The Magazine Reader

Top Tips for Activist Stars

By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 9, 2006

You're hot. You're hip. You're huge.

Your last movie grossed more than $150 mil, and your face peered out from the covers of GQ, FHM and W. You bought a huge Beverly Hills mansion previously owned by Fatty Arbuckle, Tab Hunter and Pia Zadora (although not at the same time) and you tore it down to build an even huger mansion. For your next picture, you're getting $12 million plus points. And Spielberg won't start shooting it for four months, so you figure you've got time to save the world.

But how? How can you use your star power to save the world without looking as goofy as Sean Penn did in Baghdad?

You're in luck. Hollywood producer Rob Long has some sage advice in "How to Be a Celebrity Activist," in the May/June issue of Foreign Policy magazine.

Celebrity activists, Long writes, face countless "pitfalls and booby traps." But success in Hollywood is ideal training for global activism:

"The entertainment industry is characterized almost entirely by shrieking egomaniacs, psychotic dictators, money-losing operations, clueless bureaucrats, corrosive nepotism, enormous travel allowances, and fraudulent accounting practices -- not unlike most large non-governmental organizations, the World Economic Forum, and the continent of Africa."

The key to successful activism, Long says, is to focus on one issue, preferably an issue that might actually be resolved in your lifetime. "Face it, world peace ain't gonna happen. Debt relief, clean water in the sub-Sahara and micro-loans for Bangladeshi women just might."

After picking your issue, you need to choose a co-star -- the political figure who will appear with you in photo ops. Bono romped through Africa with Paul O'Neill, who was then Treasury secretary. That was perfect. O'Neill was a no-nonsense Republican, which gave Bono's trip a media-friendly "Odd Couple" air.

One more bit of advice for touring Third World hellholes: "Try to avoid being photographed with anyone who might later need to appear as a defendant in a war-crimes trial."

Above all, avoid the temptation to show your serious wonkitude by attending the annual pol-and-CEO-studded World Economic Forum powwow in Davos, Switzerland. "Davos is a no-win situation for you," Long writes. "It's sort of like going to the Oscars when you're not nominated. No matter how famous you are, people will wonder what, exactly, you're doing there."

All of that is, no doubt, wise advice. But maybe you're not a celebrity activist. Maybe you're the president of the world's only superpower and you've got other problems. You invaded a country for reasons that later proved false. You predicted that your soldiers would be greeted as liberators but instead they were greeted with rocket-powered grenades and roadside bombs. You've promised that you'll never "cut and run." What do you do now?

You're in luck. Foreign Policy also has some advice on Iraq, from Lt. Gen. William E. Odom. His advice is: Cut and run.

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