have never claimed to be experts in activism.  The folks at ENOUGH, however, have established themselves as advocates.  It’s what they get paid to do.  And that kind of authority comes with a lot of responsibility.  I think the burden is on them to stop and ask “Is this really the appropriate way to discuss this?” when such videos are associated with their organization.

As loyal readers may recall, I’ve been critical of the ENOUGH Project for its dogged recruitment of celebrities; specifically John Prendergast because he always seems to be the one schmoozing with various Hollywood creatures and he seems to genuinely like love it.  While I definitely see the merit in occasionally recruiting celebrities into activism, I generally believe that ENOUGH dedicates too many resources to bringing celebrities into the fold and often seems to treat celebrities with kid gloves, letting them say whatever they want and advocate however they want instead of telling them “no” when they have a bad idea and risk losing their endorsement.  For example, in an earlier post, I briefly mentioned a video with Prendergast and Nicole Richie, in which Richie says that “[Congolese women] are being told to eat their children” and “[young people] are not as ignorant as people think we are, we simply don’t know and it’s not our fault.”  I think that ENOUGH should have insisted that these sections be edited out before the video went public, as it embarrasses both Richie and ENOUGH.  Why did no one at ENOUGH say “This is ridiculous and it shouldn’t be released until we edit out the parts where Richie sounds stupid?”

I think the popsicle video illustrates the same kind of problem.  Is it not the responsibility of ENOUGH to vet the videos that celebrities make for them and remove inappropriate content or even tell them “No, that whole concept is inappropriate for the subject matter and we won’t put it on our site?”  Now I imagine this runs the risk of offending the celebrity and maybe making future endorsements harder.  Indeed, in the course of their continued advocacy with celebrities, I’ll bet that ENOUGH has often heard bad advocacy ideas from some celebrities and has had to choose between nixing celebrities’ bad ideas, which may offend them, and using celebrities’ bad ideas, which may keep them happy and more willing to work with ENOUGH on future projects.  When deciding whether or not to scuttle a celebrity’s hairbrained idea, sometimes ENOUGH may have to choose which they value more: celebrity endorsement or responsible activism.  By leaving this video up, is ENOUGH showing that they care more about not hurting Emmanuelle Chriqui’s and Jenna Dewan’s feelings than they do about promoting responsible advocacy for peace in Congo?

Like I said, though this is not about Darfur specifically, I think this video raises the broader question “Is this really how we want to talk about African conflicts?”  Jokes aside, do the women in this video seem like strong, female advocates?  Are they empowered?  Is this what we want the world to see when we talk about issues like sexual violence?  When we think of women speaking out on behalf of other women, is this what ENOUGH wants us to think of?  What’s ENOUGH’s next brilliant plan?  The Bikini Car Wash 4 Congo?

“The proceeds go to victims of sexual violence in Congo.  What’s that?  Shut up and put ‘em on the glass?  Sure, Mister!” (Celebuzz)

“The proceeds go to victims of sexual violence. What’s that? Shut up and put ‘em on the glass? Sure, mister!”

Okay, so jokes not totally aside.  But come on; what do you expect from me when they make it so easy?  I’m not made of stone!

Of course, we’ll keep you posted on any other ENOUGH Project ideas that totally suck.  (Giggity)  For some reason, I really hope the next one somehow involves Al Molinaro and a banana.  That’s not healthy, is it?


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