The new “Celebrity Map of Africa”

It's not just Euro-Americans who want to save Africa. Celebrities and entertainers from Asia and Eastern Europe want in too.

Taiwanese celebrities Eddie Peng and Amber Kuo, who traveled to Kenya in 2012 to help feed orphans.

Airports in some African countries can’t keep up with entertainers and celebrities either visiting for big pay days (that’s the case especially for rappers and R&B stars, and Kim Kardashian), to rehabilitate their images via PR junkets, make appearances in nightclubs, or to connect with their African selves. You can create a template it seems for these kinds of visits: “When INSERT NAME HERE visited INSERT AFRICAN COUNTRY HERE.”

We’ve engaged in a parlor game of sorts about this behavior on our Facebook page regarding the comings and goings of some of these visitors.

There’s Jay Z (here, here and here), Chris Brown (and Rihanna) went to Côte d’Ivoire to attend a music awards show (he was very well paid by organizers which angered local bloggers); Brown also went to Ghana where he goaded local police; Bono was in the Sahara; Deakin of Animal Collective went to Mali; Degrassi (!) was in Ghana; so was One Direction (they cried); Erykah Badu went to Kenya; the Real Housewives of Atlanta visited South Africa; Rick Ross went to Nigeria, South Africa and Gabon; and Emma Thompson and her adopted Rwandan son (all color-coordinated) were in Liberia. Okay my head is about to explode.

But then there are those Anglo-American celebrities who profess to save Africans. In 2010, Mother Jones magazine immortalized them in its interactive Celebrity Map of Africa. Think Madonna, Angelina Jolie, Oprah Winfrey, Bono, etcetera.

But now there’s a new development: celebrities and entertainers from mid-level and smaller countries, especially in Asia and Eastern Europe want in on this fad. They are also traveling to Africa for “humanitarian” reasons and to feel better about themselves. Like their Anglo-American counterparts, they also have epiphanies while they are in some African locale about their personal, emotional state. And they have all the same blindspots and stereotypes about Africans.

As a result, Lilian Jahani and Senay Imre, two of my graduate students at The New School in New York, have started a  tumblr blog, Stars Love Africa, to keep up with this new development.

For example, Jahani and Imre report on the exploits of Turkish singer, Seren Serengil, who traveled to Tanzania in 2011. As Senay reminded me, Turkish media dubbed Seren the “Princess in Africa.” She in turn described Tanzania as “300 years behind Turkey,” wanted to adopt a baby, complimented the locals for wearing clothes, and said she was taking her cue from Euro-American celebrities: “Our celebrities generally go to Miami or the Maldives, but American and British rich people go to these places …”

Then there’s Taiwanese celebrities Eddie Peng and Amber Kuo, who traveled to Kenya last year to help feed orphans. Amber Kuo was particularly moved by the experience: “I didn’t have a faith, but after returning from Kenya, whenever I have a meal, I would first think about the significance of the food in front of me.”

The Korean singer, Lee Hyori, traveled to Ethiopia on a humanitarian mission. The Korean version of the Onion had some fun at her expense.

‘… On her recent trip to Africa, Korean pop singer Lee Hyori was shocked to discover how many Africans were living without Angelina Jolie or even basic Mia Farrow … These people need real Hollywood stars. It breaks my heart, you know? Most of these kids don’t have a lot of photo opportunities.” In addition to the lack of Angelina Jolie, Lee hopes to address some other issues that impoverished Africans face. “I want to improve education. I want to teach them so that one day they can read the covers of the celebrity magazines they grace.” Lee admits, however, that it will be a difficult task for her. “I resolved to help conquer third world poverty the same way I conquered the Korean music industry. But the people at the aid organization said that poverty and hunger cannot be solved by wearing hot pants and singing old Britney Spears hooks.” She appeared to be overcome with emotion, adding gravely, “no matter how small those hot pants are.” …’

It may be time for Mother Jones to update its Celebrity Map of Africa.


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