Scarlett Johansson resigns as Oxfam’s global ambassador

 

SodaStream Backlash

 

On Thursday, January 30, Scarlett Johansson resigned as global ambassador for international development organization Oxfam. The resignation came after a controversial ad of Johansson surfaced on the internet.  The advertisement featured Johansson  endorsing the Israeli product, SodaStream. The ad fomented controversy on the internet do to the Israeli company’s  manufacturing plant’s location in an illegal Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank.

After an eight year partnership the  humanitarian group and Johansson decided to end their relationship. Oxfam released a statement on Friday stating, “…Ms. Johansson’s role promoting the company SodaStream is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador”.  While many have spoken out to praise Oxfam and their actions, others have criticized Johansson and her decision to continue her work with SodaStream.

Johansson’s recent actions tend to be a trend in diplomacy. More and more celebrities are stepping away from the silver screen and on the the international stage. It is becoming increasingly common to see celebrities engaging in “extracurricular activities” that  intervene  in international relations. Celebrities engage in this behavior without any formal training or knowledge of the impact their actions may have on the current state of international negotiations. Practitioners of diplomacy should begin to prepare now to safeguard diplomacy against the possible impact “celebrity diplomats” may have on foreign relations.

8 comments:

  1. I find this post regarding Scarlett Johansson’s decision and the concept of “Celebrity Diplomacy” to be quite an interesting and sometimes controversial topic. These days, it is relatively common for celebrities to be the face and voice of diplomatic endeavors, from Bono and Angelina Jolie to Dennis Rodman. Whether they are backed by an NGO, or if they have individually reached out, celebrities certainly can have an impact on global affairs and causes.

    Interestingly enough, in March 2013, the USC Center on Diplomacy posted a blog entry titled “Celebrity Spokespeople are Double-Edged Swords.” In this post, the author gives advice and warnings about using celebrities to endorse a cause. He cautions that when using very well-known “mega-celebrities”, the public’s attention tends to shift from the cause to the celebrity figure. Oxfam’s original intentions seem to be obscured with the attention focussed on Johansson.

    Additionally, in one of our recent readings, “Diplomacy & Statecraft”, Kelley discusses how “new diplomacy” does not always involve traditional diplomats, but rather celebrity endorsers. He makes note of a few celebrities who have succeeded with “alternating between the popular culture world […] and the world of international politics, […] without damaging their standings in either world (p. 299).” Unfortunately in Scarlett Johansson’s case, it seems she was unsuccessful.

    Although I agree with Oxfam’s decision to publicly disagree with Johansson’s choice to stay with SodaStream, hopefully this will be a lesson for future “Celebrity Diplomacy”. NGOs who utilize celebrities for their cause can yield great results, but they cannot control the choices made by the celebrity figures.

    Sources: USC Public Diplomacy Blog, http://uscpublicdiplomacy.org/index.php/newswire/cpdblog_detail/celebrity_spokespeople_are_doubled-edged_swords/

  2. I think the increasing prevalence of celebrities engaging in international issues (either knowingly or accidentally) has both benefits and drawbacks.

    Especially for the United States, celebrities are soft power assets because of their global recognition and admiration. Even in countries where much of the population harbors ill-will towards the United States in general, many people (I’ve found anecdotally) nonetheless have a soft spot for American celebrities.

    The issue, however, is that celebrities represent themselves and not necessarily their country. It’s great when celebrities draw attention to dire issues like genocidal activities in Darfur, but they can easily switch to something that doesn’t represent the general views of the United States, or is downright absurd. Dennis Rodman’s multiple visits to Kim Jong Un and his drug-impeded failure to justify them to the media is an example of this.

    So what can be done? Naturally, U.S. citizens are free to travel where they like and express what they think and feel. However, there may be some capacity for cooperation with the U.S. government and assistance to help achieve maximum impact on issues important to both the celebrity and the government. This could include public diplomacy training programs and resources for education on substantive issues. Important is that while it would be great to have cooperation between celebrities and government, it must not appear that the latter has co-opted the former.

    1. Chris, your reply reminded me of an interesting blog Dr. Rhonda Zaharna posted on Rodman’s recent interview with CNN (see link below). She argues that CNN took advantage of Rodman’s naivete to turn the interview against him, thereby provoking an angry backlash they could milk throughout the news cycle. This is an interesting example of the power the media plays in shaping public opinion in the wider public diplomacy arena. Their need for sensational material often conflicts with other actors’ diplomacy goals.

      I would also agree with you that Rodman’s interview, and relations with Kim Jong Un more generally, are prime examples of the inherent dangers associated with celebrities filling diplomatic roles without clearly grasping the political implications of their actions.

      Sources:
      http://uscpublicdiplomacy.org/index.php/newswire/cpdblog_detail/culture_post_basketball_diplomacy_in_cnns_court/

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