Examining the Mainstream Spotlight on the Australian Bushfires

Over the past few weeks, the mainstream media’s attention on the bushfires that are rampaging across every state in Australia brings awareness to the devastating issue and asks for public empathy in the form of donations.

Celebrities and politicians alike have donated massive amounts of money towards relief support. Influencers, under the scrutiny of the public eye, tweet out the various amounts of money they have donated. It begs the question, however, how much of a celebrity’s philanthropy is out of the goodness of their hearts, and how much is for positive publicity? Spreading awareness is an important tool that could remarkably help any global issue through increased contributions, but significant celebrity support only seems to appear for mainstream issues like the Australian bushfires or the Notre Dame fire. 

The fires have been worsened by natural causes, with record high temperatures and especially dry weather. Climate change has been the active agent drastically increasing the intensity and damage of natural disasters, despite the refusal of acknowledgment by conservative politicians. The fires have been starting earlier and spreading faster by the year, bringing more evidence of the reality of climate change. 

Fundraising and activism for the fires have taken Hollywood by storm. Many high-profile celebrities are attempting to quell the flames and are using their platforms to urge others to do so as well. Beauty mogul Kylie Jenner donated 1 million dollars to relief efforts while Melbourne native Chris Hemsworth donated 500,000. Surely, one of the world’s richest men could also spare the amount of money he makes in minutes, millions by the way, to help save lives in Australia. But, Jeff Bezos, and others in his position, love to prove they are not one for generosity. Public reaction from the internet has become a major influence over celebrities, attacking celebrities that hold back from enacting positive social change. Consequently, some actions from celebrities feel more like a preventative measure against cancel culture than a genuine act of goodness. 

Climate change proved to be a central theme during the Golden Globes on January 5th, as a variety of speeches spoke about the deeper issue of much needed policy change about global warming. Actor Russell Crowe outlined a simple plan to start addressing the issue, saying “We need to act based on science, move our global workforce to renewable energy, and respect our planet for the unique and amazing place it is.” Crowe’s words are an example of a substantial call for change by Hollywood that is informative to the public. 

Demonstrations have been organized throughout the nation, especially within Australia’s youth, calling for more recognition of climate change’s role in the bushfires, due to the fact that the acres burned in 2019 alone equaled the total number of acres burned in New South Wales for the past fifteen years. However, some conservative news outlets in Australia perpetuated an antagonization of the left and spread exaggerated narratives, present in a popular article by The Australian, of how much arson played a role in the fires. Their goal was to diminish blame on conservative leaders in Australia by diverting the public attention from climate change.

Although donations to help the Australian bushfires are vastly important in helping to stop this environmental crisis, my question lies elsewhere: why do causes like these tend to be more supported and gather more attention from the media? Is it because it looks better on an influencer’s Instagram feed or an easier cause to promote? Or is it because more people have ties to highly media-covered issues like these? Maybe topics like the Australian bushfires are just easier to talk about at family dinner. Not that the attention going towards the Australian bushfires isn’t valid, but so many other issues are left unheard about that are just as pressing as these fires. Thousands of Chinese-Muslims are being tortured in concentration camps, yet most Americans aren’t even aware. Issues like those also deserve a place in our feeds.

Illustration by Zoe Chow.