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I’m often impatient with celebrity cause celebres – the endless parade of issues latched onto by famous names, sometimes with little knowledge of or passion for those issues’ intricacies.

I believe in a celebrity’s right to voice an opinion, of course, but that opinion should have no more weight than yours or mine because of their fame. But in our celebrity-obsessed culture, they are given more weight through more exposure and a perception of more authority. There’s no chance of a fair debate on the cattle industry when the influential Oprah Winfrey uses her talk show to give her unrefuted opinion (though like her high-priced lawyers – except without the high price – I’d fight for her right to have her say).

When Dr. Jeffrey Sachs talks about poverty in Africa, we don’t even get to the point of saying “Who? Said what?” because the average person will never come across his opinions. But when he teams up with Angelina Jolie for the documentary The Diary of Angelina Jolie and Dr. Jeffrey Sachs in Africa, it not only gets aired on MTV, it ends up as a feature on Entertainment Tonight. So while I can wish that we didn’t need to hear it from her, I have to admire her for her efforts.

With no ties to the area, I was no more or less affected by Hurricane Katrina than the Asian tsunami or earthquakes in India. It’s another horrible reminder of our powerlessness in the face of nature.

But with last night’s Shelter from the Storm telethon, the collective voice of the stars who aligned to raise money and awareness for hurricane relief spoke to CNN-fatigued viewers like me, telling us that we do have power.

Fame is a powerful force. It washed away my cynicism (for now) and leveraged an hour of primetime television on several major networks into A-list entertainment, creating a palatable platform to tell stories about the real stars in this story – the evacuees, the rescue and relief workers, and the everyday heroes whose stories we cling to for meaning out of tragedy.

(Cross posted to Blogcritics)

“We thought, because we had power, we had wisdom.”
Stephen Vincent Benét