Back to back articles covering celebrity "eco-hypocrites" appeared recently in the L.A. Times and Daily Mail. Both articles made a fuss about various green celebrity transgressions, the majority of which involve air travel (both private and commercial). Sienna Miller flies a lot for her work on climate change awareness, Leo DiCapprio flew to the Cannes Film Festival to promote his documentary the 11th Hour, George Clooney uses private jets and Al Gore's big house uses lots of energy (though less now that he's installed solar).
What is behind these stories and the almost obsessive urge to point out the short-comings of celebrities that advocate living a more eco-friendly lifestyle? After writing about green celebs for a couple of years I know well the difference celebs can make when they put their weight behind a cause, so why the apparent need to disgrace high profile eco-advocates? I'll explore these four reasons after the jump: 1) we want our heroes to be angels; 2) it's fun to rip on the rich and famous; 3) hypocritical behavior really is annoying; and 4) people need excuses not to act.
We want our heroes to be angels.
There's something about a pedestal that invites scrutiny and judgment. I'm unfamiliar with the nuances of human psychological response to heroism, but history has proven hero status to be a precarious position. Standards are raised to the near-impossible, even Mother Teresa, Gandhi and Martin Luther King can't escape the public's perfection anxiety.
It's fun to rip on the rich and famous.
So fun, in fact, that people are making money doing it. Perezhilton.com is technorati's 15th ranked site; tmz.com is 11th. Dissecting the faults and foibles of the wealthy and prominent for the amusement of others is a lucrative enterprise.
Hypocritical behavior really is annoying.
especially when it comes to the environment. Oftentimes, with awareness comes judgment - of others, yes, but even more so of ourselves. When a person lives life diligently navigating the (sometimes) complex landscape of eco-conscious choices and they catch a whiff of inauthentic "green 'cuz it's trendy" behavior - it is a pisser. If you've made a commitment to riding your bike instead of driving and some supposedly 'green' celeb is powering around town in a hybrid shopping for $10,000 handbags it chaps your already-slightly-raw-from-all-that-biking ass.
People need excuses not to act.
Pointing out eco-celeb's lifestyle contradictions is one of the many strategies that the frightened, confused and lazy use to delay action on the environment. Critics of eco-celebs who have not themselves made an effort to green their lifestyle borrow this double diversion tactic from the playground: when scolded for bad behavior point out the errors of others not in the hotseat.
While hyper-scrutiny of celebrity behavior does have its place - generating a discourse on what it takes to be green; raising the bar for green behavior; and separating the wheat from the chaff among trendy-greenies — taken too far it is counterproductive and sniveling. Too often the criticisms imply that a green-celeb's errors render their environmental message moot and their actions meaningless. This is pretty silly considering that without An Inconvenient Truth and Leo's sexy plea for environmental stewardship a significant percentage of Americans would never have even contemplated reducing their own environmental footprint.
What do you think? How did you feel when you learned about Al Gore's electricity bill or Leo's flight across the Atlantic?