Monday, September 28, 2009

Matt Damon gets all wet (for a cause)

In 2006, actor Matt Damon was asked to help out on a documentary, Running the Sahara, about three ultramarathoners who hoped to accomplish the film's eponymous task. Damon signed on as one of the film's executive producers, then founded the H20 Africa Foundation to raise money for water projects along the runners' route. Since then that project has evolved into Esquire has an article about the actor turned activist. Below is an excerpt.

Between January and February of 2007, researchers from Trinity College Dublin stalked the commuter-rail stations in the heart of the city, brandishing questionnaires. They eventually pigeonholed one hundred respondents, fifty men and fifty women.

The questionnaires were short and consisted of six questions in all:

1. Can you think of any celebrities associated with international aid work?
2. What are they each trying to achieve?
3. How much do you think they know about international aid and development?
4. Do they influence you?
5. What is the value of them being involved in this sort of thing?
6. Who benefits from celebrities being involved in this work?

The data from the questionnaires was eventually tabulated, transformed into a series of bar graphs, and interpreted in an academic paper published last December in The International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing. The authors of the paper summed up their findings as follows:

"The respondents were fairly cynical as to the motives of most celebrities, whose involvement they felt served their own aims, namely publicity, first and foremost... They respected celebrities they felt were genuinely committed to the causes they espoused, but paradoxically, they felt such commitment was best demonstrated by the celebrity keeping a low profile, and not actively seeking publicity."

Only one of those commuter-rail-riding Dubliners brought up Matt Damon's name, five times fewer than the number who cited Ginger Spice, and well behind Bono and Angelina at the top. He has, so far, been more reticent than the Bonos and Angelinas of the world, or even the Clooneys and the Pitts, when it comes to publicly spending his celebrity capital on the causes he supports. But his reticence is waning.

He's been famous for twelve years now, a superstar for half that. He's had to come to terms with what it means to live under scrutiny as hot and scouring as a sandstorm. He also knows that the sorts of charity appeals that worked in the past — campaigns centered on pictures of starving children with distended bellies, for example — no longer pack the same punch they once did. READ MORE