It’s official. Celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has been officially declared counterproductive. The story will run Sunday in the LA Times, but it’s already on the website.
No, it’s not easy being green, least of all for Hollywood A-listers living in jaw-dropping decadence. Solar panels on a 50,000-square-foot manse in Malibu just don’t scream “Live simply!” Ditto hopping onto a private plane to get to the Live Earth concert.
Of course, celebrities don’t let their lavish lifestyles stop them from preaching to the rest of us about temperance. Eco-friendly living isn’t about great sacrifice, they contend, it’s about making small but powerful changes. It’s about voting green. It’s about buying green. Besides, they say, they’re doing their part by using their fame to broadcast a pro-Earth message that reaches millions of people. Isn’t that enough?
It might have been, a few years back. But then, rather quickly, the green movement became part of the mainstream. For the rich and famous, the competition to stand out, to out-green the next guy, got so fierce that the next logical place to take the Greening of Hollywood was the exposé: sussing out the hypocrites.
Green organizations had a good run, deploying conscientious stars to draw attention to coastal pollution, smog-belching cars and the need to recycle. A non-profit, the Environmental Media Association, formed in the early 1990s to supercharge the trend.
But it’s over. Now when a star comes out for the environment, it’s all about the star and not the issue. Which is not a surprise, given the attention-addiction that drives a star to become a star in the first place. The environment is a siren song for those who want to cast themselves in the role of real-life hero. Sometimes exotic travel is included in the package.
The problem is, the stars themselves have to live day to day, and it has become apparent you simply can’t ask them to give up private jets, multiple mansions and fleets of immense SUVs. With a few exceptions, celebrities are no more likely to lower the heat on their lifestyle than to share their $20 million paychecks with their high school acting teachers. They could do it. But they don’t. It’s not in their nature.
It’s hard to remember, but there was a time when environmental causes were promoted not by celebrities but by fictional characters. Remember Smokey the Bear? Woodsy Owl? How about that Indian who squirted a tear when he saw what modern man had done to the landscape?
None of them lives in a mansion or uses a private jet. They don’t eat or smoke anything politically incorrect. They don’t need air conditioning.
Back when I was working with environmental groups, I used to joke about this. My fear was that one of the celebs we were trying to get to a public event might get arrested for DUI or cheat on their spouse, and that would dilute our message. I used to get laughs saying we should see if Scooby Doo was available. He’d never step on our story.
Time to call the animators.