Tom Sutcliffe: Clooney a big-hitter in the celebocracy

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The Independent Online

It used to be the case that the only connection between the world's trouble spots and Hollywood celebrities was that the latter sometimes went to the former to entertain the troops. Now it can often seem as if the celebrities are the troops. I don't suppose the Janjaweed militias bother much with strategic brainstorming - since the strategy is brutally simple. But if they were to take a more tactical approach to their campaign against the inhabitants of Darfur then they should plot George Clooney's movements on a large map. Because while Clooney doesn't have any guns he undoubtedly has celebrity firepower.

It isn't just him either. Last week NBC devoted an episode of the world's best-known medical drama, ER, to the situation in Darfur - an intriguing deployment of prime-time fiction in the cause of consciousness-raising. And - though it is impossible to say what might have happened without the intervention of the World's Sexiest Man - Clooney's efforts, allied to pressure from other activists and Christian conservatives, have been credited with keeping the issue in the headlines and in the Bush administration's to-do pile. Responding to claims that the mainstream media had failed in their coverage of Darfur the foreign editor of The Miami Herald explained pleadingly that "if we don't cover the Michael Jacksons, that will be our demise". That's the fulcrum against which Clooney rests the crowbar of his fame.

Like other stars, he's a big player in the economy of attention - a resource which may not be quite as crucial as oil or water, but is potentially life-saving all the same. Next week, as it happens, this newspaper will temporarily become part of Bono's empire of redirected fame - a confirmation of the power of today's big commotion-brokers. This is a new Opec - an Organisation of Politically Engaged Celebrity - and it has already demonstrated that it can do much good, even if making a crisis unignorable is where the difficulties really start, rather than a solution in itself.

There are less appealing applications of this power though - and you find them, unsurprisingly, in places which are well below the poverty line when it comes to their portion of the global consciousness. Last week it was reported that Jennifer Lopez had been offered half-a-million dollars to attend Independence Day celebrations in Tbilisi, Georgia. The country has been in an economic slump since the Russians banned imports of wine and alcohol, a huge chunk of Georgia's foreign earnings, and it was felt Jenny from the block could help. Negotiations broke down over J-Lo's contract rider - outrageous enough to give a nation state pause for thought.

Or take Namibia - never rated high on the Most Talked About Nations list, but now enjoying a surge of press attention due to the presence of Brad and the gravid Angelina. So star-struck is the Namibian government that police have banned flights near the couple's resort, conducted searches for journalists and expelled four photographers - the first such ejections since the country's independence. And while part of us may cheer at the paparazzi sent packing - the sense of a whole country's legal system bent out of shape by the gravitational mass of fame is disconcerting. Clooney and Bono represent one face of this modern celebocracy, J-Lo and Brad the other. In a world desperate for Western attention there's no reason to believe the coin will always land heads up.

Let's hear it for Paul Whitehouse

I was pleased that Help won the Best Comedy award at the Baftas on Sunday, since - despite the fact that it is now described as "critically acclaimed" - it initially got faint praise. I am puzzled, though, that Paul Whitehouse hasn't received individual recognition. As the beleaguered therapist, Chris Langham played one role (beautifully, it has to be said). But as his patients, Whitehouse played eight or nine, with a dazzling variation of tone and depth of feeling. In some episodes he put a stitch in your side and a lump in your throat within minutes. Yet he didn't get a performer's nomination in last year's Comedy Awards, this year's Royal Television Society Awards or the Baftas. If I was him I would call for a recount.

* Apple's latest commercials cheekily play on ecumen-ical outreach between the two great rival faiths of personal computing. "Hi I'm a Mac", says a hip young dude in a T-shirt. "And I'm a PC", adds the chubby desk-jockey in the grey suit. "We have a lot in common these days", they continue, explaining how they can now share files easily. Then, as Suit is talking, he freezes mid-sentence ... having to be jolted back into operation by a slap on the back from Mac.

This should please the Mac zealots, who can be ferocious in their sectarianism. "I just threw up in my mouth a little", reads one of the milder comments on a website detailing the Bootcamp software which allows Windows software to run on Apple computers. As with Protestants and Catholics, and Sunnis and Shias, it's easy for the non-believer to be baffled. Come on guys, it's a broad church. You're all geeks at heart.

t.sutcliffe@independent.co.uk

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