The Power of Celebrity

In times of disaster, celebrities make use of their influence to donate and encourage others to do the same

Taken from Jang Geun-suk's fan page on Facebook.

By Yasminka Lee in Bangkok in Bangkok

Sometimes it takes a disaster to happen for one to understand the importance of celebrity and witness its magnitude.

The Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 was a life-changing event for Chinese superstar Jet Li prompting him to set up his One Foundation, which in turn became instrumental when the Sichuan earthquake in 2008 hit.

With the great Tohoku earthquake hitting Japan on March 11, we are once more witnessing how powerful celebrity-hood is in generating much-needed aid.

Japan is of course home to one of Asia’s most vibrant and trendsetting pop cultures. Many of its celebrities are famous across the region and it was not surprising to read of fans expressing concern over the safety of their idols soon after the 9.0-magnitude earthquake hit. In many cases, these stars are the only connection that some fans have to the country.

Pop diva Ayumi Hamasaki was one of the earliest to respond to the call for help, constantly updating her twitter (@ayu_19980408) with news and messages to her almost 500,000 followers. She also donated an initial 4 million yen (US$50,000) soon after the disaster hit and topped it up with 30 million yen ($372,000) to the Japanese Red Cross. Hamasaki also announced that she is collaborating with a fashion magazine to sell charity T-shirts that she designed herself for 1,500 yen ($19) each.

Talent agency Johnny’s Entertainment has extended quite a unique assistance. It cancelled 18 of its domestic concerts in March and instead announced that it was offering the use of the transport and power generation trucks it contracted to send supplies and electricity to the disaster areas. It also donated 2,000 litres of gasoline.

Johnny’s, which manages pop groups like SMAP, Tokio and Arashi, will also be releasing a charity CD featuring its talents. It also plans to drastically reduce power consumption for its concerts—known for big production numbers and effects—to only 10 per cent, or from an average of 3,000 kilowatts per concert to only 300 kilowatts.

Other fundraising efforts in Japan like TV Asahi’s “Doraemon Charity Fund” has raised over 600 million yen ($7.44 million), while 24 Hour Television has raised 250 million yen ($3 million).

In Taiwan, TV networks also launched telethons participated in by big stars, politicians and other celebrities including first lady Chow Mei-ching.

Televised fund-raiser “Fight and Smile” on March 18 has raised NT$788 million (US$26.62 million), with stars manning 120 phone lines to take in donations from viewers.

During the telethon, Taiwanese diva Jody Chiang sang “Hometown at Dusk”, written by a Japanese musician. “I have a very special relationship with the people of Japan, ” she said. “I had released records in Japan before, and I am deeply concerned for the Japanese people. Mother Nature is brutal but we have each other,” said the 49-year-old singer.

Model-actress-singer Vivian Hsu, who was based in Japan at the start of her career, shared dramatic experiences of her Japanese friends. “Things will change for the better in Japan if every one of us pitches in to help,” she said.

A piece of work donated by famed Taiwanese sculptor Ju Ming was sold at NT$26 million (US$878,700) on the show while Japanese soccer player Hidetoshi Nakata offered his sneakers for charity sale.

South Korean stars also came out to help. Hallyu star Bae Yong-joon, referred to as ‘Yonsama’ by his Japanese fans, donated one billion won ($888,000). “My heart hurts with more news of the increasing damage and aftershocks. I’ll find the best way to help,” he said on his website.

Kim Hyun-joong of boy group SS501 also donated 100 million ($88,000) while Jang Geun-suk, who recently sold out his Japanese showcase tickets, gave 140 million won ($124,000) to the Japanese Red Cross.

Ryu Siwon donated 200 million won ($178,000) and offered to deliver it personally. He also volunteered to participate in earthquake relief efforts.

South Korean TV network SBS also aired a special, “Keep Your Energies High, Japan!”, where many of the country’s top idols gave their words of support to their Japanese fans who were affected by the earthquake. Among the stars who participated were Rain, Kim Hyung Joon, Brown Eyed Girls, TVXQ, Super Junior’s Leeteuk and Shindong, 2PM, SNSD, CNBLUE, MBLAQ, 4minute, B2ST, and SHINee’s Minho and Taemin.

“If we gather our love and sincerity, we can find the power and bravery to recover from a tragedy,” SNSD member Yoona said.

Back in Japan, musician Gackt has started a “Show Your Heart” fund on his website in cooperation with the Japanese Red Cross.

“Working together during this time is important. We can accomplish much more by combining our efforts,” Gackt told his fans in a message on his website.

Indeed it is time for celebrities to give back the love they have received from their supporters, and stars of their kind have to be commended, especially those who do charity work not only during disasters but as part of their advocacy. On the other hand, fans need not be told when to give; it should be part of one’s goodwill.

(First published in AsiaNews magazine on March 25, 2011. Copyright: Asia News Network)

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