Hollywood’s outpouring of anti-war sentiment has got a good number of God-fearing Americans all in a tizzy. Pursed-lipped pundits shake their heads sadly on national television while easily perturbed private citizens boycott movies and TV shows in vain protest, all of them asking the same indignant question: “What gives celebrities the right to throw their fame behind political causes?”

Zac Peskowitz

Although askers of this question claim to care primarily for the public good, for the gullible masses who may (bless their sorry little hearts) attach undue credibility to the words of their entertainment idols, their critiques of the actors in question suggest their motives may be a tad more selfish than that. Those who denounce celebrity cause-hocking usually suffer from influence-envy and lack confidence in their own arguments.

Uninformed celebrity activism is a wonderful way to root the idiots out of any movement. Let me put it another way: If there are people out there who will disagree with me because Joe Famous says they should – and not because Joe Famous makes a convincing case against my point of view – then I will send them off to join the ranks of the opposition with my blessing. I don’t want those people on my side. If they’re dim-witted and reckless enough to follow Joe just because he has nice teeth and his own weekly sit-com, then merely associating with them would discredit whatever cause I’m trying to legitimize. Good riddance.

But the previously mentioned naysayers just can’t let the simple ones go. And instead of pointing out flaws in Joe’s argument, they call him stupid: “He can’t possibly know what he’s talking about. He’s an actor! He probably can’t even read!”

Because most Americans – who by all accounts take themselves far too seriously – like their pop culture disposable and their activism in hindsight only – and because there is no room in high school history textbooks for anyone but ex-presidents and yellow journalists – actors, artists and musicians who espouse their political beliefs are often held us up as laughingstocks, buffoons who’d better serve the planet if they left the important historical decision making to the adults. To those seeking alternatives to presidential catchphrases and unquestioning obedience, pundits insist that there are none.

Everyone wants to believe his or her chosen career matters. Everyone wants to be important, no one more so than the government official and the television political commentator. Creative professionals – be they actors, musicians, writers of popular fiction or poetry or visual artists – are often dismissed as decorative members of society so wrapped up in their own egos that they don’t pay any attention to anyone or anything else. While it is a lot tougher for an artist than a U.S. president to secure a place in the next generation’s social studies class, the former may have volumes more to say about social injustice and/or human suffering than the latter.

Am I saying I think it’s possible that Joe Famous might be a more reliable source of information and insight than the president? Yes. It’s entirely possible. Here in the United States, where “even a C-student can be president,” a man’s ability to win an election or two is not necessarily indicative of his special knowledge of anything pertaining to said elected position.

That’s not to say everyone should immediately purchase tickets to Miss Teen Pop Star’s next rally for or against the cause; it is to say that singling out celebrities as the source of all ignorance in social and political debates is scapegoating at its most desperate. In the case of war with Iraq, it suggests that the pro-war camp and the media are either so consumed by jealousy for the actors and actresses they perceive to be stealing their thunder and their supporters that they must resort to playground insults to maintain a sense of dignity, or that they are trying to distract would-be peaceniks from serious flaws in the battle plans. It is a very bad idea to trust people solely because we recognize their faces, their names or their work, but it is equally unwise to dismiss them outright for the same reasons. If the revolution is to begin in Hollywood, so be it; I just hope the rest of us can make it through the previews without getting nauseous.

Henretty can be reached at ahenrett@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *