Benefit Concerts and Para-social Interaction
As media events, benefit concerts are widely broadcasted and seen by millions of people. (The Live Aid charity concert in 1985, for example, was seen by an estimated 1.5 billion viewers world-wide.)However, this mass dissemination is only one of the factors that contribute to the success of benefit concerts. The people who send the message for collective action are essential to a benefit concert’s effectiveness.
Dayan and Katz suggest that media events are an expression of a “neo-romantic desire for heroic action”, meaning that media events produce leaders who inspire collective action with belief in the “power of the people” to change the world . Benefit concerts, therefore, have the potential to raise enormous sums of money for a cause because of the para-social interaction that occurs between the performing celebrities (the leaders) and the spectating fans (the people).
Dan Laughey describes para-social interaction as “the apparent familiarity between media personalities and audiences”. Seeing one’s favourite celebrity support a cause can influence a fan to support the same cause; not because the cause significant to the fan, but because it appears to be significant to her or his favourite artist. In order to feel connected to their preferred celebrity, fans are likely to participate in the activities that their favourite artist considers important. For example, if a benefit concert starred unknown musicians performing songs for unknown people in Africa, the incentive for viewers to donate would be minimal. Bob Geldof, the founder of Live Aid, is aware of the need of familiarity and para-social interaction on behalf of the viewer. When criticised for not inviting enough African performers to play at Live Aid, (of which the main purpose was famine relief for Africa), Geldof commented that only popular musicians were invited to play at the show because unfamiliar artists would cause viewers to lose interest and “switch off”. In seeing the familiar face of their beloved artist on stage endorsing a cause, fans feel more compelled to support the cause in order to please their idol. This shows the influence that celebrity personae and para-social interaction can have in determining the level of success of a benefit concert. The more famous and well-liked faces there are on stage, the more money the event is likely to generate.
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