From Hands Across America to Kal Penn: The Evolution of Celebrtiy Activism | The Stimulist
They may not have always been effective, but who can forget the epic celebrity charity stunts of the 1980s? “We Are the World,” anyone? How about Hands Across America? Twenty-three years ago today, an estimated 7 million people—including Oprah, Prince, and Barbara Streisand—formed a line across the country to raise money for the nation’s hungry and homeless. Despite the high turnout, the event was derided as a failure for raising just $20 million. (Many of the hand-holders neglected to fork over the required $10.)
The world hasn’t seen many events rivaling Hands’ ambition in recent years. The Katrina telethon is remembered solely for Kanye, and 2005’s Live 8 didn’t have much impact—aside from pitting its organizers against world leaders. Perhaps bowing to conservatives’ effective effort to link liberal candidates to the Hollywood left, most American stars have gone the George Clooney/Brangelina route and kept their actions relatively quiet.
But last month, the evolution of celebrity activism took another turn when Kal Penn—aka Kumar—accepted the associate director job in the White House Office of Public Liaison. While the path from actor to politician is well worn (see Ronald Reagan, Fred Thompson, Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger, just to name a few), Penn’s enlistment as a mid-level bureaucrat could mark the start of a new era of celeb engagement. According to the LA Times, others may follow his lead: