The 2016 proposed construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in North Dakota threatened the environmental and cultural legacy of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (SRST). In an effort to protect what is most important to them, the SRST developed a protest message of protecting their sacred sites and water supply. This original message quickly changed as celebrities, and the media that follows them, contributed to the protest.
The list of celebrities adding their voices to the NODAPL protest is long: actors Shailene Woodley, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Redford, Willow and Jaden Smith, Susan Sarandon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Chris Hemsworth, Jane Fonda, and Samuel L. Jackson; politicians like former Vice-President Al Gore, Senator Bernie Sanders, and presidential hopeful Jill Stein; singers Dave Matthews, Taboo, Ani Difranco, and Neko Case; and other influential individuals such as Rev. Jesse Jackson and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.. This list is hardly complete.
It quickly became apparent that the media began to focus on the celebrity message rather than the original message created by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe; pushing the original message to the background. This occurs because celebrities are seen as authorities despite their background or real interest in the situation. Meyer and Gamson (1995) discuss how celebrities reframe messages to become less controversial and more sexy, if you will; therefore of more interest to the media and general public. This is done to bolster the image of the celebrity, to show he or she is a real person with real concerns. Many celebrity messages were similar to SRST, like the desire for a clean environment, but the original message was lost. Rather than supporting the message of sacred land and water protection, celebrities began discussing Native Rights, renewable energy, or withdrawing money from DAPL-supportive banks. These messages were made directly to celebrity audiences through social media while national news organizations shared celebrity messages to media audiences. Actions by celebrities, while potentially made with best interests at heart, did not support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in their attempt to halt construction of the pipeline.
Meyer, D., & Gamson, J. (1995). The challenge of cultural elites: Celebrities and social movements. Sociological Inquiry, 6(2), 181-206.