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Celebrity activism: the power and the risk

Using celebrities to get a mainstream audience to pay attention to a cause is an effective tool used by activists, but there are risks involved says a UBC professor.

Celebrity activism can tap into a mainstream audience that environmentalists can't, says UBC Professor

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      Using celebrities to get a mainstream audience to pay attention to a cause is an effective tool used by activists, but there are risks involved says a UBC professor. 

      "Having a big celebrity, who is trusted to speak about the issue can create a a lot of media and public attention that would be difficult for an environmentalist to get," said Kathryn Harrison, UBC political science professor. 

      But it's not always smooth sailing, says Harrison. She points to American pop star Miley Cyrus's most recent visit to B.C. to bring attention to the province's wolf cull. 

      "There are a lot of young people now, who are aware of B.C.'s wolf cull because of Miley Cyrus's Instagram intervention," said Harrison. 

      But Cyrus's efforts were dismissed by Premier Christy Clark who told her to stick to twerking, a provocative dance for which Cyrus is known. Harrison says that is one of the risks of having a cause supported by a celebrity.

      "The celebrity would be discredited as just a dilettante that doesn't know what they are talking about," she explained. 

      Harrison says celebrities can also quickly taint a cause by being labelled as hypocrites due to their lavish lifestyle. 

      "We've all heard of Al Gore's big house or whether Neil Young travelled in private jets to get to some of his concerts," she explained. 

      Harrison says there are also concerns that a complicated issue could easily be dumbed down or quickly turned into what the celebrity is wearing. However, Harrison says the trend to celebrity activism is likely here to stay. 


      To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled Celebrity activism: the power and the risk with the CBC's Rick Cluff on The Early Edition.

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