Jewish World Review March 17, 2003/ 14 Adar II, 5763
The unbearable irrelevance of being a celebrity
In between consulting with agents and giving each other awards for their mastery of deceit, also known as acting, Hollywood stars are worrying their heads silly about suffering the consequences of their actions as real people.
As no one can escape noticing, some actors have been outspoken in their opposition to the probable war against Iraq. Because -- and only because -- they're celebrities, the rest of us have been made privy to their opinions.
The fact that some Americans don't share, admire or value those opinions apparently has spawned a wave of delusional paranoia and portentous murmurings of a revival of Hollywood blacklisting.
Wednesday, the TV magazine Access Hollywood interviewed several celebs about their "risky" antiwar positions. Here's a sampling of some of the insights that have made Hollywood the foreign-policy axis of Western civilization:
"Why is it when we have 10 million people in this country who say 'No', we still have a president who says 'Yes.' In a democracy, something's wrong here," said Richard Gere.
Um, Richard, I'm not sure exactly how many people have actually said "no," but here's what may be wrong. At last count, there were 290,467,502 people in the United States, which means you're down about 280 million.
"Actors are people, we are Americans, we have a right to say what we want to say," said Queen Latifah.
Exactly so. Her Majesty Latifah has a right, as do we all, to say whatever she wants. Is America great or what? But free speech also includes the right to ignore the speaker. Or, in the case of Sean Penn's self-important pilgrimage to Iraq, to think one a traitor. Or to write hateful letters.
Yet Melissa Gilbert, president of the Screen Actors Guild, has a bee in her bonnet because people are writing and signing petitions. In effect, they're protesting the protesters. How dare they! Who are these people?!
"People have these Web sites going where they're asking folks to sign petitions to insist that actors are fired off the shows they're on," said Gilbert. "And they're getting like 30,000 signatures." Like whoa, something tells me we're not on the little prairie anymore.
Martin Sheen, television's pretend president in The West Wing, claims that NBC has let him know that executives are uncomfortable with his anti-war stance. NBC says not so. America says: whatever.
Who cares? That's the point that seems to be whistling past the swelled heads of Hollywood's pretenders. Americans might like to watch a little TV; they might like to go to the movies and watch Sean Penn play bad boy. But most are fundamentally not interested in what celebrities think. About anything.
It's not that they don't like them; it's not that they don't admire their attractiveness or their ability to memorize lines or to evoke emotions while pretending they're someone else. Good show. Clapclapclap. Now go buy another mansion.
But you can't dedicate your life to being false and then expect real people to be suddenly riveted when you start speaking without a script. Let's face it: Americans are not tuning in to the Oscars March 23 to find out where Renee Zellweger stands on Iraq. They're tuning in to find out whether Renee is wearing see-through.
Maybe "faking it" for a living compels actors to do something real, sort of like performing their own movie stunts. Going political -- risking the loathsome blacklist -- makes them feel authentic. In the process they mostly risk buying their own myths. Sheen isn't just an actor; he's Josiah Bartlet, president of the United States, and Captain Willard, Vietnam vet.
Others are deluded into thinking that what they say and do is momentous. Or that expressing an opinion is tantamount to being dangerous. Peter Boyle brilliantly, if inadvertently, demonstrated the celebrity's inflated sense of self-importance when an Access Hollywood reporter tried to interview him.
Boyle demurred with the studied paranoia born of grandiosity: "I've made a commitment not to make any antiwar statements," he intoned ominously, "because I'm afraid of . . . Bush."
If you're a celebrity, the only thing worse than the prospect of being blacklisted is the certainty that the person you fear, in this case the real president of the United States, has no idea who you are. I think we can bet Baghdad on that one.
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