Four Celebrity Charity Stunts Gone Wrong
Once you reach a certain level of fame, you have to pick a charitable cause to give your time and money, lest people get the correct impression that you’re a wealth hoarder. You have to pick the right one, though, and approach it just right, too, otherwise people will know you’re both stupid and a wealth hoarder. There are so many ways to mess it up, from not practicing what you preach, to overestimating how much people give a shit about you, to straight-up doing a fraud.
Ashton Kutcher Had to Step Down in Disgrace from His Anti–Sex Trafficking Organization
Around 2011, Kutcher found out about sex trafficking. At least, that’s how the formation of Thorn and its “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls” campaign came off, as if the only thing keeping those sex traffickers going was the tacit validation of their masculinity by the guy from Dude, Where’s My Car?. Despite its founder’s apparent naivete, though, the organization appears to do a lot of good. You won’t find a lot of pro-sex trafficking activists.
But it turns out Kutcher’s commitment to ending sexual violence only extends to the kind not perpetrated by his best friend. After his frequent co-star Danny Masterson was convicted of rape in 2023, Kutcher wrote to the judge asking for leniency for Masterson, who he described as a “role model” who “has always treated people with decency, equality and generosity” and who he doesn’t believe “is an ongoing harm to society.” Again, a guy convicted of multiple counts of rape.
After the letter was leaked, Kutcher apologized, explaining that he thought only the judge would see it, which did the opposite of help. The backlash was so severe that, when people remembered with horror that he runs an anti-trafficking organization, he resigned. At least Demi Moore — Kutcher’s ex-wife and co-founder who has retained her position — must think it’s pretty funny.
Ed Sheeran Sucked So Much, Comic Relief Stopped Sending Celebrities to Africa
Sheeran is easy to hate. Not only is he extremely successful, he’s extremely successful at writing songs that make us all emotional, which makes us resentful enough to give him mean nicknames like Ron Wailsley. But no one hated him more, presumably, than the dozens of homeless children who stood by while he single-handedly plucked a handful of their friends out of poverty.
Let’s back up: In 2017, Sheeran participated in a video for Comic Relief’s annual Red Nose Day charity event that will give you the same face as Beavis and Butt-Head when they watch modern YouTubers. It starts with him expressing amazement that Liberia has beaches and then gawking at sleeping homeless children, talking about them to the camera like they’re not even there. He eventually bonds with one of them and asks someone off camera if he can just, like, pay for a hotel for him and a few of his buddies for a while, as if the solution to systemic poverty is one nice guitar player. He asks this while standing in front of a crowd of dozens of homeless children who can apparently go fuck themselves.
The video was decried as “poverty porn” and Sheeran as a wannabe “white savior,” and the backlash was so intense that Comic Relief just stopped sending celebrities to Africa altogether. They announced in 2020 that they would start hiring local filmmakers to create those videos instead, so hey, some good came out of it, and it can’t be worse than getting your face burned off by a dragon.
The ‘Digital Death’ Campaign Overestimated How Much People Care About Celebrity Tweets
Ah, 2010. It was a more innocent time, when people were psyched to occupy Wall Street, we just found out who Kesha was, and Facebook and Twitter were important media empires and not just cesspools of neo-Nazis and Minions memes. It was a time when, theoretically, a celebrity’s threat to stop posting might actually mean something. That’s why, on World AIDS Day that year, celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Ryan Seacrest (it was also back when Ryan Seacrest was a celebrity) staged a “digital death,” refusing to update their statuses until fans raised $1 million for an organization called Keep a Child Alive.
Aaaaaaand no one cared. By the end of the first day, only $70,000 had been raised. Fast forward six days, and that number was still less than half of the campaign’s goal, which is why it’s a little suspicious that some huge donations came in on that seventh day that allowed them to put an end to the campaign — as well as their humiliation — within a week. In hindsight, there was a lot wrong with the campaign, from the whole concept being the opposite of publicity (a celebrity who can’t post can’t raise awareness) to a minimum donation limit of $10. That’s in 2010 money, so it’s like the price of a used car today.
The Kanye West Foundation Was Barely a Charity
In the late 2000s, the Kanye West Foundation was founded by (spoiler) Kanye West to “combat the severe dropout problem in schools across the United States by providing under-served youth access to music production programs.” That’s great, if a little confusing from a man who built his brand on being a College Dropout. It’s also unclear how music production helps kids stay in school. Again, it clearly did not work for Yeezy.
They didn’t seem to have much of an idea how it was going to work, either. Despite raising more than $1 million from West’s business associates, by the end of 2008, they only paid out a little more than $7,000 in grants and donations. In 2009, that number plummeted to only $583, and the next year, they literally spent zero dollars on actual charity. Every single cent went to operating costs that included “travel, conferences and meetings,” “special events,” and probably many broken pairs of those weird plastic shutter shades. After the data came out, the foundation promptly shut down, its executive director only finding out when they called the office and found its phone disconnected.
Fortunately, Kanye never did anything weird and shady ever again, and we can all enjoy “Stronger” forever.