Celebritizing Conflict: How Ben Affleck Sells the Congo to Americans
Abstract

Abstract:

From serving as UN ambassadors to appearing as spokespersons for major NGO campaigns, global celebrities have become increasingly important actors in promoting humanitarian causes in Africa. Yet the growing visibility and proliferation of celebrity humanitarianism has been critiqued for legitimating and promoting neoliberal capitalism and global inequality. This article, using emerging literature on celebrities in north-south relations, analyzes the celebrity discourses and practices of professional entertainer Ben Affleck and his engagement in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in order to understand how celebrities intersect with and popularize representations of poverty, conflict, and development in Africa. We conclude that the celebritization of African conflicts in the DRC—as understood from the interventions of Affleck—remain linked to the needs of marketing causes, celebrities, and products, and considerably removed from the voices of Congolese on whose stories these interventions rely. As a result, the constraints of celebrity humanitarianism in an age of media saturation limit the possibilities that individual celebrities might have in engaging in alternative, more complex, and less sound-bite friendly discourses.