Today, South Sudan celebrates its independence. After decades of bloody internal strife, the Republic of South Sudan officially splits from the north to become Africa’s 54th country. There are great videos on Youtube showing the celebrations and parades taking place, of the South Sudanese trying to put into words the joy and emotion they’re feeling today, but the mainstream media can’t help themselves and are dedicating a lot of column space to talking about who gets a gold star for having saved another country in Africa.
George Clooney, God love him, is the real hero today. Oh and the Christian groups, they get an honorable mention as well. But it’s no secret that the Academy award-winning actor and former ER doc has spent perhaps the most time and money in his efforts to call attention to the struggles of the Sudanese—he even caught malaria during a January trip to the region!
The New York Times and the BBC ran stories discussing Clooney’s role in South Sudan’s independence; the NYT piece even quotes R. Barrie Walkley, the American consul general in Juba, as saying “Once you got someone like George Clooney, for example….George packs power.” Mr. Walkley later questions whether the South Sudanese would have been able to achieve independence on their own without the aid of Clooney and others, saying, “I think the celebrities had a lot to do with it.”
It’s the crux of the Celebrity Advocate; how much is too much? There are ups and downs to a celebrity—especially a high profile A-lister like Clooney—becoming heavily involved in a cause; Washington Post reporter Rebecca Hamilton writes on her blog today, “Clooneyization of the South Sudan story,” that there are two ways a story like this can go, one positive and one negative. She writes:
I tried reporting from Abyei before anyone mainstream was doing it and my pitches kept being rejected by editors who thought, of everything going on in Sudan, Abyei was not “newsworthy” enough (At the time it was a prevention story – no one had died yet). Then George Clooney turned up late last year. And suddenly, Abyei was on the mainstream map. Now you can bitch all you like about the state of American culture that we need a movie star to direct our attention to worthwhile issues all you like, but that’s the reality we are living in. So unless you are working on a project to change that, then you should probably just be grateful that rather than chosing to spend his time on a yacht in the Caribbean, he was investing his time in Sudan knowing full well the press would follow. Good George Clooney story. The counter-story comes from the January referendum for which the worldwide media descended on Juba. And then so did Clooney. Far from Abyei a year ago, there was no way the January vote was going to go unnoticed. All adding Clooney into the mix did was to ensure that half the press pool spent their time chasing Clooney, rather than focusing on Sudanese voices.
Hamilton hits the mark with her comment on the state of American culture; diplomatic hardliners may turn up their noses at the sight of Hollywood’s elite ringing the doorbell at the White House but there’s no denying that it get’s peoples attention. But when major international news organizations chatter on about how the West came in and saved yet another third-world country from itself, it always seems a little bit like fluff piece aimed at making us living in the so-called developed nations feel good about ourselves. What could be better than hearing that George Clooney AND the Christians helped South Sudan become it’s own country?
So congrats Mr. Clooney, on your success today. I mean no disrespect and still promise to pay $13 to see your next film, but maybe, just occasionally, try and keep your good deeds on the DL, make sure no one is hacking your voicemail, and avoid anyone from the BBC or the NYT (I know you and Kristof are BF’s) and then maybe they’ll get back to reporting the news in those regions.