Welcome to Kalamna, the student blog of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Blacklists, Boycotts (and Beyoncé) Part II: Libya

Tamer Hosni's fangirls are not the only people likely to find themselves turned off by their favorite tunes these days. Yesterday, the popular CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper sent out this message on Twitter: "Why would #Beyonce and #MariahCarey sing for Gadhafi's son at a private party? How much did they get paid? #ac360 10p"

The private performances Cooper was referring to happened a while ago (2010 for Beyoncé, 2009 for Mariah), and backlash was fairly minimal. But that was back when most Americans who had heard of Gaddafi were more familiar with his eccentric fashion choices than his human rights record.

Now that we have all seen Gaddafi threatening the Libyan people with mass chaos, death and destruction on live television (or at least Youtube), the situation is a little different.

Cooper was quickly echoed by a number of others accusing the stars of accepting "blood money" from the dicatator's family. Some called out Lionel Ritchie and Usher for their own Gaddafi performances. While many Twitter users harshly condemned the stars, @sumyasalem took a softer, punnier approach:

@Beyonce show the people in #Libya your "Halo" and donate money at feb17.info hospitals need medical supplies and could really use your help

@UsherRaymondIV "OMG" you performed for a sadist! make up for it and donate to the people dying in #Libya in need of med supplies feb17.info

@UsherRaymondIV <3'd your song "More" we know u make "more" than the avg american. Ppl in #Libya could use ur help. Donate at feb17.info

@mariahcarey people are dying in #Libya right now and they need your help -- donate at feb17.info or say "Bye Bye" to all your Libyan fans!

So far, none of them are scrambling for their checkbooks. The stars look particularly bad in light of another of that morning's stories. Apparently, Lady Gaga traded exclusive distribution rights for a special edition of her "Born This Way" single for a commitment from Target. Not only will Target stop contributing to groups that advocate against LGBT rights, but will instead fund groups championing those rights.

I'm not a huge Gaga fan (in fact, this is the highest concentration of American pop stars you will ever find in a post from me), and not too long ago I was joking about how, not when, Gaga would most likely cash in on the revolutions sweeping the Middle East. But I am impressed. Most pop stars who support a "cause" do so by writing forgettable music, making speeches, allowing advocacy groups to use their image, and performing at one-off benefit concerts. They don't tend to use their own music and the business it generates to pressure major corporations into more ethical policy.

Imagine if stars started making similar deals that pushed corporations to say, drop anti-union policies or operate along BDS guidelines (hey, a girl can dream)! Although Target says the shift is the result of many factors, it seems clear the "Born This Way" deal was among them. Stars like Beyoncé, Mariah, Lionel Ritchie and Usher have more power than many, and as Lady Gaga has shown, they could use that power to support real change. So what's their excuse?

Normally, I'm a firm believer in the idea that one can appreciate art independently of its creator. But some things just make me queasy. Dancing to the tune of Hannibal Gaddafi's private entertainment is one of them.

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