GRSJ224/Neoliberal Celebrities

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Neoliberal Celebrities In North America

Neoliberal celebrities are celebrities that intentionally or unintentionally reinforce and reproduce neoliberal ideals. They are seen as individuals who managed to achieve uncommon status and prestige through self improvement, self-promotion, and the constant disciplining of one’s identity. Self improvement is seen as vital to neoliberalism[1]. Neoliberal celebrities thrive on self improvement and self promotion while also utilizing the neoliberal goals of consumption and commodification.


Neoliberal celebrities are in constant interaction to other facets of neoliberalism like neoliberal feminism and neoliberal racism as North American pop-culture tends to force celebrities to surrender all forms of race, sexuality, and gender difference. It incorporates their identity into the dominant repertoire of normative whiteness[2]. This is seen in celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus and Nicki Minaj who credit their success as celebrities to their individual hard work, self-transformation and self-improvement and not to the privileged and oppressive systems they are apart of like race, gender and sexuality[2]. In other words, neoliberal celebrities resort to neoliberal narratives to explain their rise to celebrity by focussing on the power of the individual and not systems. This can be seen with celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Taylor who deem their success to be tied to their individual hard work, yet fail to acknowledge how whiteness and heteronormativity act as systems that benefit them[2]. It has been argued that neoliberal celebrities reinforce white feminism by focussing on the power of individuals instead of systems of oppression[2]. Another important characteristic is that neoliberal celebrities tend to come from neoliberal places like the United Sates, where US-centrism acts as another form of privilege[2].

Neoliberalism evolved from economic theory that strived for economic freedom for the individual[3]. Neoliberalism attempts to increase economic freedom for individuals by decreasing government spending and control, reducing deficit spending, privatization, limiting protectionism and expanding free trade[1]. Such policies are favoured in neoliberal thought as they are expected to maximize a person’s income, making them financially independent from the state and other social welfare systems[1]. Neoliberalism sees economic dependency on other people and welfare systems as the root of many economic and social problems[4]. Neoliberalism seeks a model of citizenship based on citizenship as consumerism and individualism based on adaptability and self-transformation- focusing on the role of the individual to transform themselves[4].

Neoliberal Celebrity Effects In The World


Celebrity fascination makes neoliberal celebrities important in environmental movements as they increase invisibility and public engagement with the movement they support. Critics of environmentally conscious celebrities have noted the environmental and green movements increasing reliance on celebrities to help sustain a neoliberal fantasy- capitalist market mechanisms can solve the very social and ecological problems to which capitalism causes and contributes[1]. In other words, despite capitalism and economic development being proven as a driver for climate change and environmental degradation, neoliberalism sees capitalism as the answer for solving the ecological and environmental problems we face[1].

Specifically neoliberal celebrities have been criticized for their commercial backing of ‘ethical’ or ‘environmentally friendly’ products, often through their corporate endorsement contracts[1][5]. The neoliberalism is employed here by creating a narrative that individuals can contribute to social causes and environmental causes through ‘ethical’ consumption of socially and environmentally sustainable commodities rather than direct political engagement[1]. Celebrity endorsement of ‘ethical’ products also contributes to the greenwashing of consumables, whereby the consumer thinks they are doing the environment or the cause a favour by consuming a particular product, even when consuming the product is more damaging to the cause[1]. Neoliberal celebrities have also been criticized for the rise of private philanthropy efforts on the part of wealthy individuals, which reinforces neoliberalism by highlighting the narrative of ‘private visions of the public good’[6]. Furthermore, celebrities have been criticized for their promotion of environmental movements that characterize the movements as spectacles that support a 'win–win' narrative creating an image of exciting, exotic and erotic natures[6].


While celebrities have strived to help humanitarian causes, especially with regard to developing regions of the world like Africa, they have been blamed for hegemonically shaping what ethical consumption looks like and promoting the idea of consumption itself. In anti-poverty campaigns, celebrities have spearheaded the marketing of commodities to appeal to ‘caring’ consumers through promoting the consumption of products from certain communities and impoverished groups[7]. This act shifts the responsibility of caring for impoverished people from governments to the ‘caring consumer’. This process serves as the link between celebrity-promoted humanitarian intervention and neoliberal imperialism[7]. Overall, celebrity market based approaches and intervention have been criticized for reinforcing hegemonic discourses by narrowly characterizing stereotyped images of impoverished people and places, especially through celebrity endorsements like George Clooney supporting 'ethical' coffee[5].

However, neoliberal celebrities have gained some notoriety for improving the lives of impoverished people through anti-poverty campaigns and humanitarianism. The celebrity adoption of neoliberal solutions can be interpreted as a strategy for humanitarianism, as it helps shape public opinion on the causes and solutions to poverty, while also bypassing long standing criticism of foreign aid and structural adjustments that tend to hurt the economies and communities of developing countries[7].

The Body

Individualism, self-improvement, self promotion and the rejection of help from outside sources is central to the success of the individual in neoliberalism. Neoliberalism sees overweight and obese bodies as a signs of individual failure as the individual has failed to self-improve ones body to meet the thin and skinny body ideals of North America[4]. Celebrities are involved in neoliberal body policing in many different ways. In regard to overweight or obese bodies, neoliberal celebrities reinforce the cult and idealization of thinness through being thin and promoting their thinness through products and acts of beauty. Here celebrities can reinforce the idealization of thinness and also stereotype overweight and obese bodies through the media[4].

This can be seen in two ways. Melissa McCarthy (a plus sized actress and comedian) has often utilized her body and weight for humour as her movies can rely heavily on caricatures of vulgar, low-class obesity[4]. McCarthy’s weight here serves as a reinforcement of tying overweight bodies to lower social class and vulgarity, which reproduces overweight bodies as something that needs to be ‘self-improved’[4]. In other words body shape is linked to social class. Although her public image may be one of polite and middle-class her acting may be seen as hegemonic and fortifying neoliberal body policing. Celebrities have also come under fire for promoting products that support the losing of weight or in the neoliberal wording ‘self-improvement’.

On the other hand, McCarthy can be seen as a neoliberal celebrity who has a variety of cultural meanings, as a symbol for fat-acceptance and the normalization of overweight femininity, out-of-control feminine excess or a regular woman, meanings that all serve to jeopardize neoliberalism and other hegemonic systems[4].


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Flecther, Robert (September 15, 2015). "Blinded by the stars? Celebrity, fantasy, and desire in neoliberal environmental governance". Celebrity Studies. 6: 456–470 – via Taylor & Francis Online. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Isaken & Eltantawy, Judy & Nahed (October 05, 2019). "What happens when a celebrity feminist slings microaggressive shade?: Twitter and the pushback against neoliberal feminism". Celebrity Studies: 1–16.  line feed character in |title= at position 46 (help); Check date values in: |date= (help)
  3. Gilbert, Jeremy (2013). "Neoliberal Culture". New formations: a journal of culture/theory/politics. 80-81: 5–6 – via Project Muse. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 Meeuf, Russel (August 22, 2015). "Class, corpulence, and neoliberal citizenship: Melissa McCarthy on Saturday Night Live". Celebrity Studies. 7: 137–153 – via Taylor & Francis Online.  line feed character in |title= at position 47 (help)
  5. 5.0 5.1 Budabin, Alexandra (August 8, 2019). "Caffeinated Solutions as Neoliberal Politics: How Celebrities Create and Promote Partnerships for Peace and Development" (PDF). American Political Science Association: 1–16.  line feed character in |title= at position 36 (help)
  6. 6.0 6.1 Kapoor, Ilan (2012). Celebrity Humanitarianism The Ideology of Global Charity. London: Routledge. pp. 1–160.  line feed character in |title= at position 26 (help)
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Daley, Patricia (September 5, 2013). "Rescuing African bodies: celebrities, consumerism and neoliberal humanitarianism". Review of African Political Economy. 40: 375–393 – via Taylor & Francis Online.  line feed character in |title= at position 50 (help)