Tuesday, January 28, 2003
Greg Beato writes about the right of celebrities to voice political opinions. Is it just me or has there been a fair bit of this lately? Indeed, Simon Benson in the Telegraph today wrote a commentary piece (article apparently not online) about a recent anti-war protest attended by such local actor types as Toni Collette and Judy Davis, which took the yawningly predictable tack of blasting celebrities for daring to get involved in political discussions and how no one really gives a shit about what actors think. Then of course there was Sean Penn's much-criticised visit to Iraq, and the similarly-blasted "Not In Our Name" letter signed by folks like Ed Asner, Laurie Anderson, Eve Ensler, Mos Def, Casey Kasem and others. Here we can witness Bernard Slattery ruthlessly take down Sheryl Crow. And there was this BlogCritics article on the difference in political attitudes among celebrities now and in the past. The critical mantra in all these cases: "no one really gives a shit about what actors think".
There are times when I've been inclined to go along with such thinking. Celebrities with causes have a tendency to be tedious, after all. Then again, I suppose anyone with a cause, famous or otherwise, runs the risk of going that way; famous people just get more prominently tedious. At any rate, though, I've ceased to be convinced by the notion that famous people ought to butt out of political discussion, thanks to this post from Stewart Kelly.
Now I'm not saying any old piece of dribble coming from the mouths of famous folk automatically qualifies as a pearl of wisdom, but I think it's safe to say that there are people out there interested in what Sheryl Crow, Martin Sheen and Sean Penn have to say. I mean, the tiniest details of most celebrities lives supports a whole industry of parasitic magazines, TV shows and gossip columnists. What these people do and say gets noticed. Even if they do talk ninety percent crap.
And it's piss your pants funny that bloggers, the biggest bunch of blowhards-that-hardly-anyone-listens-to on the planet, are the ones telling them to shut up.
That closing line is the killer, isn't it. He's right, too. Simon Benson, for example, may claim that no one cares what actors think, yet he fails to explain why we should care what he thinks (last time I looked he was the Telegraph's environmental reporter, which presumably gives him some deep knowledge of international military affairs). If appearing in films isn't enough to qualify you to comment on political matters, being able to string a few conservative cliches together and calling it a newspaper column isn't necessarily much more of a qualification, surely. And bloggers really are the last people who should be telling other folk that no one gives a rat's arse for their opinion.
Anyway, Greg's piece turned on an item by Andrew Sullivan, in which he basically says celebrities should have the right to speak out on political matters—as long as they take up a political career.
The defensible way to use this power, I'd argue, is to leave your old career behind and adopt politics as an actual profession. Think Glenda Jackson, or Ronald Reagan. Or Martin Bell, Sonny Bono and Clint Eastwood. Regardless of what you think of their previous craftsmanship, all of these characters actually honored the integrity of both their callings and went on to political careers of varying distinction. The key new figure in this group, believe it or not, is Arnold Schwarzennegger. He's been quietly toiling away at the edges of Californian politics and most recently pioneered a referendum on school size. His proposal passed by a healthy margin. He has married a Kennedy; and he has carefully crafted a political message designed to appeal both to economic and foreign policy conservatives and social liberals: exactly the kind of coalition a successful Republican pol needs to win in California.
Of which Greg says:
The obvious question that arises from such freestyle rhetoricizing: if we hold celebrities to this standard, shouldn't we hold pundits to it as well?
Like celebrities, pundits have easy access to the media, and as Sullivan puts it, "the terrible temptation" to use the power that that access affords. But actual politicial experience? Not necessarily. For example, it's possible that Andrew Sullivan used to be in the House of Lords, or maybe he's now a city councilman somewhere. But in the 1000-word exercise in fulsome Sullivanity that serves as his website biography, there is no mention of such accomplishments. Instead, Sullivan appears to be nothing more than a writer and editor: all he has ever done to earn the privilege of dispensing political commentary is express his opinion.
Which basically means that he's Janeane Garofalo with a fancier pedigree and a less refined sense of humor...
Greg's piece attracted this useful comment as well from one FMGuru:
And why shouldn't Garofalo or Crow be able to say what they want? If you feel strongly about something and someone sticks a microphone in your face, then why shouldn't they speak out about what's on their mind? Nobody's forcing anyone to carry their speech, or to pay any attention to it. Celebrities have the same right to participate in our political discourse as anyone else. Jebus, I thought this was the sort of thing we were fighting for.
Mm-hmm. One may consider that Janeane Garofalo or Sheryl Crow or Judy Davis or Toni Collette or Sean Penn are utterly wrongheaded, but like it or not, they do have the right to express that wrongheadedness. That's one of the prices of living in a democracy, which I'm told is the political system most of us still inhabit.
As it happens, the English cricket team have been utilising their equal democratic right to protest something else, i.e. the fact that the International Cricket Council insists on holding a World Cup match in Zimbabwe.
English cricket chiefs are considering asking the International Cricket Council (ICC) for a special exemption to allow their World Cup match in Zimbabwe to be moved to South Africa. [...]
Richard Bevan, spokesperson for the England players, said: "The players urge all parties to move the fixture to South Africa and pay the Zimbabwe Cricket Union appropriate compensation."
Bevan also said the England players were "greatly concerned by the moral, political and safety issues that the fixture in Zimbabwe has raised".
Moral and political issues? But what would the English team know of these things? They're just cricketers, after all, they're not qualified to contribute to political discourse. And yet I don't see any conservabloggers in the cricket-loving part of the Blogosphere condemning the English cricket team for not knowing whereof they speak, even though they would and do condemn certain other non-sporting folks? Surely it's not just because the English team's evident loathing of the Mugabe regime agrees with their own, whereas the anti-war actors offend their own pro-war sympathies? Surely it can't be as simple as that?