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Celebrities and Animals – Interview

June 21, 2017

 

ANDA1

Pleased share that my latest interview on celebrity activism and animal rights has been published by ANDA news in Brazil: https://www.anda.jor.br/2017/06/critica-cultural-estuda-como-celebridades-ajudam-a-promover-os-direitos-animais/  Non-Portuguese readers can read the English version of the interview below. A huge thanks to Silvana Andrade and Aline Khouri for the coverage! Special thanks go to Jeremiah Hill Photography for the high resolution image.

JHP10-05MAY20_0244How did you decide to study the celebrity industry? What prompted you to research this subject?

My interest in the celebrity industry comes from my beloved mother Saswati Nandy, who was a Masters graduate and received an offer to be the lead actress of a Bengali film. However, she was not able to pursue a career in film acting due to sexist repression in her early family life and lost her own life while I was completing my Masters. I wanted to give a voice to my mother and further the understanding, use, and representation of women’s body in film stardom. In an effort to map the processes of fame and implications of specific fame-based practices, I received two full time grants valued at $120,000 and completed my Doctorial research on celebrity culture.

What is your analysis about the relation between celebrities and animal rights? How can they contribute to the movement?

Many celebrities are activists supporting animal rights among other social justice movements. Similarly, many activists become famous for their heroic efforts in liberating animals from oppressive social acts. Although celebrity activism, like fame, is a set of media practices, it is not limited to media personalities advocating a cause. In fact, activists can become well recognized due to the global appeal of their work. In all cases, the relation between celebrities and animal rights is largely an effect of consistent outreach and branding in media relations. Effective representation of their persona while advocating the cause can be a valuable contribution to the movement.

In your text “Persona, Celebrity, and Selfies in Social Justice: Authenticity in Celebrity Activism”, you talk about value indicator. In that sense, a person engaged in justice gains a certain status which is associated with her image. How do people truly engaged with the animal cause should deal with celebrities who simulate this concern just to gain status? What can be done?

People can respond to celebrity activists in a way that is positive for the animal rights movement. There is ample opportunity to re-post celebrities’ views and share questions that raise awareness on social media. In fact, everyday life users can become famous heroes and celebrity activists. Citizen participation has been seen as critically essential in the democratic processes of production, distribution, and reception of social causes. Online participatory media such as blogs offers a democratic platform for the expression of alternative ideas that are often filtered in traditional journalism. Citizen journalists, celebrity activists, and fans, however, need critical media literacy that is often obscured by the need for visibility in fame.

And what about misguided information about veganism that is spread by celebrities? Do they often contribute to speciesism instead of the abolitionist cause?

I believe that celebrities, like all other people, are subject to social conditions and misinformation. The cause and fight for the cause occur in very challenging conditions. It is possible that celebrities contribute to speciesism. For example, a vegan celebrity may endorse fur or cosmetics that are tested on animals. However, fans should not rely on celebrities and shift their ethical responsibilities while idolizing them. Learning about animal rights is an ongoing process and is not limited to celebrities. We rather need to focus on the overall education system in disseminating proper information about veganism.

I would like you to comment on the role of selfies in promoting animal rights.

I think selfies, among other visual practices, offer valuable opportunities for self-reflection, being a living example of change, and promotion of animal rights. Use of relevant hashtags and different points of views are important to raise awareness about animals. Selfies can be effectively used without falling into the risk of narcissism that can be involved in it.

In another of your texts, you discuss sexism, speciesism, and Hollywood. What is the relationship between these themes?

As a University of Southern California report argues “women were over three times as likely as their male counterparts to be shown partly nude or in sexually revealing clothing” in Hollywood films. Despite ongoing research, sexist practices continue in the Hollywood film industry. We need to implement ethical practices with the help of critical thinking, which is the essence of research. I use an intersectional perspective and draw on Carol Adams’ The Sexual Politics of Meat to point out that sexism and speciesism have the same roots of patriarchal oppression. Unless we use intersectional feminism and resist violence against all females, women will be not only underrepresented but also be animalized. In the same way, female reproductive parts and products (e.g., eggs and milk) will continue to be glamorized and consumed as a result of ill-informed habits – not necessarily for health and ethics. We cannot claim to be an advocate of sexual equality while we pay for speciesiest practices. Hollywood offers dominant cultural spaces where sexual equality can be further explored in an intersectional manner.

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