Becoming Brands, Celebrity, Activism and Politics, edited by Dr. Jackie Raphael and Dr. Celia Lam, a fast paced, highly informative and well-researched book, published by WaterHill Publishing, is a collection of analyses and case studies of celebrities such as Angelina Jolie and George Clooney, Miley Cyrus and Emma Watson, Taylor Swift, among others, with an aim and purpose of determining the co-dependent relationship between fame and activism. How do celebrities bring attention to their activism or does the activism work itself make them famous? And how is all of this managed by how they brand their identity.

Given the pivotal role popular culture plays in the world, it creates political, social and economic influences. The advertising industry relies on celebrities for endorsements, while more and more celebrities become involved with charities to benefit their own celebrity persona.

The book discusses the varying levels of success of celebrities who are activists or philanthropists, as well as those who have gained fame for their activism. Overall, the book creates a broad discussion on the power of celebrities and how their individual brands can create global change.

Historically, branding was a physical transformation of animals and humans to proclaim ownership:  the branding of cattle to claim the livestock as property continues as a phenomenon, while the branding of humans as property and slaves is generally seen as something that is well beyond the acceptable.

In the introduction of the chapter, Celebrities and Conflicting Notions of Modern Feminist Embodiment, Kelly M. O’Donnell, a second-year M.A. student at UNC- Greensboro writes:

The media play an important role in making what was once on the fringe or taboo, into something mainstream. The “continuous interactions” that women and young people have with entertainment news and with each other “shape[s] our [their] perspectives and orientation toward reality” (Varus, 2002, p. 3).

Also in the chapter Phoenix Rising: Freddie Mercury’s Legacy and Fight Against AIDS, Marie Josephine Bennett, a PhD student at the University of Winchester, writes:

Both Ellis Cashmore and Chris Rojek discuss the link between celebrity and talent. Cashmore (2006) suggests that, from the late 1980s, there was a change in the way celebrity was perceived, such that fame and merit were no longer coterminous, and argues that there has been a “shift of emphasis from achievement-based fame to media-driven renown” (p. 7).

Outside of the realm of Michael Jordan’s huge Nike Sneaker Deal, the idea of celebrity branding back in the 1980s was news revealed in advertising and business magazines that American celebrities were getting paid extraordinary amounts of money to promote products by doing commercials in Japan. Much like the world of art as it became clear in movies, fashion and politics, there were those who embodied power, money and fame followed by the rest of the world and its people who went to these famed and moneyed celebrities for entertainment.

Post Y2K and the burgeoning tech companies in Silicon Valley, the new celebrities have become people like Mark Zuckerberg. Along with the opening of new social media accounts and personalizing of YouTube channels, normal people are players in the game of power and money. The word “influencer” is commonly used to describe a marketing person who is able to influence opinion and behavior of others.

Where Becoming Brands fails coming up with an understanding of how the worldwide media is now digitalized, it succeeds in referencing the case of Pawel Kukiz, Polish punk rock musician who used Facebook to help his Polish presidential election campaign in an entertaining analysis by Tomasz Olczyk and Jacek Wasilewski.

What the book is able to do is excite the reader’s mind as it somehow brings about the query of events happening today and is able to give answers to questions which arise based on their relevance to themes and topics referenced in the book. It maintains a keen understanding of who celebrities are, how they get to maintain their power over those who invest time and virtually their lives in honoring or basically worshipping these celebrities, what it means to have power and influence, use of that power to affect policy, and enact social, economic and political change.


In the Foreword: The Bridge of the Human Brand, P. David Marshall writes:  

Jackie Raphael

As Jackie Raphael’s chapter in this book identifies through Grant McCracken’s foundational work, the celebrities brand is a form of transference.

Jackie Raphael explains in her chapter, Paul Newman: Posthumous Philanthropy and Persona:

Grant McCracken’s (1989) meaning transfer process was based on the way in which a celebrity’s endorsement of a product or service transfers the celebrity’s identity to the brand and then on to the final consumer.

In the chapter, The Emergence of the ‘Super-Celebrity Activist’: George Clooney and Angelina Jolie, Sally Totman gives a multi-dimensional account of the lives of the two super stars both on and off-screen and how they manage their influential roles.

Through their multi-faceted approaches, they are achieving real and meaningful change for thousands of people in the world.

The predicament most celebrities are confronted with is when they have to manage their onstage persona with their offstage persona. This is when the authenticity of most celebrities are questioned, which brings about scandals.

The case study, The Silent DisCo: Celebrity, Disability and ‘Rights Not Charity’ by Ellen Finlay and Louise St Guillaume, examines the problem of achieving structural change for people with disability in the fan meet and greets.

In order to understand an issue such as female equality relevant to the New Feminist and discussed along with the need for better roles for women in Hollywood, one can refer to the moment at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival when actress Jessica Chastain spoke out against the lack of better acting and directorial- roles for women. In the riveting analysis, Having a Driving License in the Movie Theater: Driver Nebahat by Nilay Ulusoy, the origin of influential female roles in Turkish cinema, much of which had a direct impact on the lives of women in society, is written with such expertise, especially in the insightful references to Turkish history.

The topic of The Feminist Brand is further detailed in the case study of Emma Watson and Miley Cyrus in the analysis, Celebrities and Conflicting Notions of Modernist Feminist Embodiment by Kelly M. O’Donnell. The dynamics of the virgin/whore paradigm is basis for the analysis. O’Donnell captures the spirit of both women and their respective personas, adding subtle insights and hints which enhance each woman’s character.

Ronald Strickland’s Clint Eastwood’s Identity Politics makes a case for the approach to white male masculinity using Eastwood’s films as a reference point.

If the politics of white male vulnerability and anger at the elites were awkwardly expressed by Eastwood the celebrity, they are skillfully elaborated in many of his films, including and especially in his early film, The Outlaw Josey Wales.

The Donald Trump campaign of 2016 was rooted in the Republican Party’s Southern Strategy, reaching out to disaffected white voters in light of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Strickland with precision carefully articulates premise for Eastwood’s white male anger, how his performance at the 2012 Republican National Convention seemed ineffective, yet useful to analyze in order to understand why Trump’s rhetoric was more successful. The most startling analysis in the book and most topical is Strickland’s investigation into how Trump’s message resonated and helped revolutionize the conscience of a key component of the Republican base.

Becoming Brands as a book is a lively read, essential in understanding the world of movers and shakers, how to get involved in creating and marketing such a word for yourself – what it takes, pros and cons. By using case studies, well-investigated analyses such as Carla Rocavert’s Offstage Humanitarianism chapter, Evan Beaumont Center’s portrait of the ultimate neoliberal activist celebrity Paul Watson, Alexander Araya Lopez’s intense look at the Brazilian Pixacao graffiti culture, Becoming Brands is important to anyone who wants to be part of or is curious about the world of fame, money and power.

Most importantly it is necessary for any person who is ready to will change and make a difference in their own lives and in today’s world.