On Wednesday, a dozen celebrities went “digitally dead” (no Twitter, no Facebook) until their collective fans donated $1 million (with a $10 individual minimum) to Keep a Child Alive, an AIDS charity founded by Alicia Keys. Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, P. Diddy and Kim Kardashian, to name a few, put down their BlackBerries to help the fight against AIDS.
“Kim Kardashian is DEAD,” says the text that accompanies the posters for the event, which feature a heavily doctored picture of Kim lying in a coffin in a tight sequined dress. “Kim sacrificed her digital life to give real life to millions of others.” Hmm. Classy.
AIDS is certainly a good cause. And a pressing one. Currently, 33 million people (and 3 million children) are HIV positive worldwide, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
“It’s genius, because [social media] is the new thing, the new age, and fans, they want complete access,” rapper Jay Sean said to MTV. “They want 100 percent of you 100 percent of the time. They want to know what you are doing now! They don’t want to wait and read it on a website; they want to know now!”
But not bad enough, apparently. By midnight Wednesday, the celebrities, with 30 million collective followers, had raised only a little over $100,000 — a far cry from the million they had expected after 24 hours.
Did they really think this would work? That we plebs are so desperate to be kept up to date with Kim’s every whim, that we will donate a million dollars to charity? That we will pay for Kim’s digital rebirth so she can continue to bestow upon us 140-character gems of wisdom like, “I’m proud of myself today … I ate so healthy!” or “My music in my itunes is sooooo amazing right now! Thanks Britney, Nicki, Kanye, and Glee Cast!”
Technology makes it easy for celebrities to engage in the lazy activism that this campaign represents. Going “digitally dead” is charity for their image, not AIDS. They look good, without having to actually lift a finger. In fact, they have to do less “work.” In return for not twittering, they get more hits on Google and a pat-on-the-back for being philanthropic.
They didn’t have to put on an unflattering shirt and walk five miles in the rain for AIDS, make a charity single with Bono or go to an AIDS orphanage in Africa. They were social activists on Wednesday — literally — by putting their phones away.
So celebrities can be effortlessly glamorous, effortlessly thin, and now effortlessly charitable, too.
But it backfired — from their ivory tower they fundamentally overestimated three things about their “adoring” fans: 1) How many of Kim’s 5.5 million followers are 13-year-old girls without a kredit kard? 2) A $10 minimum was far too high. 3) (The ironic one) Without Twitter, they are powerless. How will we know to donate to them without them digitally reminding us to?
Some would say this “digital death” campaign is more concerned with raising awareness for AIDS than raising money. It’s about getting people involved! Awareness is important in activism and is only increased by celebrity endorsement. Think of the “We’d rather go naked than wear fur” campaign that supermodels took part in for PETA.
What if, instead of not tweeting for a day (or a few days now), they got together and said, “If fans raise a million dollars for AIDS, we will match what you donate”? Maybe that would get people a little more motivated since it would demonstrate their own willingness to sacrifice something on behalf of the charity and eliminate the narcissistic tone of the “digital death” campaign. After all, they’re the ones with the money anyway.
Many celebrities, including some of the now “digitally dead” through other charities, are wonderful, engaged philanthropists. Leonardo DiCaprio gave $1 million to save tigers in Russia last week. His commercial airline even caught on fire on the way to Moscow, so he hired a private jet so he could give the money in person. Mark Zuckerberg gave $100 million to the Newark School System in October. And there are many more people, not just celebrities, who donate anonymously.
I, for one, could do without another Kim-tweet. Steven Colbert made the suggestion, “Give them $999,999, then we get the best of both worlds.” The charity wins, and we never have to hear from them again.
Kathryn Olivarius is a senior in Branford College.