George Clooney – the Out-in-Front Networked Celebrity

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[This is another in a series of Celebrity Blogger posts on celebrities and global affairs. Clooney has been very involved South Sudan and you can find information on the Referendum at the Munk School Portal – The Blog Master]

Celebrity activists are commonly criticized for being enthusiastic amateurs. Indeed in some cases personalities from the entertainment world do embrace issues that they know very little about. There is a tendency among these individuals to use their star power as free-lancers with little regard to either advisory or networked support.

In the top category of celebrity activist however the opposite tendency occurs. As addressed in my previous blogs (see previous guest blogger posts) the premier cluster of celebrity activists are rigorous about seeking advice from professionals. This is true of Bono and many others who have been influenced by Bono. It is also true of Angelina Jolie.

Arguably George Clooney is the most diversified celebrity activist in terms of his layers of connection. In a similar fashion to a number of other celebrity activists Clooney has a UN affiliation, albeit not as an ambassador for a UN special agency but as a Messenger of Peace.  I [Celebrity Blogger] was in India in January 2008, when Clooney showed how serious he was about this role. Although he was up for a number of Oscar nominations for ‘Michael Clayton’ Clooney was preoccupied with the issue of peacekeeping, coming to India with the UN Assistant Secretary for Peacekeeping Operations to discuss India’s contribution to this UN activity.

Akin to the most savvy of the celebrity activists Clooney uses his star power and official designation to lever access with key state officials. Foreshadowing his later success in the US (including face time with both President Obama and Vice-President Biden in October 2010), Clooney gained personal meetings with key officials on his trip to India – the Defence Secretary, officials at the foreign ministry (who even hosted a party for Clooney at the Taj Mahal hotel) and a regional Army Command Headquarters at Jaipur.

If Clooney expressed a willingness to listen the targeted focus of this and other trips has been on ending the conflict in Sudan/Darfur. He has combined with Don Cheadle in campaigning via the advocacy group Not on Our Watch. He has traveled to the crisis on frequent occasions – with among others his father (an experienced newsman) and Nicholas Kristof (the New York Times columnist who has reported experienced on Darfur/Sudan). Behind Clooney’s work stands again John Prendergast, the co-founder of the Enough Project and a former director of African affairs at the National Security Council during the Clinton administration.

Under Prendergast’s guidance Clooney has constantly ratcheted up the level of his networking. His latest move – well worth tracking as a form of innovative cyber – diplomacy is the launch of the Satellite Sentinel Project, an initiative that with the support of Not On Our Watch, Prendergast’s Enough Project, the UN Operational Satellite Applications Program (UNOSAT), the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, Google, and Internet firm Trellon, will monitor the border between North and South Sudan in the context of this week’s pivotal referendum about self-determination for the South.

We will have to wait to see whether this initiative, combining the collection of satellite imagery, the design of a Web platform that will publicly share the images and data, the contribution of on-the-ground reports to provide context to the satellite imagery, and field reports and policy analysis to ensure that continued attention is paid, works in practice.

But one thing is already clear. Far from displaying the character of enthusiastic amateurism, this form of network power with Clooney as the star front man reveals the will and skill of a sophisticated enterprise.