If campaigns had coroners there would be one recurrent finding that smothered the rest: Death by Celebrity.
There is almost no cause, no matter how worthy, that cannot be rendered either nauseating or impotent by the vocal endorsement of an A-list star or a second-tier royal.
In Australia we learnt this when the Gillard government chose Cate Blanchett as its spruiker for the carbon tax and other climate measures.
The condescending and cartoonish ad campaign was an utter disaster, reinforcing the belief among many working Australians that action on climate change was an ideological and utopian obsession of affluent elites.
And it was arguably almost entirely as a result of failure to win public support for the carbon tax that Gillard was rolled by her own party, which in turn got routed at the next election.
Labor has since reinvented its position on tackling climate change, rightly promoting it as a massive economic opportunity for Australia — and with not a celebrity in sight. Little wonder they are the party of government right now.
In the US they learnt this when Hillary Clinton spent the 2016 presidential campaign cavorting with megastars like Beyonce and attending Hollywood fundraisers.
At the same time Donald Trump was addressing masses of blue-collar workers in the American rust belt. Little wonder Clinton lost what was supposed to be an unlosable election and the Democrats are still in disarray.
The Black Lives Matter movement, begun by US activists in 2013, was also a cause for celebrities. Its most famous endorsement came from NFL player Colin Kaepernick, who “took the knee” in September 2016. Two months later Trump was elected president.
Then the outrageous police shooting of George Floyd in May 2020 again supercharged the #BLM campaign. A Pew Research poll at the time found two-thirds of Americans had some support for the movement.
Needless to say the #BLM hashtag was seized upon voraciously by an endless pantheon of Hollywood stars. Two years later a YouGov poll found support had plummeted to just 31 per cent, including a drop among African-Americans themselves.
The #MeToo movement originated in the very heart of Hollywood itself, emanating from the grotesque sexual assaults of Harvey Weinstein, and so Hollywood could hardly be blamed for getting involved in this one.
The message from the stars both literal and metaphorical was that any assaults could never be tolerated and these demigods of the silver screen would lead the way in creating a new and better world free from violence.
Then Will Smith got up at the Academy Awards and hit a man in the face and a who’s who of Hollywood tripped over themselves to offer comfort and support — not for the person who was hit, mind you, but for the person who hit him.
The celebrity establishment feverishly applauded Smith that night. Now his career is toast.
Today arguably the most high-profile vocal crusader against all manner of oppression and injustice is Meghan Markle, whose primary discernible vocation is to make claims she is a victim of racism and sexism.
How someone who married into royalty and lives in a $20 million mansion in Montecito could claim to be a victim of anything is a question I cannot answer. Yet this week Markle somehow managed to liken herself to Nelson Mandela
In an interview with US magazine The Cut she reportedly claimed a South African actor from the Lion King told her at the film’s 2019 London premiere: “I just need you to know: When you married into this family, we rejoiced in the streets the same we did when Mandela was freed from prison.”
It is nigh on impossible for any normal person to even imagine how such a statement could leave any human being’s lips, even if it were true. And needless to say, like many of Markle’s crusading comments, it isn’t.
As it turns out the only South African actor on the film told the Daily Mail he had never even met Markle, let alone said such a ridiculous thing.
Dr John Kani, who voiced the character of Rafiki, said: “I have never met Meghan Markle… I am the only South African member of the cast and I did not attend the premiere in London.”
And he added for good measure about Mandela’s release: “That was a world event. Surely Miss Meghan or whatever marrying into royalty cannot in any way be spoken in the same breath or even the same sentence as that moment.”
And that is the problem with celebrities desperately attaching themselves to noble causes. They cheapen them, derail them and at worst delegitimise them.
And this brings us to the recruitment of Shaquille O’Neal to the campaign for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.
The Voice is a profound, practical and necessary step for our nation to take if we are going to both properly recognise our history and provide effective and efficient policies for First Nations people.
We don’t need an American basketballer to sell it, it sells itself. And the bizarre insertion of O’Neal into the debate is at best a distraction and at worst plays into the hands of critics who see this sensible and pragmatic proposal as another elitist cause de jour.
Celebrities don’t help causes, they harm them. And left-wing celebrities are more a danger to the left than a thousand Donald Trumps combined.
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