Newsweek’s latest issue shouted from the rooftops that Tina Brown and the Daily Beast are now in charge. The cover story’s on George Clooney, and the cover headline is “Mr. Clooney, The President Is on Line 1: On the ground in Sudan with a new kind of statesman.”
Inside, the gooey story has a gooey headline: “A 21st Century Statesman: In the age of Twitter-shortened attention spans, fame is an increasingly powerful weapon of diplomacy. How George Clooney is helping to bring change – and a hefty dose of hope – to Sudan.”
It comes with Tina Brown touches, like focusing on what he’s wearing: “Clad in a khaki-colored ExOfficio vest, white safari shirt, lightweight pants, and worn hiking boots, Clooney doesn't look or act like a buttoned-up diplomat.”
Clooney is provided with pages of promotional goop, about how he was “determined to put the candy coating of celebrity on the serious substance of foreign policy.” This included constant tributes to his humility, including this quote about people on the ground in South Sudan: "I walk an uneasy line trying to bring focus to what they do, because there's a lot of self-congratulatory crap that makes you sick to your stomach."
Then this congratulatory profile ought to make Clooney ill for about a week.
The self-debasing author is John Avlon of the Daily Beast, who once wrote a book opposing “Wingnuts.” That’s clearly out the window, since Clooney admitted five years ago that he made the terrorists the most sympathetic characters in his conspiracy-theory movie Syriana, and mocked people like President Bush who would simplistically label al-Qaeda as “evildoers.”
Avlon and Newsweek/Beast want to suggest that Clooney not only almost single-handedly gave democracy to South Sudan, but he inspired the current democratic revolution in northern Africa. He is Super Clooney, more powerful that nation-states:
It's an ambitious avocation: Clooney has been leveraging his celebrity to get people to care about something more important than celebrity. South Sudan's January referendum for independence was quickly followed by uprisings that toppled North African and Arab dictatorships, with power moving away from centralized political bureaucracies and toward broader popular engagement. In this new environment-fueled by social networking-fame is a potent commodity that can have more influence on public debate than many elected officials and even some nation-states.
“It’s harder for authoritarian regimes to survive, because we can circumvent old structures with cellphones and the Internet,” says Clooney. “Celebrity can help focus news media where they have abdicated their responsibility. We can’t make policy, but we can ‘encourage’ politicians more than ever before.” Which was why, a few weeks ago, Clooney was being driven in a white pickup down a red dirt road under the watchful eyes of teenage soldiers armed with AK-47s. L.A. was half a world away, but the paparazzi were not far from his mind. “If they’re going to follow me anyway,” he was saying, “I want them to follow me here.”
Clooney was “pivotal” in remaking Sudan:
After witnessing more than 2 million people murdered-including the first genocide of the 21st century, in Darfur-South Sudan would finally be on the path to independence. It was an outcome that even three months earlier appeared unlikely. And Clooney, according to many observers, played a pivotal role.
Celebrity statesmen function like freelance diplomats, adopting issue experts and studying policy. More pragmatic than stars-turned-social activists in the past, they use the levers of power to solve problems. Clooney has Sudanese rebel leaders on speed dial. He's had AK-47s shoved in his chest. And when he's on movie sets, he gets daily Sudan briefings via email.
Now he's gone one step further-George Clooney has a satellite. Privately funded and publicly accessible (SatSentinel.org), this eye in the sky monitors military movements on the north-south border-the powder keg in a region the U.S. director of national intelligence described a year ago as the place on earth where "a new mass killing or genocide is most likely to occur." "I'm not tied to the U.N. or the U.S. government, and so I don't have the same constraints. I'm a guy with a camera from 480 miles up," Clooney says. "I'm the anti-genocide paparazzi."
No “self-congratulatory crap,” like “I’m the anti-genocide paparazzi”?
Political junkies might enjoy Clooney’s self-mocking talk of how he could never be a politician because he’s just too suave and irresistible to settle down with one woman, and likes illegal drugs:
But despite occasional overtures from the California Democratic Party, Clooney has rejected the constraints of conventional politics. "I didn't live my life in the right way for politics, you know," he said, sitting outside the Central Pub in Juba, scarfing down pizza. "I f--ked too many chicks and did too many drugs, and that's the truth." A smart campaigner, he believes, "would start from the beginning by saying, `I did it all. I drank the bong water. Now let's talk about issues.' That's gonna be my campaign slogan: `I drank the bong water.' "
Newsweek’s only dash of disagreement with its celebrity-statesman thesis arrived in paragraph 25, but only so the Clooney-as-pivotal theme can be repeated:
Clooney's celebrity-statesman strategy has its share of critics on the right and left. Prof. William Easterly of New York University, author of The White Man's Burden, says "the success in South Sudan happened in spite of the celebrities, and not because of them . It's unclear why we want celebrities to be in a diplomatic role. It's like getting someone who's trained to be an actor or a rock vocalist and having them fix a nuclear-power plant."
....Still, after Clooney launched a media blitz to mark 100 days to the referendum, English-language newspaper, magazine, and website mentions of the Sudan referendum spiked from six to 165 in one month. Between October and January, the referendum was mentioned in 96 stories across the networks and cable news-with Clooney used as a hook one third of the time. In that same period, 95,000 people sent emails to the White House demanding action on South Sudan. Valentino Achak Deng, the former "lost boy" known to Americans as the subject of a bestselling "fictionalized memoir" by Dave Eggers, What Is the What, says simply: "The referendum would not have taken place without his involvement. Never. He saved millions of lives. I don't think he knows this."
This was followed by Clooney pleading his own case:
Recovering from malaria, he was coordinating the release of satellite images and reflecting on Egypt's uprising: "We're so interconnected now that I can't imagine that the south voting for freedom against an oppressive government doesn't have some effect across the region." Adds Prendergast: "I don't think it's pure coincidence that protests took hold just days after the referendum was broadcast on Al Jazeera. Those images helped empower people. The breeze of freedom from South Sudan became a gale-force wind in Egypt."
In case anyone was in doubt that Newsweek was on a daring mission of globe-trotting celebrity massage, consult the Daily Beast picture gallery. It’s titled “Saint George.” (Um, the "Saint George" that's boinked too many women and drank the bong water?) Inside, the Daily Beasties twice celebrate Clooney, and how he’s so much more than the “Sexiest Man Alive.” Have they mentioned he’s the “Sexiest Man Alive”? Here's one caption:
George Clooney has again proven himself as more valuable than the throwaway label of "Sexiest Man Alive." Although his friends and fellow A-listers Bono and Angelina Jolie have largely been recognized in Hollywood for their humanitarian work, Clooney has quietly spent the last decade giving generously of his time and money to countless charitable organizations and fighting the crisis in Darfur.
If it's such a "throwaway label," why do they keep using it? Here's another:
In January 2008, Clooney earned a title far more valuable than "Sexiest Man Alive" when he was named a United Nations Messenger of Peace for his extensive work in Darfur. He and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel also met with members of the U.N. Security Council in 2006.