Celebrity is a strange thing. Lindsay Lohan—the former child actress turned professional tabloid bait—is making news once again, this time for an eponymous nightclub she’s just opened in Greece. Much of the gossip around Lohan’s new venture has centered on the artificial accent the star has adopted when talking with local press, which sounds something like the way a French person speaks English. But there’s at least one reason those interested in philanthropy should be interested in LiLo’s latest antics.
The Mean Girls star has recently taken up the cause of Syrian refugees, publicizing several trips to Turkey on social media. She’s been warmly received in Turkey for her visits to refugee camps in that country, where she helps doctors tend to sick children and generates press for the plight of those fleeing persecution. But she’s also gone beyond the usual Western starlet routine by adopting traditional Middle Eastern dress and injecting herself into domestic Turkish politics. She’s expressed support for strongman president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, at least obliquely, not least by parroting his well-worn mantra: “The world is bigger than five” — a not-so-veiled attack upon the authority of the UN Security Council. All this is leading to her being called Turkey’s Mother Teresa (although one struggles to remember the rumours about Mother Teresa dating a pro-government Turkish billionaire).
But whether Lindsay Lohan is now some sort of hack for the Turkish government or her newfound passion for global politics is born of the purest intentions hardly matters, in the end. What is interesting is how the lines between domestic celebrity and international activism have all but faded away. Here we have an American actress adopting a Turkish political issue in order to help promote her nightclub in Greece. At that club opening she gave a rambling interview (yes, with that strange accent) to Athens press in which she mentioned that she wants to use the business to help refugees. But so far that support seems mostly to consist of supplying thirsty migrants with a blue energy drink sold at the club.
Lohan, who grew up under the merciless gaze of the American tabloid press, has surely seen her public persona rise and fall. And perhaps her latest efforts simply represent a stumbling effort to get beyond all that noise and focus on something that really matters. If so, she could be commended. If, however, the image-conscious actress sees international philanthropy as one more route back to fame (even if it’s not in her own country), then her actions are less obviously salutary, inasmuch as they further instrumentalize charity as a tool of the rich and famous to make themselves, well, richer and more famous. It’s hard to tell quite which is the case here, as most of the press around these developments come from gossip rags and broadsheet blogs.
But in the meantime, Lohan provides an interesting test case of what happens when a celebrity tries to play the role of saint. Often they find that the script is a good deal more complicated than they expected, and that the praise usually doesn’t come pouring in.