Celebrity culture, consumerism, and the climate crisis
The entertainment industry in America and around the world - pop stars, models, athletes, actors and actresses - are adored and idolized while simultaneously being some of the main beneficiaries of the capitalist system that created and continues to fuel the climate and ecological crises.
The industry has a lot of money, and individually, many big-name entertainers own mansions, several cars, private planes, and both advertise for huge corporate entities while fueling consumerist culture through their own appetite for things. Their jet setting and glamorous lifestyle can be followed more and more closely on the internet and social media, and becomes the goal post and glorified by many "average people," both adults and the younger generations.
Unfortunately, the addictive high consumption lifestyles many entertainers live is followed and mirrored as what being a successful and happy American/person means. The industry creates unrealistic and unattainable standards of beauty and lifestyle that leave many feeling that we need to chase a higher level of external perfection, whether it's with our bodies through obsessive exercise and plastic surgery, what we own, what we wear, where we live, or what type of car we drive. This drives a collective narcissistic mindset of self obsession and needing to reach these goals in order to hold value and receive external social validation and esteem.
As a society, we need to decouple the belief that extraneous ownership of things, and high carbon footprint living, equates with happiness and success. Or, especially for females, that we need to mirror and attain the more superficial pursuits of buying more clothing and makeup or hypersexualize ourselves to create the external presentation of success, while our inner pursuit for art, education, human connection, movement, and other "free soul-foods'' are put on the back burner in an attempt to change ourselves or chase the perfect external presentation.
We need to collectively change what we value and how we measure success if we want to succeed at mitigating the climate and ecological crises. The reality is that we cannot sustain the same level of consumption even if we switch the grid entirely to renewables. The destruction of natural habitats to create an endless stream of unnecessary products for our capitalist system is a bigger driver of the sixth mass extinction than rising temps.
A lot of celebrities are charitable and give money to worthy causes, but this can, at times, feel hypocritical, performative, and counterintuitive since they are the main beneficiaries of the capitalist system that has created these structures of gross inequity, injustice, and driving ecological collapse. While they reach a large audience, their activism doesn't often affect the political landscape enough to effect policy and often detracts from the voices of marginalized populations and more educated activists and organizations whose daily lives are devoted to the cause.
This isn't dissimilar to richer white climate activists grappling with using their privilege responsibly with being disconnected from the lived reality of the people they work to benefit: brown, black, indigenous populations, the working poor, and disenfranchised populations in the global south. It's unfortunate that the power to change the system and protect those who did the least harm, lies mainly with the populations that benefit and cause the most harm.
Celebrity activism has, in some cases, caused harm to the communities they are trying to protect. An example is celebrities who have expressed horror at trophy hunting, but their moral outrage has distracted from the facts and the complexity of the situation. Scientists and those whose lives who are directly effected have felt ignored and overshadowed and feel that celebrity activism is undermining global conservation efforts. This begs to question, outside of donating to larger organizations, should celebrity activism be curbed in order to prevent the spread of misinformation or oversimplification of complex socioeconomic issues?
Entertainers fill a need and offer an important service, but it is necessary that as a society we reconsider our monetary and emotional support of industries that create and fuel gross class inequity, whose voices within society hold the most power, and the idea that celebrity lifestyles are the ultimate manifestation of the "American dream" and lead to a happy fulfilled life. This may mean looking at our own lifestyle and saying do I have more than I need, how can I lower my own carbon footprint in daily life, and what companies and industries do I support.
The doughnut economic theory, in practice, would meet each individual's basic needs and create social equity and justice, while staying within planetary boundaries, in order to avert climate, ecological, and ultimately social collapse. This is the type of modest simplistic lifestyle that we need to begin to idolize instead of what industry sells: the endless insatiable pursuit of more, bigger, newer, shinier, and better.
Take action on the climate and ecological crises from the comfort of your home!
A compilation of books, movies, articles, and ways to take action to protect Black lives
Nadia Colburn, PhD and member of Extinction Rebellion Media team, discusses how to talk about the climate and ecological crisis with family and friends.
Thu May 13th @ 7 p.m.
Fri May 14th @ 4 p.m.
Sun May 16th @ 10:30 a.m.