Terence Blacker: A great day for famous do-gooders

For celebrities, highly visible charity activities are a good deal

Share
Related Topics

Today is our national caring day. Across the country, people will be involved in activities – sporting, musical or just plain odd – which will raise money for charity. On the BBC, the famous will be doing their bit by playing the fool, putting on silly costumes and generally allowing the giving, good-natured side of their personalities a public outing.

Children in Need provides a variety of satisfactions. Millions of pounds are raised for the needy. There is a general, therapeutically healthy, act of giving. The BBC gets excellent ratings. The famous earn a wonderful double reward of publicity and credibility: by presenting themselves as essentially ordinary folk who care, they subtly point up their extraordinariness. In the eyes of the public and the media, they gain that special gold star of appreciation reserved for the celebrity who gives back. This connection between the famous and charity is so hard-wired into the contemporary psyche that it is easy to lose sight of how bizarre it often is.

The actor Nicolas Cage embodies the paradox of the caring celebrity better than most. This week, as a UN Goodwill Ambassador, he has been in Kenya, visiting Somali pirates in jail, with a view to highlighting the problem of piracy in the Indian ocean.

Another, more personal problem is being aired in a court in Los Angeles. A case brought by Cage against his former business manager has provided an insight into a world of mind-boggling extravagance. The actor needed to earn $30m dollars simply to sustain his lifestyle, it has been claimed. At one point, he owned 15 personal residences around the world, including castles in Britain and Bavaria, and four yachts, kept for him in different oceans. In 2007 alone, he bought 22 cars, including nine Rolls Royces. There were comparable levels of spending on jewellery, works of art, parties. Something distinctly odd is happening when a man who likes to indulge his every whim in acts of crazed self-indulgence is selected by the UN to visit the poorest countries in the world in the role of caring ambassador.

From the point of view of the celebrity, these highly visible charitable activities are a good deal. Paris Hilton is not just an airhead heiress; she cares about the poor in Guatemala. Geri Halliwell becomes more than an ex-Spice Girl when she visits Nepal and addresses its prime minister on women's rights. Nicole Kidman acquires a new level of gravitas when she is invited to become part of the UN's campaign against domestic abuse.

Perhaps, as a cultural sideshow, these things are harmless. In a fame-obsessed age, they draw attention to people and problems which would otherwise be ignored. Yet when a man with 15 homes and nine Rolls Royces is presented to the world as a moral figure, a role model, then a sort of willed stupidity is being embraced. Did none of those important, intelligent people at the UN suggest that the best way Nicolas Cage could help the needy would be quietly to donate a couple of castles to the cause?

So events like Children in Need offer a confusing moral message to young viewers. If you're a public figure, your worth is not judged by how you behave or live or spend your wealth, but on whether you make the right sympathetic noises when the cameras are running.

Terblacker@aol.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Matthew Norman
Shirley Shackleton, wife of late journalist Gregory Shackleton, sits next to the grave of the 'Balibo Five' in Jakarta, in 2010  

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why