Oh God. This is even worse than the last example of the genre. I suppose that some of the preening fools involved in that video concluded that they'd "made a difference", and now they've got an election under their belt they've decided to imbue the country with the spirit of service, when in fact the best service they could possibly perform is to stand on the steps of the Lincoln memorial and allow a grateful public to pelt them with rotten fruit and breast implants. At least that might raise morale.
But hang on - what on earth could be wrong with famous people pledging to work towards a better world? Am I being unnecessarily cynical?
Well no, actually, thanks for asking. The point of public service or sacrifice is that it's public - ie it's not about you, it's about the world out there - and it involves giving up something you're currently doing and may be enjoying. Sacrifice is at least a little bit hard, right? Actually some of these "pledges" are worthy of the word - but they're mixed up with some that aren't, which confuses and spoils the effect.
The problem can be summed up in two pledges that comes hard on the heels of each other early on. We hear one from Courtney Cox and her stalker "to end hunger in America" OK - not bad. A little grandiose, but it's a clear enough goal and the relevant charity is namechecked. Next up, a pledge to "smile more." Smile more? If it's just about smiling more then anything counts. As if that weren't bad enough, it's closely followed by, "To laugh more and to love more." No, no, no.
Next, the little guy from Entourage appears. "I pledge to go to USAservice.org and find a service project that I am passionate about". OK, that I can respect: it's reasonably specific (although it leaves a little wiggle room - it could be "To go USAservice.org, find a service project I am passionate about, then get distracted by facebook and the football scores and forget about the whole thing," which obviously wouldn't be so helpful), it's practical and it will, or should, involve doing actual work. Kudos. But then, Cameron Diaz pledges to give her neighbours a smile. Look, by all means, flash those perfect teeth to the bejewelled and befurred millionaires you pass in the lobby, but don't tell me that this is an act of service to your country. Don't you see, Cameron, that this devalues the very notion of service, of "pledges"? Cameron? Are you listening to me?
A middle-aged actress I don't recognise pledges to "reduce my use of plastic." Well, that's pretty good - specific enough. And presumably she can start by cancelling that forthcoming doctor's appointment (now that is me being unnecessarily cynical). Somebody else pledges to plant five hundred trees this year - ten out of ten. This, my friends, is what I'm talking about. Next up, P Diddy says he's going to turn the lights off - and then points at me and says, now you turn the lights off. OK Diddy, it's a deal - but only if you surrender your private jet. I can't hate P Diddy for this sort of nonsense because for some reason he doesn't seem to emit the stench of self-congratulation that wafts off most of the people in this video. He's just a chump. Much worse than Diddy: an unidentified young actress (I presume) says: "I pledge to help children to understand that just because they come from a small place doesn't mean they can't dream big." What. The. Fuck?
Demi Moore: "I pledge to free one million people from slavery in the next five years." Hmm, specific and worthy - if a little over-ambitious for one person. Then, somebody anonymous and stupid says: "To never stop learning and growing each and every day." Like much in this video, this is a sentiment best reserved for one's therapist. Even stupider: "To be a better person." This is the quintessential expression of the confusion that's at the heart of this video and so many of the contributions to it. I will say this slowly. IT'S. NOT. ABOUT. YOU. Tell us what you're going to do for your country. If it's nothing, then fine, I'm not judging, I'm not doing much either. But please - just tell Demi you can't make the shoot next time.
You see, I'm not being cynical. Quite the opposite. I admire the spirit of collective endeavour and public service. But this video does violence to that noble idea, by confusing public service with the trivial and the personal. If millions of Americans view this video and conclude that they can meet their president's rousing call to service by "smiling more" then it will have done far more harm than good, to the country and to his presidency.
It ends with a harangue. "What's your pledge? What's your pledge? I know you got a pledge, what's your pledge? What's your pledge?" The participants chant a quasi-Maoist mantra in unison as the screen splits into checkers: "Together we can together we are and together we will be the change that we seek." Then they all dissolve into the face of Chairman Obama. Now, as readers of this blog will testify, I'm generally quite sympathetic to the new president and would count myself as an admirer. But this truly is the kind of cult of personality stuff that his critics are always carping about. Watching these celebrities resolve into the president's face, like so many pores resuming their places, makes me very queasy. If they had to use an effect like this, why not dissolve into an American flag? That would have signified service to the Republic, not to one man. But then, it's the urge to personalise everything that makes this whole video such a deformed parody of philanthropy.