At the end of April, actress Mia Farrow embarked upon a hunger strike in order to call attention to continuing troubles in the Darfur region of Sudan. She pledged to fast for three weeks, only drinking water, to draw media attention to the plight of refugees in Darfur, where welfare agencies have been exiled and essentially barred from helping to care for and feed the refugees. She chronicled the experience through videos posted to YouTube. In one she says, “Of course, I don’t expect that me on a hunger strike is going to do that much. But if it provides a news hook for newspapers so they can talk about what’s really important, then that will be worth it.”
Fair enough, one might say. Unfortunately, Farrow was unable to go past day 12 of her fast due to weakness. But, never fear, Sir Richard Branson, of Virgin music and airlines fame, agreed to tag team in for three days.
What a strange world we live in.
After being accused of espionage, tried in a closed court and convicted after one day of “testimony” in Iran, American-born journalist Roxana Saberi began a hunger strike on April 21 that she vowed to continue until she was freed. Although she ended the strike May 6th after extreme dehydration sent her to a hospital, she has since gained a suspended two-year sentence through appeal, compared to the eight years of prison time to which she was originally sentenced. Did the strike have anything to do with it?
Perhaps. More likely, heads of state got together behind the curtain and made some promises and reassurances. After all, the Obama administration has made reaching out to the Iranian government, after years of contention between the two countries, a goal.
So why go on a hunger strike? In the case of Saberi, it was because she was trapped and powerless. One might rather die of starvation and go down swinging than spend eight years in an Iranian prison. How else can one draw attention to oneself from inside prison? Drastic times, drastic measures and all that. A hunger strike is the last weapon of a desperate person hoping to “inflict negative publicity on the authorities.” And Iran must have feared the negative press just a little because they continually denied that she wasn’t eating.
But when it comes to Mia Farrow and Richard Branson… it’s preposterous. Of course, we all know what they are trying to do. They are hoping that their “celebrity” will draw attention to the cause. Would we have the same tolerance for a housewife from Ohio or a marketing director from Salt Lake City who decided to go on hunger strikes for Darfur? No, we would say that they were crazy. We would say, “Go about your business, oddball.”
The only thing a celebrity hunger strike calls attention to is the tremendous sense of guilt they must have for their extravagant lifestyles in the face of worldwide strife. To them, a hunger strike is adventure; something they haven’t experienced before. Ooohh, I’m going to starve myself and let people watch. Branson told Entertainment Weekly, “Mia Farrow’s been unbelievably brave. And when she asked me to step into her shoes for three days, I must admit I thought I got off lightly. Although this is the first evening and I certainly could do with a decent meal already. I just had a couple games of chess with somebody who doesn’t normally beat me, and he beat me both times.” Yes, just lazing about the house playing chess and hunger striking.
To someone who is really hungry, this is an insult. I’m not talking about refugees in Darfur here. If they are even aware of what Farrow and Branson are doing on their behalf, perhaps they are grateful. Or maybe they are asking each other, “Who’s Mia Farrow? Who’s Sir Richard Branson?”
But what about the people in the First World who are hungry? Who are getting their food from the food shelves or going without? What might be their reaction to “politicizing” the act of eating or not eating? Mia told People Magazine she was passing the time of her fast, “listening to classical music and reading books. ‘I watched Schindler’s List all the way through. Then I cried and cried,” she says.'” I can’t help but think that hungry people throughout America would say that Mia Farrow is a big idiot. Or slender idiot, as the case may be.
How can a hunger strike truly mean anything when nothing is really at stake for the striker? Because we all know that Mia Farrow and Richard Branson won’t let things go too far. Which, of course, they shouldn’t. The only thing more ridiculous than a celebrity hunger strike would be a celebrity actually dying on a hunger strike. Their hunger strike really only means anything when other people talk about it and about them; this is their stated purpose, to “gain media attention.” But really all this does is further their own celebrity because this kind of action is exactly what celebrity is all about (although they will tell you they are nothing but altruistic) – being noticed, continually, for anything and everything one does, whether of any import or not.
Question: If a celebrity goes on a hunger strike but doesn’t tell anyone, is it really a hunger strike?