The Debate About Whether Celebrity Awareness Campaigns Have a Downside

June 3rd 2016

Lucy Tiven

You might have noticed that your social media feeds are looking a little orange.

On Thursday, numerous celebrities or organizations (including ATTN:) shared selfies tinted in orange, or wearing orange clothing, to spread awareness about gun violence.


A photo posted by @amyschumer on

President Barack Obama also tweeted a video explaining the origins of the #WearOrange campaign, which began with a group of Chicago teenagers in 2013.

While the celebrity posts are well-intentioned, they do raise an important question: Does celebrity activism inspire social activism?

"For some academics and practitioners, celebrities are welcome figures in humanitarianism: educating the public on global issues, raising funds, and using their populist appeal to draw attention to policy-making arenas," the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs wrote in a 2014 report. "For others, celebrity humanitarians are highly problematic figures who dilute debates, offer misguided policy proposals, and lack credibility and accountability."

Some critics have argued that star-powered campaigns conflate awareness with actual social activism, while others have claimed that celebrity endorsements of foreign policy issues are often motivated by self-interest.

It is worth asking what the actual impact celebrity #WearOrange posts have, but it's also important to address how the campaign differs from some of the widely criticized celebrity activist campaigns.

First of all, these celebrities and their PR team didn't create the campaign. In fact, it's part of a much larger movement that begun, as Obama pointed out, at a grassroots level.

Though stars' orange-tinted social media posts may have been the most easily accessible iteration of #WearOrange day, there were rallies against gun violence across the nation on Thursday.

"This is not a political event, it's not about owning a gun, it's not about what side of the issue you are on, it's about ensuring people's safety," Katie, an organizer with the group Kalamazoo Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, told the West Michigan local news outlet WWMT, at a Kalamazoo Wear Orange rally.

#WearOrange started after Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year old from Chicago's South Side, was shot and killed in 2013. Pendleton's friends chose to wear orange to pay tribute to her, which evolved into a nationwide movement.

"This is the point where you need to decide that it's time for me to make a change, it's time for me to step out and go out and do something," 19-year-old Nza-Ari Khepra, a friend of Pendleton, whose tragic death in 2013 spurred the #WearOrange movement — told The Chicago Tribune, at a Wear Orange Party for Peace event on Thursday.

"What started in a south side high school to celebrate Hadiya has turned into a nationwide movement to honor all lives cut short by gun violence," Wear Orange explains on their site.

The campaign also asserts that while it was created "to make it easier for people to show their support for common sense solutions that will save lives," participants shouldn't stop at an outfit or Instagram post.

"If you believe there’s more we can do to help end gun violence, wear orange on June 2nd," the site instructs. "But don’t stop there. Explore events and ways to get your community involved in the movement."

You can learn more about the movement on Everytown for Gun Safety, WearOrange.org, and check out the video below.

[h/t Jezebel]