I hope 2014 is going well!
After a short hiatus, I am back to writing this blog where I document commentaries on fame and journey in exploring celebrity culture. The hiatus does not mean time stopped. On the contrary, I had abundant moments filled with travels, talks, readings, choreography, writing, publications, and gifts that I would love to share!
To be honest, I don’t know where to start as I am always in the middle of a journey, literally and metaphorically. Maybe I will start with a serendipitous moment that I still embrace with honour and dignity – the moment when our international foundation the Centre for Media and Celebrity Studies (CMCS) received a call from CTV national television network in Canada. While I was working on my publications, I received a kind email and then a call from CTV for a live interview with CMCS board members at 5 pm that night. CTV staff and I spoke to make immediate arrangements for the interview with CMCS board member Dr. Anita Krajnc, who is a leading activist, educator and an empowering soul in my journey. The interview focused on pop star’s Neil Young’s protest against development of oil sands. Dr. Krajnc’s excellent research and practice in using protest art, advocacy for non-human sentient beings, and ethical love set new grounds for the study and practice of celebrity activism. It mobilized the intent of celebrity activists and bridged gaps between academic and media institutions.
The power of celebrity activism has far-reaching effects and warms my heart with promise. As Dr. Krajnc indicates in the above interview, famous artists put their celebrity on the line and use art not for the sake of art, but to evoke reverence for the dignity of life. Her views added to the perspectives shared in my guest lecture Celebrity Activism: Authenticity in Social Justice Movement at University of Toronto last year. The lecture showed how and why celebrity endorsements of charitable causes are symbols of authenticity, credibility, and expertise. It also revealed the power of ethical love in representation and recognition of popular talent.
Although Dr. Dan Brockington argues that celebrity endorsements support publicity, profits, and corporate capitalism, protest art used by celebrities mobilize public opinion, critical thinking, and social action on many levels. It also helps to negotiate tension in the commodification of ordinary emotions expressed by celebrities. The ethics of telling their own story in supporting social cause does touch others. In any case, the politics and rhetoric of authenticity in the ordinariness of celebrity activism is legitimized as one of the most valued meanings in social and political ideologies. During my lecture at University of Toronto, one of my opening slides featured advocacy skills of Justin Bieber among many other celebrities that I have strongly consider in my work.
After my latest writings on Bieber for presses in New York and Oxford, I feel that it is unfortunate that he has been scandalized and widely consumed on grounds of unethical behaviour. Celebrity bashing is a common practice that overlooks talent for which a celebrity becomes famous at first. The latest media representations of Justin Bieber have placed his actions out of context and reinforced an increased use of gossips, rumours and scandals as narrative devices in integrating society on unethical grounds of consuming celebrities. Earlier reports on Bieber show that pressures of his fame and industrial abuse of talent create high level of stress, trauma, self-centred behaviour, and reactions that are not pleasant. Due to these conditions, it is not surprising that Justin Bieber comes across as a spoilt teenager. However, these behavioral traits do not translate to actual crimes that many others commit and get normalized on television news every day. More facts are given at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/celebrity-news/justin-bieber-a-look-at-the-trials-of-canadas-huge-pop-culture-export/article16647753/.
Drawing on these facts and conventions in tabloid journalism, I believe that there is an urgent need for advocacy of media literacy skills. Using these skills, a deep appreciation of the life of an artist and the creative life force of every sentient being can be restored. Recently, I had the pleasure of reading Dr. Erin Manning’s ground-breaking book The Politics of Touch. She uses examples of Tango to demonstrate that touch is not simply physical and finite. Touch re-creates predetermined space and time in ways that embrace feelings of reaching towards another or being touched and mobilized by feelings. The transnational character of intuitive bodies in Tango not only destabilizes territorial boundaries of the state, but also gives freedom to the conditions and limits that the state puts on sensing bodies in domestic spaces. Drawing on Dr. Manning’s perspective, the movement of touch in independent companionships and other forms of unconditional love has been politicized and marginalized in favour of systematic corporate arrangements that support profit and / or violence at a collective level.
I will extend the politics of touch to movement of social advocates that I observe in the international grassroots organization Toronto Pig Save every day. When tucks transporting pigs stop at the traffic lights of Lakeshore and Strachan (also called ‘Pig Island’), a growing number of community members and activists reach out to touch living and breathing pigs in the truck. They touch, stroke, and bless them with pure presence, spoken words, and rolling tears. I feel that their collective touch produces an energy field of love that reverses the touch that factory farms and slaughterhouses perpetuate in practices of consumption. In these industrial practices, forms of touching include electrocution up to 300 volts and 2 amps, gas chambering, and violent invasions into sensing bodies. Pig Island then becomes a cultural site articulating politics of touch that reassures us one thing: our freedom and sovereignty lies in the movement of our sensing bodies in both private and public spaces of love. Sensing practices in touching (bold vision, active listening, raw tasting, deep breathing, intuitive feelings) are sensuous and rooted in love radiating from our bodies.
If media and educational institutions enable teaching and learning with passionate love, desire and radical openings, we can love and honour our own gifted abilities without the need to judge and disempower others’ talents, looks, and abilities. We have to remember that learning is sensual. In fact, “learning in eros is erotic – it is a deep connection between learners which involves insertion, vulnerability, and a courageous commitment to entanglement.” These are some of the words that have unfolded in my reading of ‘Poet’s Corpus in Love: Passionate Pedagogy’ and can be applied to our understanding and recognition of our highest talent and success: love.
The launch of our international foundation Centre for Media and Celebrity Studies (CMCS) has unfolded holistic spaces in which we empower critical skills in media and deep engagements with celebrity activism. There is a growing need and demand for studies, practices, and engagement with media literacy and celebrities in ways that are authentic and empowering. These studies and practices counteract a common act in fame: celebrity bashing and unethical consumption of celebrities.
The ethics of media art and other creative productions can be restored through artistic forms of storytelling and reflective biographies. These forms of art were reflected and reinforced by educators, artists and activists at Ethics with Elegance that I hosted in January. At the event, Heryka Miranda, Mary Fantaske, and Michael Sizer demonstrated rare ways in which education, art, and media can empower and release us from social conditions. I am honoured and excited for their distinctive work!
This month, I am honoured and thrilled to co-host CMCS premiere speakers and performances series Moving Forward at the indusREAL arts room – our elegant and ethical location in downtown Toronto! The series will open up intimates spaces in which we will share radical thoughts and sensual performances revealing secrets in empowering individual paths, success, heroism, and fame. We are honoured to feature Australia’s Myles Wright and Canada’s Dr. Louis Massey, Emmanuel Lopez, and Ashima Suri and their distinctive words at the event. I cordially invite all to this rare and intimate event presenting radical love and progressive arts. The pure presence and co-creation of precious moments will leave lasting impressions for all. If use Facebook, you can RSVP here!
On this note, I wish all a fantastic March ahead! The above photograph was taken by Christine Bode (www.scullylovepromo.com) last Friday. In one of my passionate conversations with her, I shared unconditional love and presence that I received from many gifted souls in my journey. In the last few weeks, I have been deeply touched by the creative and spiritual journeys of educators, artists, activists and healers Heryka Miranda, Ashima Suri, Holly Larson, Natalia Dzuybina and Remy among many more. They shine as a star and I am carrying their loving spirit as I write now. I will share their fierce love and shining light further.
Looking forward to sharing more at Moving Forward on Saturday night, March 29!
With deep affection,