In 1978, for those of you of certain age, you will recall Elaine Page singing ‘Dont cry for me Argentina’ in her performance as Evita in the hit musical of the same name. Released at a time when a nasty Argentine junta was terrorizing its own citizens, and threatening Chile with potential violence over the disputed Beagle Channel, it also coincided with growing sense of national confidence in Argentina – 1978 was the year that Argentina beat Holland in the World Cup football final. Four years later, fueled by a rampant sense of territorial nationalism and concerned about growing agitation within the country itself, the Argentine regime decided to invade the Falklands in order to restore the ‘little lost sisters’ to the Argentine fatherland. This project was short-lived as the Thatcher government, to the surprise of the Argentine generals and admirals, did not accept the reality of Argentina occupation. By June 1982, the Falkland Islands were restored to British ownership.
At the time, a young man from Lancashire, Steven Morrissey (Morrissey), was emerging as one of the UK’s most talented lyricists and singers and made his reputation for singing pointed critiques of UK social and political life via his band, The Smiths. Never shy of publicity, he sang about the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, in a song entitled ‘Margaret on the Guillotine’ and criticized Blair and Bush in particular for their war on terror strategies. Recently, Morrissey has re-entered the fray and declared to Argentine fans that, “You know of course the Malvinas Islands, everybody knows they belong to Argentina so please do not blame the British people, we know the islands belong to you”. Following on from Roger Waters, the former guitarist from Pink Floyd, we have two UK celebrity pop stars reportedly calling for the Falkland Islands to be handed back to Argentina.
What interests here is the growing role of celebrities and their interventions in geopolitical matters. Morrissey and Waters are in good company with a long list of celebrities performing advocacy roles – demanding this or that to happen in the context of emergencies, political-economy, disasters, health and foreign policy priorities. People like Bob Geldoff, Sean Penn, Madonna and before that Vietnam critics such as Jane Fonda. We might use these recent Falklands examples as a moment to pause and think about how popular or noteworthy figures are able to act as both sources of geo-political ‘knowledge’ (‘we know the islands belong to you’) and catalysts for mobilizing feelings about the way in which geopolitics is put into practice (‘do not blame the British people’).
Do celebrity geopoliticians really have a role—have an influence—in promoting an understanding of the most complex, contested and sensitive of global issues? Can they actively change people’s minds, or, perhaps, play a more subtle role in rendering the unthinkable, thinkable? Or do the musings of someone like Morrissey simply cause a degree of excitement or embarrassment for paid up fans—including Prime Minister David Cameron—only to be dismissed as crass show-boating to Argentine pop fans? Are pop stars like Morrissey playing at geopolitics? Or do they remind us, especially when standing on a concert stage, that all forms of geopolitics whether ‘elite’ or ‘popular’ depend on discourses, practices, performances, agents, and affect?