Lost in the Global South

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Your fearless Celebrity Blogger has a new book out on internet gambling entitled Internet Gambling Offshore: Caribbean Struggles over Casino Capitalism World of Celebrities (Palgrave Macmillan IPE series). The main idea of the  book is how Antigua- a state of 70,000 people – took on the US in a protracted fight at the World Trade Organization over the future of this ascendant cyber-business.  Without the resources of a big country Antigua demonstrated an unanticipated amount of creative diplomatic ingenuity taking on the US, harnessing the power of key (mostly American) entrepreneurs who saw internet gambling as a real start up opportunity.  In doing so Antigua gained both cult-status and notoriety.

Beyond the details of this fascinating study, the Antigua challenge raises the question whether in a world of accelerated globalization – and in many ways significant homogenization – can small states nevertheless produce recognized celebrity activists that can play on the global stage?

If speaking English is one necessary ingredient, then countries from the Anglophone Caribbean possess a built-in advantage. But there does not appear to be these days anything like a Bob Marley – a native of Jamaica – but a huge global celebrity.  As mentioned in earlier blog posts, the only one who can claim something close to a Marley status today is Wyclef Jean.  But Wyclef was raised in the US and has long lived there.  And this has influenced the career of Wyclef.

One explanation for the lack of celebrity from the global South is simply that celebrities from small countries – especially in the global South – fly under the radar. Cricket or football/soccer stars (or even ex stars, as exhibited by the number who are in the adverts especially for mobile phone companies!) can be huge in a Caribbean island but still hold no name recognition in North America.

Another explanation is that the hybrid nature of many of these celebrities in the  diaspora doesn’t translate into a fixed identity. Wyclef himself ran into this problem when he was barred from running for president in Haiti because he had not lived there for many years. But equally North American audiences don’t see Rihanna as being from Barbados, even though she was appointed as a Culture and Youth ambassador. Among Bajans, this appointment attracted equal degrees of cult status but also stigmatization.

The final explanation is a more commercial and economic one. Having ‘made it’, many stars from small – or for that matter big – countries in the global South are unwilling to divert themselves from material success. As we have seen from the past St Barts parties of the Gaddafi family many celebrities, including Beyoncé, Usher and Mariah Carey have little awareness of political events or personalities – as long as they get paid.

Notwithstanding these constraints the reach of celebrity activism can extend to small countries. If Bono (and Bjork from another small island, Iceland) can combine to achieve a global reach, a hybrid identity, and an association with specific causes, there is no question that other celebrities whether from small island states or from the global South can reach cult status. If Bob Marley transformed musical culture there is hope for others to do the same whether from the global South or not.

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