Random sunday night thoughts

Per usual, I am multi-tasking – reading, blogging, watching TV, doing laundry, etc. I normally wouldn’t bring up what I’m watching on TV here (because, seriously, who cares?), but Christiane Amanpour is on CNN right now, talking about Christianity in an investigative documentary called “God’s Warriors”. Anyway, she just said the following things: 53% of Americans believe in creationism, and 1/3 of Americans would like to see evolution replaced by creationism in schools.


I would like to find comparative survey results for say, France. But I’m pretty sure no one is bothering asking this question there – while I’m sure plenty of people believe in creationism, it’s unfathomable to imagine 30% of french people wanting to see this belief taught in school. I know the US is a very religious country (if you have not yet watched Jesus Camp, you must), but come on…

Now this guy, Ron Luce, is telling us that women should wear skirts below the knee because, well, you know, you don’t want to tempt the guys. That reminds me of women having to wear burqas so as not incite men – where do you draw the line?!

The New Black

IRIN, the UN news wire, put out a piece called “Humanitarian work – it’s the new black” today. It starts off with this joke:

At an open-air concert somewhere, Bono is called to the stage to speak to the crowd.

At first, he says nothing, only claps his hands every few seconds. After about five claps, he says to the audience: “Every time I clap, a child in Africa dies.”

An audience member yells back: “Well stop sodding clapping then!”

Pretty funny stuff, eh?

But the rest of the piece, much to my dismay, doesn’t really attempt to answer any questions concerning celebrity endorsement of humanitarian causes. This is the bottom line, according to the author:

The bottom line, however, is that whatever their motives, big names do get publicity for the charities and causes they champion. Many people in the West know about the impacts of HIV in Africa because of Bono, they know about the crisis in Darfur because of George Clooney and Mia Farrow, and they know about orphans in Malawi because of Madonna.

I emphasized the verb “know”, because that is my main qualm with celebrity activism. What do people actually know about these issues? Very little. Raising awareness is great, but when complicated issues are boiled down too far, it creates a lot of misinformation, misunderstanding, which, ultimately does not serve the cause. And unless the “knowing” is accompanied by the “doing”, what’s the real value?

The other issue, that my prof Rony Brauman had raised, is that the crises or issues that are chosen by celebrities to be covered do not necessarily reflect the highest level of need. For instance, not a lot of celebrity activists are standing up for the distribution of rehydration salts which help children with diarrhea survive (2 million children per year die of diarrhea – that’s 6,000 children every day – if I were a huge cynic, I would point out that that represents a sh*t load more victims than the Darfur conflict.)

Mainstream media already does a pretty poor job of coverage – so many issues that are crucial in terms of human security (diarrhea), or regional security (the ongoing conflict in Somalia) for example, are sometimes brought up but never given the kind of attention that other “pet” issues have received. When you add another layer that determines coverage worthiness (is someone beautiful talking about this in large public gatherings?), then the reasons for which a crisis is covered in the media become increasingly less objective.

That being said, we should definitely differentiate between Jessica Simpson’s trip to Kenya and the real commitments made by the likes of Bono. Clearly, the two operate at very different levels of engagement, and their actions have different motives and consequences. Still though, to come back to the IRIN piece, how much more do people really know thanks to celebrity endorsements?

The Girl Effect

Great video, don’t you think?

Trusty MS alerted me about the existence of The Girl Effect and this video – I find this film to be really powerful, and, even though I’m tempted to say that it tends to oversimply/dramatize issues surrounding the empowerment of women, if I’ve learned anything in the past couple years about attracting the general public’s attention to these types of issues, it’s that you NEED to present facts simply and dramatically. So, the development practitioner in me says ” oversimplified”, takes away from seriousness and complexity of the issue….etc. The non profit manager in me says “Fabulous! what a powerful video!”.

To me, it seems that NGOs always have to toe the line between getting attention for their cause and keeping the integrity of their message, as well as of their work. It’s definitely a debate when it comes to celebrity endorsement of humanitarian causes – sure, you mobilize public opinion a lot easier and faster that way, but are you educating the public, or merely bringing the issue into the spotlight in a unidimensional fashion? Doctors without Borders (again) rejects celebrity endorsements, while others, like the Red Cross embrace it. Check out the (ridiculous??) video below…

Fix your Conflicts

You can listen to my first ever radio interview here – had I known this would be completely unedited, I would have probably been better prepared. Nonetheless, it was a great experience, and the host, Doug Noll, lawyer turned peacemaker, is a very interesting guy – I hope I get invited back!
In any case here it is: Penelope Chester on Fix your Conflicts, June 16th 2008

(scroll down the content library, it’s the first item in the archive)


There is a trend in US conservative media to see terrorism everywhere – most recently, E.D. Hill, on Fox News, called the fist pound Barack and Michelle Obama shared “A terrorist fist jab” – come again?! Thankfully, FOX gave her the boot – but this is yet another attempt to point out how evil terrorists are taking over American society, and it’s simply ridiculous. It’s the same ridiculousness that has led wayyy too many people to actually believe that Obama is Muslim (in the US, this is still considered a flaw – and, unfortunately, not just for presidential candidates)

Reminds me of the recent absolutely inane uproar over the “hate couture” scarf that “terrorist loving” Rachael Ray sported in a Dunkin Donuts ad. It’s a paisley scarf…. Read here and here for thoughtful commentary on this “controversy” – and read here to see the insane reactions that The Scarf prompted in the conservative blogosphere.