By Jack Gow
July 10, 2019 15:49:05
Nicki Minaj won’t perform in Saudi Arabia, but The Black Eyed Peas will.
Lana del Rey won’t perform in Israel, but Madonna will.
Sting will perform in Uzbekistan, but not in Kazakhstan.
Oh, and Mariah Carey will seemingly perform anywhere, no matter how dire the humanitarian crisis.
Welcome to the world of famous musicians, human rights abuses and cultural boycotts, where everyone is very sorry for endorsing dictatorships, but weirdly only after they’ve been accused of taking blood money.
Nicki Minaj is the latest star to face controversy. The rapper was due to headline the Jeddah World Fest in Saudi Arabia next week but has pulled out, citing her support for the rights of women and the LGBT community.
Celebrity Charity: To boycott or not to boycott?
Depending on who you listen to, cultural boycotts are either a meaningless act of creative deprivation or the only ethical response for artists as responsible global citizens.
Last year, our very own Nick Cave described the cultural boycott of Israel as “cowardly and shameful”, and accused one of the leading lights of the BDS movement, Brian Eno, of “weaponising music” and using open letters to coerce and intimidate “fellow artists who don’t agree with [his] point of view”. (As if bearing the weight of public critique was somehow comparable to the very real oppression experienced by Palestinians daily.)
Whether you agree with Cave’s supposed “stand against those who shame and silence musicians” or not, there is no escaping that the ethical choices of celebrities bear ever-increasing scrutiny. And rightly so.
As social media permeates every facet of our existence, we have gained an unprecedented level of access to the lives of those we idolise. Sure, this access is eroding the distinction between the private and personal lives of celebrities, however this is not a simple one-way exploitation of their privacy.
Rather it is a complex, transactional relationship that celebrities stand to profit enormously from, whether through sponsorship or reaping the trappings of increased fame, in allowing us to catch a highly curated glimpse of their “real life”.
Given that, is it unreasonable that we are holding the rich and famous to account for their morally dubious decisions?
As the concept of celebrity has transformed over the years, from venerating leaders in their chosen fields to increasingly revering fame for fame’s sake, so too have fans’ expectations.
As the distinction between art and artist becomes ever-vaguer — if it even existed to begin with — it is no longer enough to simply create good work. An artist must also be a good person.
As individuality is commodified in return for likes and shares, fans experience both the product and the person, and we want to like both. As we have recently seen in the case of Israel Folau, it is no longer possible to separate the two.
Our relationship to celebrities has changed, and therefore fans have every right to petition their idols to make better choices.
Celebrity Charity: This isn’t ‘PC madness’
This may all seem very “2019”, but cultural boycotts are a long-standing, legitimate means of public protest, and they work. You don’t even need to look all the way back to the success of the anti-Apartheid movement.
Less than a decade ago, everyone from Usher to 50 Cent to Nelly Furtado to Beyonce performed at private parties for Libyan dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi.
It was only public outcry that caused these artists to suddenly remember that this was a tyrannical regime and pledge to donate their ill-gotten gains to charity.
In a perfect world, our superstars would reflexively prioritise solidarity with oppressed people over their bank balances, but it would be naive to expect them to miraculously become impervious to greed.
So until that day, let’s keep up the pressure and celebrate that public discourse is now stopping celebrities from legitimising human rights abuses, rather than forcing them to retrospectively re