Rihanna, Mia Khalifa, Susan Sarandon, Meena Harris, etc., are not known to have a nuanced understanding of either economics or farm policies.
During the 2020 Golden Globe awards ceremony, host Rickey Gervais, the actor, and comedian had advice for the celebrities. He said: “So if you do win an award tonight, don’t use it as a platform to make a political speech. You’re in no position to lecture the public about anything. You know nothing about the real world. Most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg. So, if you win, come up, accept your little award. Thank your agent and your god, and f*** off!”
Gervais’ speech is a reminder of the celebrities’ penchant for self-indulgence. They insert themselves in various socio-political discourses of our time. Celebrities taking up “public interest” causes isn’t a new thing. Most do it for publicity; however, some have championed legitimate causes. Beatles famously took up the case of East Pakistani (Bangladeshi) refugees following the Bangladesh Liberation War. Beatles guitarist George Harrison organized concerts with sitarist Pandit Ravi Shankar at the Madison Square Garden in New York. Bono, the lead singer of the band U2, is well-known for his fight against AIDS and extreme poverty in the African continent.
Celebrities have also often spoken on political and policy matters. Comedian Kathy Griffin had posted a picture of her holding a replica of then-President Donald Trump’s bloodied, decapitated head in her hand. Narendra Modi is communal, should be defeated, film director Mahesh Bhatt had said.
We recently saw several international celebrities take to the Twittersphere to express their opinion on India’s farm laws. They included Caribbean singer Rihanna, yesteryear’s Hollywood starlet Susan Sarandon, Lebanese-American porn star Mia Khalifa, left-wing Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg, and Meena Harris, the niece of the US Vice President Kamala Harris.
In most cases, celebrities are not domain experts. They lack the rigour domain experts usually have. Despite their lack of expertise in most cases, an individual’s celebrity status makes it possible for their views to be heard widely. With the advent of social media, their reach to the public has amplified manifold. The broadcast-like network characteristics of social media platforms like Twitter make celebrities disseminate information at lightning speed. The network of connected followers makes the information travel far and wide.
Notwithstanding their views and their reach, people care very little about what celebrities think about a particular issue, studies have shown. Celebrity views rarely factor in people’s own opinions or decision-making. Many think celebrity opinions have little effect at best and a negative impact at most. 65% of the respondents to the 2019 Hill-HarrisX survey said that Hollywood celebrities’ political endorsements have no bearing on their voting decisions. Only 11% said that celebrity endorsement would sway their voting preferences. 24% of respondents said that celebrity endorsement would have an adverse impact on their voting choices.
A similar YouGov survey in the UK found 63% of Britons believed that celebrity opinions made no difference in their decision-making. The 2018 Hill-HarrisX survey also had 60% of the respondents saying they opposed celebrities giving a political endorsement.
Whenever celebrities talk about politics and other issues, they provoke a range of reactions. The beneficiaries of the celebrity endorsements, political-ideological or otherwise, react very positively. The contrarians, however, often question celebrities’ bona fide on a given subject and their ideological bend.
Rihanna, Mia Khalifa, Susan Sarandon, Meena Harris, etc., are not known to have a nuanced understanding of either economics or farm policies. In their entire career, neither has shown any knowledge of India, Indian culture, society, or polity. Their tweets supporting India’s “farmer protest” represent elite, monopolistic, and dogmatic ideologies. Greta Thunberg’s environmentalism is utopian, and she drives radical leftist agenda. Such environmentalism suggests remedies to a complex problem at the perils of diversity and pluralism in finding solutions to the problem. In pushing forward a monopolistic view, leftist environmentalists inflict more harm on people/communities they claim to help.
There are fundamental differences in how different cultures relate to their surroundings, including the environment. Dharma (cosmology over anthropocentrism) constitutes the core of Indic environmentalism. The Bhoomisuktam of the Atharva Veda, composed nearly 3,000 years ago, provides a universal framework of environmentalism. It is the earliest written environment protocol available to humankind. Bishnois are an example of community-based Dharmic environmentalism. We can also see an example of swa-Dharma in the works of 106-year-old 2019 Padma Shri awardee Saalumarada Thimmakka. Popularly known as “Vriksha Mathe”, Thimmakka has planted over 8,000 trees in the last 80 years.
One link that connects the celebrities tweeting in support of farmer protests in India is their association with mostly Pakistan-backed Khalistani secessionist groups. The leaked Greta Thunberg toolkit had references to banned Khalistani groups and their operatives. The Khalistan movement has a bloody past that saw scores of people killed, families destroyed. The group instigated a crowd of protestors to raid the Lal Quila, a heritage monument, and take down India’s National Flag. They are also targeting Indian interests globally, including physically and professionally harming members of the Indian diaspora. They are behind multiple desecrations and the brutal beheading of Mahatma Gandhi’s statues abroad in the past few months.
Another link that connects some of these celebrities is their blatant Hinduphobia. Despite her claim to be “Hindu,” Harris has frequently tweeted Hinduphobic content on social media. Meena Harris had tweeted a morphed image that showed her aunt US Vice President Kamala Harris as Maa Durga. Rihanna shared her topless picture wearing a Bhagwan Ganesha pendant. The accompanying caption read: “me nu wan ya wear no lingerie tonight fa me girl.” Greta’s toolkit also references Pieter Friedrich, one of the most rabid anti-Hindu activists operating on US soil.
Celebrities are victims of their misinformation. More often than not, they misread and miscalculate the level of public interest in the cause they advocate and overestimate the appeal of their star power and money. In the end, their attempts in raising awareness of a cause end up an enterprise in virtue signalling.
Avatans Kumar writes frequently on the topics of Indic Knowledge Tradition, language, culture, and current affairs. Avatans is a JNU and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign alumnus. He tweets @avatans.