Posters mocking actor Ed Begley Jr. and radio-host Robert Kennedy Jr. were plastered all over Hermosa Beach, California and nearby neighborhoods ahead of the pair’s recent appearance at the simplistically titled, “Environmental Forum with Bobby Kennedy Jr. & Ed Begley Jr.” at the Hermosa Beach Community Theater. Tuck this in the ballooning file labeled “When celebrities eclipse the causes they champion“.
The posters, which are captioned “Saudi Approved”, depict the duo in traditional Saudi Arabian head scarves. Arabic text on Begley’s poster translates to, “I love Arab oil,” while the poster for thrice-married Kennedy purrs, “Hello, ladies.”
The anonymous artists behind the images explained their actions in an email to the Hollywood Reporter, “We’re fed up with the environmental narrative that sounds good, but is ultimately dangerous and backwards. Characters like Begley and Kennedy claim the moral high ground without anyone questioning the damage that their politics cause to real people in the real world.”
They didn’t define what those damages might be, but said a video by conservative documentarian and ‘sting artist’ James O’Keefe motivated their designs. In 2014, O’Keefe secretly videotaped Begley and a pair of environmental documentarians as they seemingly agreed to accept funding from Middle Eastern oil interests for a film opposing fracking. Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, is the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at a high pressure to fracture shale rocks to release natural gas inside.
At the time, Begley issued a statement insisting that his presence at the Beverly Hills Hotel meeting was simply to help friends get a film financed. He told The Hollywood Reporter that he is hearing-impaired and couldn’t make out much of the discussion. Begley insisted he did not agree to any deal with the undercover Middle Eastern oil men, he said, he was just being polite.
“How desperate must they be to portray someone who has used precious little oil since 1970 as being pro-Saudi oil,” Begley said in response to the posters. “As for ‘Saudi Approved,’ I don’t think there’s a Saudi living who even knows who I am,” said the 65-year-old actor. Kennedy has issued no statements about the matter.
Celebrities hold the power to attract the attention of massive audiences, inviting bigger involvement in a political topic, charity, or environmental activity. They can boost the image of a social cause and elevate public discussion, and be powerhouse fundraisers. They can ‘bring the (public) horse to water’, but unless they are competently versed in the topic at hand, they are best to exit, stage left – and hand the microphone to the experts to help the horse ‘drink’ in the specific message.
“Getting celebrity ambassadors take lots of time, energy and effort … so it’s important to get somebody who is willing to give his time, commitment and dedication to the issue,” Save the Children President and CEO Carolyn Miles told Devex, the development newswire.
The trick is get a celebrity who can deliver the message without eclipsing it.
Consider the late Princess Diana, whose outfits and hairstyles received more coverage than the non-governmental organizations doing the front-line work. Celebrity behavior can also discredit good causes. After admitting to having used performance-enhancing drugs, athlete Lance Armstrong severed ties with his charity LiveStrong in order to allow it to continue its work, undistracted. More recently, actress and former Oxfam ambassador Scarlett Johansson quit the aid agency after being called out for endorsing a soda manufacturer that partially operates out of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Famous endorsers lose their value when they – rather than the causes they champion – become the headline act. Green Prophet would like to hear where you stand on celebrity ambassadors for the environment. Drop us a comment, and while you gather your thoughts – let’s go back to fracking.
Last year, due to increased fracking, the U.S. overtook Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world’s biggest oil producer. The International Energy Agency confirmed in June, 2014, that the U.S. was also the biggest producer of natural gas liquids. The nation also remains the world’s largest oil consumer, importing an average of 7.5 million barrels of crude a day, according to the Department of Energy.
Given America’s voracious thirst for energy, does anyone seriously think a Gulf-funded film will derail the course of U.S. fracking? And ought not the artists have focused their satire on the environmental negatives of fracking itself, and not the alleged conspiracies behind who funds documentaries? At least, since oil extraction is soaring at shale formations in Texas and North Dakota, maybe they should’ve put Begley and Kennedy in cowboy hats.