Angelina Jolie and the Everyday Geopolitics of Celebrity Humanitarianism in a Thailand–Burma Border Town

In this chapter I examine the everyday geopolitics of Angelina Jolie’s humanitarian interventions along the Thai-Burma border and the implications of the moral support that she engendered among Burmese exiles in northern Thailand. Through an examination of these linked discursive circuits, I argue that instead of drawing attention to the continued human rights atrocities in Burma, widespread moral, rather than political support, materialized among many Burmese exiles. As a result, Jolie’s experience as a celebrity humanitarian perpetuated a popular geopolitical discourse of North-South relations that foregrounded aestheticized cosmopolitan celebrity care over place-based political concern for Burmese exiles. To make this argument, I first identify linkages between emerging literature on everyday geopolitics and celebrity humanitarianism. I also examine how this work intersects with recent research on the role of celebrity humanitarianism in humanitarian interventions. I then address what I call the celebrity cosmopolitan aesthetic or the widespread focus on cosmopolitan and aestheticized concern over place based politics of concern. Expanding on existing studies in everyday geopolitics, I then consider the affective experience of Burmese exiles’ interpretations of the event as an act of moral support and social solidarity. Far-reaching support of Jolie among Burmese exiles, I argue, is simultaneously coupled with widespread critiques of the UN and its perceived lack of political-economic backing. Finally, I address how Jolie’s humanitarian missions to the Thai-Burma border shed light on broader issues of development, inequality and cosmopolitanism by illustrating how her work reframes geopolitical discourses of North-South relations in ways that obscure history and politics.


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