I have to confess that since I posted this essay I have been daily wrestling with the certainty that it is far too long, and worse, it wobbled quite a bit, like a loose sight on a rifle.
I realize now just how much I rushed to get this posted after my long absence. And while I try to use my limited time to keep moving forward, there was a lot of fat in this essay -- so I cut it. I cut 20% of it. You'll never miss it. I could probably wring an additional 20% out of it, but that would require more thought and time than I have to spend on it at the moment.
I am indebted to the many fine bloggers who linked to this "long, but ---" essay, and especially to reader Louis Wheeler, who gracefully and directly called me on what I knew to be true.
I find I usually have a lot to say about a subject, and I will continue to give an issue my full attention, but you have my promise that in the future you will not need to pack a lunch or take the day off in order to hear what I have to say...
When I first arrived in Los Angeles in 1988, I took a job with a temp agency for the two or three days it would take to make the studios aware of my presence and for the multi-picture deals to start flowing in. I was, after all, a Student Academy Award finalist ' how long could it take?
(Fifteen years and counting, apparently.)
They sent me to a rent-a-car agency in Beverly Hills, and within 48 hours of my arrival in LA, I was driving down Beverly Blvd., which we all know as the palm-lined street that Jed and Granny and Jethro and Ellie-May were gawking at on the way to the See-ment Pond. It was 73 degrees, 30% humidity, and I was in a brand-new convertible with the top down and life was looking good.
I knocked on the door of my very first client, and as he came out, I noticed a tour bus slowing down and stopping not far from the car. A tall, white haired man appeared at the window of the house across the street, pulled back the curtain, and waved jauntily. 'That's Jimmy Stewart,' said my passenger, no doubt impressed by the slack-jawed yokel look on the face of the Very Talented Unknown Boy Wonder. 'He used to come out sometimes and say hi, but he's slowing down a lot these days.'
Anyway, there he was, and there I was too ' watching Mr. Smith and George Bailey and Charles Lindbergh waving at the delighted tourists. I got in the car with a big ol' grin and thought to myself, Boy, you are in Hollywood now.
I'm still there. Things are a little different.
A few years ago, I heard from a friend about a different sort of celebrity sighting that they had experienced first-hand. A certain white-hot pop diva ' the Latin one ' had made an appearance on a morning show at a news station where a friend of mine worked. A memo went out to the staff of the station ' these being the seasoned, cynical professionals that make the star machine go round. The memo stated in no uncertain terms that said Latin diva had demanded that not only was no one allowed to speak to her'no one was allowed to look at her either. Presumably, should one be caught in the hallway during her transit, one could either cast out their own eyes with their car keys or ball-point pens, or drop to a knee, quivering, perhaps hoping that a glimpse of hemline from one who Used To Have A Little But Now Has A Lot would cure their children's leprosy and cause humpbacks to stand erect.
But that was the word in the studio: you will not speak to or look directly at The Pop Star ' she apparently does not enjoy the noose of obligation that making eye contact demands: It burns us, it burns!
I can clearly recall Jimmy Stewart on The Tonight Show telling Johnny Carson that everything he had -- all the money and fame and admiration and privilege -' he owed to the good people who were kind enough to come to the darkened theater and part with their hard-earned money. He said it was a privilege and a small price to pay to give back whatever he could to those fine, generous people. I believed him. Here was a man who gave all that up to fly bombers over Germany. He didn't talk about doing his part, he just went out and did it just like millions of other Americans. There was a man who earned his celebrity. The fact that he had real talent and was one heck of a nice guy made it all even better.
What the hell has happened to these people, anyway?
Now before we focus The Stark Telescope of Condemnation on this new dark galaxy of stars who have imploded under the weight of their supermassive egos, let's take a moment to be fair: many, perhaps even most of these people really are decent chaps, even today. Paul Newman has been married to the same woman for half a century (lucky bastard, too) and Newman's Own salad dressings make quite a lot of money '- all of which goes to charity. Good onya, Paul. Tom Hanks has repeatedly given time and money to honor WWII veterans and keep the memory of our Space Program alive. (And is there a sadder sentence for this Apollo kid to write than 'the memory of our Space Program?') Steven Spielberg has been instrumental in preserving the thousands of small, dying, personal histories of the Holocaust. Drew Carey, a former jarhead himself, went to cheer up the current crop in Afghanistan, Harrison Ford rescued a woman in his personal helicopter, Liz Taylor carried the torch for AIDS research long before the red ribbons became de rigueur, and the list goes on and on.
But lately, it seems, some of these celebrities have said things that prove conclusively what cosmologists have been saying for decades: namely, that certain stars, under extreme conditions, can produce a bubble around themselves that cuts them completely off from the universe we inhabit; a region of space-time where all reason and logic break down, where time runs backwards, effects precede their causes and entirely unique laws of nature apply.
If we could travel at the speed of imagination to the worlds they inhabit, what color would the sky be?
Let's ask Woody Harrelson. He's an interesting place to start because he embodies one of the great ironies of the America-bashing glitterati'he is one of those actors who became beloved by playing someone who, for all intents and purposes, is his polar opposite.
I call this the Lou Grant effect. The talented Ed Asner, the actor who played Lou Grant on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, is politically to the left of Mao. Put Ed Asner and Lou Grant in a steel cage, let them talk politics for five minutes, and Lou Grant would kick Ed Asner's ass. Even Murray Slaughter would be handing up folding chairs: 'Hit the bastard again Lou, he's still talking about income redistribution!' Dana Scully is a brilliant, courageous, skeptical physician who is handy with an automatic; Gillian Anderson is deep into crystals and has trouble with her shoelaces. Jack Ryan crawls through the bowels of a stolen Russian submarine fighting a dirty shadow war to keep America free, and Alec Baldwin'doesn't. He seems to find the whole idea of a Jack Ryan deeply embarrassing. This list, sadly, goes on too.
But back to lovable Woody, the sweet-natured bartender from Indiana who helps out on the farm and is as red, white and blue as a Harvard professor after the recent Republican victories.
Woody tells The Guardian, that Moral Bastion of Even-Handedness, of the argument he gets into with his British taxi driver, also named Woody. Cabbie Woody, poor dim working fellow, seems to favor intervention in Iraq ' perhaps due to his contact with the occasional Jihadist he may find in the back seat in modern London. This is the sad result of a celebrity-starved culture, but not to worry, the American Intellectual is on the case. Our Woody sails into the debate:
'This is a racist and imperialist war. The warmongers who stole the White House (you call them "hawks", but I would never disparage such a fine bird) have hijacked a nation's grief and turned it into a perpetual war on any non-white country they choose to describe as terrorist.'
Yes, our bloody history is filled with fighting racist wars against WOG nations like Britain (1776), Britain, again (1812), Americans (1861), The Spanish (1898), the Germans (1917), the Germans again (1941), the Russian Soviets (1946-1991), the Serbs, etcetera, and so on ' people much whiter, as in racially Caucasian, than we are. Sure there are some un-cited Asians, Hispanics and Arabs thrown in there too. I see this as a blow for diversity, but why quibble? On to more in-depth factual analysis'
Asked what he would do in President Bush's shoes, he says he'd:
"'honor Kyoto. Join the world court. I'd stop subsidizing earth rapers like Monsanto, Dupont and Exxon... I'd revive the Chemurgy movement, which made the farmer the root of the economy, and make paper and fuel from wheat straw, rice straw and hemp. Not only would I attend, I'd sponsor the next Earth Summit. And, of course, I'd give myself a fat raise."
Woody, Woody, how we adored your lovable naivet' behind the bar, trading one-liners with Sam and Cliff and Norm and Frasier! Now all the lovable is gone, and look at what's left.
I mean, you do have to admire the vision of the man. Why take us from the Information Age back to the Industrial Age, when you can regress TWO entire civilizational leaps and make us all hemp farmers again?
It should also be noted that Woody Harrelson is a well-known Hemp Activist. Yes, when people come to their senses once again, and realize that they can get a rope of twice the weight at a quarter the strength of nylon for only three times the price, well, prepare for gridlock in the Home Depot parking lots across this fair republic. Perhaps he's advocating burlap and burlap accessories. Or perhaps it's the entire hemp family that he is advocating.
I briefly experimented with various hemp products while in college ' didn't inhale, though! ' thank God! My Presidential aspirations remain intact. But those of us who have spent any time around the most dedicated of Hemp Activists have noticed what might be called a degradation of critical analysis while actually engaged in the act of hemp advocacy. Reading the well-reasoned economic plan of the celebrity intellectual I have come to suspect that he might have had an advocacy session immediately before getting into the other Woody's cab. In fact, I suspect that Mr. Harrelson is often advocating hemp before breakfast, and continues his advocacy all day long and into the wee hours. This kind of thinking requires a lifetime of passionate hemp advocacy.
Is it too much to hope for that one of these days we'll see Advocacy Celebrities wearing a golden ribbon advocating intellectual rigor and well-researched, reason-based argumentation? Apparently it is. Are you shitting me, dude? That logical shit is hard! Let's advocate something a little less stressful and don't forget to bring the Doritos.
Not long ago, the director and some of the cast of The Two Towers appeared on The Charlie Rose Show. I saw a still picture of them taken after the taping. It's a memorable image: on the left, Peter Jackson, round and affable as a hobbit. Towering above him, Charlie Rose, a clean-shaven Gandalf in an expensive suit, wearing the pained expression of someone who has just sat in something wet and cold. Beside him, and seemingly half his height, grins Elijah Wood, his shaved head jarring and unsettling ' Frodo through the electrified fence at Dachau. And at right, the good king, Viggo Mortensen: workin' the frosted blond look ' Aragorn as baked Cali surfer dude. He's wearing a dark blazer and a white t-shirt, upon which he has hand-lettered NO MORE BLOOD FOR OIL -- but the letters are crammed high and tight around his neck, like some awful Topanga Canyon hippie necklace.
It seems clear to me that the upcoming action in Iraq is more about eliminating an immediate and potent threat to US and Western security than it is about the 3% of world oil contributed by Iraq. But even if this was about nothing but oil, what do Viggo and the other bearers of this message suggest? Did he walk from LA to New York to deliver this inane message? Do high-rise elevators, studio lights, cameras and transmitters run on solar power? Steven Den Beste spent many of his enlightening hours showing how no no other energy source begins to come close to meeting the needs of modern civilization. I'll paraphrase Winston Churchill: Oil is the worst possible source of energy, except for all the others.
Anyway, back to the group photo: you see them with their arms around each other, smiling, and suddenly Viggo's jarring, hand-lettered statement reminds you of something very personal. It's the Thanksgiving picture, the serious one mom begged you for, and there's your idiot older brother shooting a bird behind her head.
Viggo had a statement to make. Apparently, the poor fellow has had a rough year of it, being tarred by his association with the forces of Good and whatnot. That would be unacceptably pass' for actor, poet, artist Viggo ("The man you were/ For one short season/ Has been pruned/ Removed/ To a well-groomed graveyard/ That smells like popcorn" ) Mortensen.
So, lest anyone think that such a deep, deep man could possibly support military action against a murderous villain like Saddam Hussein, Viggo chalks it out in big letters for us: WE are the forces of Darkness. The President of the United States is Saruman. There are Orcs and Armies of the Undead in Viggo's world ' they're called 'Americans.'
Challenged on what the Good King would have done about the fall of the Two Towers, he replied:
"I would not have continually bombed innocent civilians from 30,000 feet with no possibility of being accurate and maiming and killing and destroying the lives of many more people than died at the World Trade Center. What does that do? Does bombing people make us safer? Does bombing people make us more loved or appreciated overseas? Will this be forgotten?"
Think what you will about Viggo being a lightweight; I contend that it takes a very fine mind indeed to pack so many inaccuracies, lies and false conclusions into such a tight sound byte.
We did not 'continually' bomb 'innocent civilians.' Superhuman efforts were made to strike at Taliban targets deliberately and cynically hidden in the middle of dense populations, by a regime with no qualms about using their own people as human shields. To say that we did so 'from 30,000 feet with no possibility of being accurate,' leaves me frothing for a rebate check for all the JDAM retrofits to our iron bombs. And if we're just gonna lob the things overboard, can't we save money by taking off the WWII fins as well? They've got to cost me 30-40 bucks a pop, minimum.
Next comes the obligatory misrepresentation of civilian casualties being higher than the 3,000 we lost on September 11th, rather than the 500 or so that is generally accepted. This too is an interesting peek into the mind of Viggo and many like him: the idea that once we exceed the number we lost on that horrible day the balance suddenly tips and now we are in the wrong. This is the kind of simplistic moral calculus that many people can comfortably wrap their minds around. It completely ignores the causal relationship, and equates a campaign bound by a strict moral imperative to avoid civilian casualties with the intentional murder of as many innocent civilians as possible. Apparently, this concept is a little too sophisticated to fit between the neckline and the top blazer button, even on a high-quality, all-cotton T.
Finally, we get the topper: 'Does bombing people make us safer? Does bombing people make us more loved or appreciated overseas? Will this be forgotten?' A trifecta of fact-free rhetorical questions! Magnificent!
Before we address those questions, let's remember that Viggo was invited to the show to talk about Lord of the Rings. He is, of course, entitled to his opinion, which seems to be: 'Does fighting and killing the Orc Armies make us any safer? Does slaughtering them make us more loved or appreciated in Mordor? Will this be forgotten?' In other words, won't all these swords and arrows just make the Orcs angrier than they already are?
Viggo, when you are bombing people publicly sworn to your violent death, then the answer to your first question -- Does bombing people make us safer? -- is, uh'YES. Does bombing make us more loved and appreciated overseas? No. Do we want to be loved and appreciated by those who stone women for the crime of being raped by a male relative? I don't. I'd be ashamed to be admired by the likes of them. Finally, Will this be forgotten? I hope not, Viggo. I really do. After eight years of ineffective, token responses to the murder and dismemberment of our people, I hope to God they do not forget what we did to them in Afghanistan.
People like Viggo Mortensen embolden people like Bin Laden, Saddam, and Kim Jong Il. America baffles them; dissent and debate gives them the same look as you see on a dog staring at a cartoon on TV. So they watch us like hawks, looking for what they know. Weakness. They know what weakness looks like. They can hear moral cowardice, lack of resolve, unwillingness to sacrifice, to get our hands dirty, or worse, to get our hands bloody. They can sense weakness like a shark senses weak and dying fish ' unerringly and from a long way away. The ability to accurately gauge an opponent's strength or weakness is THE survival skill for larval dictators.
It is painfully obvious that Viggo and his intellectual companions think that such people admire them for their outspoken support. These people admire nothing but strength and power: it is the only currency they can produce. For the likes of Viggo and his earnest companions they have only the scorn that such predators reserve for the slow and stupid.
And ultimately, this is how we allow celebrities to break our hearts. In the end, the disappointment we feel from hearing such silly sentiments is not Viggo's fault, but our own. On the screen in the darkness, his is the noble face of a pure-hearted king, battered and humiliated by shame and destruction, yet a man Tolkein entrusted with the moral vision, clarity of purpose, the ability to tell right from wrong and the will and courage to fight the good fight against all odds in the darkest of midnights. In our hearts, we desperately want to believe that such people exist; we need them in times like these. And they do exist, scattered throughout our great and good society in the most unlikely of places, the vast, unseen, interwoven root system of decency and kindness and strength that holds this volatile, rambunctious nation together. Unfortunately for our easy hopes, this pampered, self-absorbed actor is not one of them. From now on, I'll always see that T-shirt under the armor. It's a damn shame, really.
War with Iraq is coming, but before he can sign off on it, Sean Penn needs to get on the ground in Baghdad and get all the facts ' otherwise it's a non-starter. Now, to realistically assess Saddam's military and WMD capabilities, talk to various and sundry dissidents, interview the Kurds in the north and the Shiites in the south, fully digest the Iraqi 12,000 page UN declaration of dual-use technologies, scan for radioactive, chemical and biological trace contaminants, run up a balanced psych profile of Saddam, Uday and Husay, get familiar with the creation of Iraq by the British in 1932 and the subsequent rise of the Ba'ath party, determine the intricate tribal structure of Tikrit and its effect on Saddam's rise to power ' well, this will take some time, natch. Sean impetuously thought this could be done in two days, but wiser heads prevailed and pushed it out to three.
Determining compliance in such complex matters is not a job for some lightweight like Toby McGuire or Ben Affleck. No, a mission this serious requires the most serious actor we have in our arsenal. We're not screwing around this time. We mean business.
I expect Sean's inspection notebook to read something like this:
Toured Iraqi orphanage. Wanted to interview some of the children. Uday tells me that exposure to depleted Uranium suppressed immune systems to the point where chronic laryngitis has infected the entire ward. G.D. my fascist country!
Questioned U. about man manipulating dark grey metallic discs with robotic arms through thick green glass. Turns out he was making pet ID tags to help reunite families with their puppies and kitties when US bombing begins. Criminal sanctions of pet medication from GD! Sanctions means kittens in Iraq all have AIDS!! THANKS GWB!!!!! Hence the sterile precautions.
Shocking fact: questioned man in reflective silver suit holding long metallic cylinder. Man could not speak -- face was hidden by reflective hood and dark welder's glass faceplate. U says man was local baker, mutilated while delivering bread to orphans during F-16 strike. That explains the dark faceplate. US has bombed all the bakeries in the area, so man has to stuff raw dough in metal mold and stand in only remaining oven until bread is baked. Other men in area sweating profusely when I asked to confirm ' must have just come out of bakery themselves. I throw stale top slice of bread away at home ' never again!!
Strange coincidence! Went on tour of local mosque, and The Princess Bride was on TV screens behind Imam!! Turns out PB is their favorite movie! Starring my own Robin! Who knew!
Embargo tough on Muslims though. Iraqi DVD player is 1973 model: huge metal cylinder at back of mosque, emits low whoosh-whoosh-whoosh sound as if spinning. Tomorrow we tour baby formula factory. Have already been issued blue suit with faceplate and contained air supply so as not to sneeze and contaminate milk supplies'
Prior to his visit, Mr. Penn took out a $56,000 full-page ad in The New York Times condemning his nation for lying and deception. Immediately upon his return from Baghdad, the Iraqis issued a statement saying Sean Penn stated Iraq was free of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Turns out he did no such thing. Mr. Penn was rumored to have been furious. I have been searching the Times for another full-page ad condemning Iraq for lying and deception. Still no sign'maybe that ad is in turnaround.
And the beat goes on. Geopolitical analyst Sheryl Crow recently appeared at the American Music Awards with a sequined t-shirt message (hat tip: Viggo Mortenson) that read 'War is not the Answer' What was the question, again? Deep Thought? Hello?
Sheryl then drew a gasp from the assembled audience, as she cut through untold millennia of human strife and misery with a solution so simple you wonder why you didn't see it before:
"I think war is based in greed and there are huge karmic retributions that will follow. I think war is never the answer to solving any problems. The best way to solve problems is to not have enemies."
Yeah, okay, now how can you NOT see it? See, this was the problem with Hitler and the Nazis: they made enemies. And the tanks'did they have to be so loud? 'Hey, Adolph, a little consideration for those of us trying to sleep in?'
Now that we know the best way to solve problems is not to have any enemies, let's see what fences we can mend with our Islamicist 'Friends We Haven't Met Yet.' All they are asking is a little respect for their different ' but equally valid! ' cultural preferences. We can clear up this little misunderstanding by making a few small compromises. All we have to do is abandon the Bill of Rights, convert to Islam, adopt Sharia, or Islamic law, imprison our women in mobile tents, remove their clitoris without anesthesia so that they don't get any ideas while we are out stoning rape victims, use our young male relatives for sexual domination since premarital sex with women is a mortal sin, kill anyone who writes anything disrespectful of our government or religion, throw away science, technology and modern medicine, murder all homosexuals and Jews, eliminate music, dancing, beer drinking, sports, television, movies and other vices, throw acid on our daughters if they are seen in public with a male non-relative, and swear unwavering loyalty to whatever the half-blind, one-armed raving lunatic spews at us during our five-times-a-day prayer sessions.
In exchange, they promise not to fly any more of our airplanes into our buildings.
Problem solved! Who knew international relations could be so simple! Kissinger has been ripping someone off but good!
And of, course, The Grey Burqa Formally Known As Sheryl Crow will lead this crusade against having enemies by doing all of the above. I mean, of course she will. Right? Sheryl? Sheryl, come on, they're staring right at us. You don't want to insult them, do you? Don't just drive off in your limousine! Sheryl! Respect Diversity! YOU'RE STARTING TO LOOK A LITTLE HYPOCRITICAL IS ALL!! SHERYL? CALL ME, WE'LL DO LUNCH!
Sheryl Crow's inane comment about not having any enemies was undoubtedly meant to build bridges and mend fences. Make friends. Unfortunately, it has caused in me a rising rage. It makes me want to shake my fist at her from a mountaintop, in the middle of a lightning storm, at the exact moment of a total solar eclipse: 'Eternal Enemies, you and I, Crow! ETERNAL! ENEMIES!'
Wait, this is tougher than I first thought. Maybe the only way not to have any enemies is to not have any thoughts or opinions. To be a stone, or a rock.
Nah, that doesn't work either. I hate goddam rocks. Grind 'em all up into gravel, that's what I say.
So many celebrities, and so few electrons. We're out of time. But what tour of this wonderful galaxy would be complete without a stop at the Trantor of self-absorption: ladies and gentlemen, Ms. Barbra Streisand!
Babs' ultrafabulous (award-winning!) website features the latest political views and analysis on the tastefully understated TRUTH PAGE. Here you can read the latest on Iranian Dictator Saddam Hussein, learn how to misspell the names of former Democratic party leaders, talk about the ravenous oil appetite of Big Lumber and many other useful facts essential to comment intelligently in the modern arena.
But the real charm of Miss Streisand's web pages is a chance to see just how many opportunities you have to buy Barbra records, pay to go see Barbra concerts, buy Barbra DVD's and VHS tapes, own tastefully understated Barbra event T-shirts, sweaters, embroidered T-shirts, sweat shirts, baseball caps, baby-doll T's, white soup mugs, photo mugs, key chains, Director's Silhouette mugs, money clips, champagne flutes, children's watches, champagne candles, playing cards, black rose coffee mugs, scented candles, stuffed animals, golf balls, CD cases, and 1994 Barbra tour posters.
Oh, and you can also purchase the 1994 concert poster, Barbra Streisand gold records, Director's Silhouette tunics, photo T-shirts, canvas drawstring jackets, logo caps, logo bags, varsity jackets, canvas bag and silk photo scarf.
Or perhaps you'd care for one of her top quality ' sleeve swing T-shirts, white slim T-shirts, black photo t-shirts, wool jackets, hooded sweatshirts, black embroidered T-shirts, white embroidered sweatshirts, black varsity jackets, 'white square rose design' T-shirts, black embroidered Millennium concert T's, or the new, non-denominational holiday ornaments with Barbra's officially authorized photo on the front!
And what loving parent could resist buying one (or several!) children's faux fur capes, complete with the Barbra logo (and what child is really dressed without a fur cape?)
Babs, I know you like to view yourself as the tower of decency, compassion and social generosity. You have not been shy about telling us how much you do for the poor and the needy. So I will bet you a weeks salary (mine vs. yours) that a church-going single mother of two drawn at random from Boise, Idaho, gives more time and money, as a percentage of income, to help needy people than you do.
In closing, let me say this: I will happily forgive the Great Lady the spelling and factual errors, and even the rampant greed'but there are three things that I find unforgivable about people like her and Warren Beatty and Alec Baldwin, and those are these:
First: try, if you can, to disabuse yourselves of the pernicious idea that your lives are worth more than those of your fellow citizens, for it is the engine of your hypocrisy in many telling instances. Barbra Streisand lectures us about global warming, and yet spends much of her time in a 12 mpg limousine. Indeed, she is rumored to have traveled around LA in a Recreational Vehicle (to avoid germs in public restrooms, she helpfully points out). In other words, you commoners need to be warned about the environmental dangers of your SUV's, and I am willing to drive my RV or my private jet anywhere necessary to remind you of that fact. When Rosie O'Donnell ambushes Tom Selleck about gun ownership and proceeds to call for draconian gun control measures, her moral position would be immeasurably improved were it not for the fact that her personal bodyguard is, of course, armed to the teeth in order to protect the valuable celebrity entrusted to his care. In other words, you poor simple people cannot be allowed to defend your homes and children. You must let your personal bodyguards take care of that ' after all, they are professionals. And when Susan Sarandon says she opposes war in Iraq because she doesn't want her son fighting and dying some day, what she is really saying is that it's okay for someone else's sons and daughters to go and fight and die to keep us safe ' just don't take the little Sarandon kids; they have big careers ahead of them.
Second, remember that this is a complex nation with many different peoples from many backgrounds, most of whom are invisible from six miles high in your Gulfstream V as you fly from New York to LA. Say whatever you want when you want: that is your right. But when the likes of Barbra Streisand seriously expect to be included in national policy decisions, and Warren Beatty gets a whiff of presidential ambition, let me suggest that you might make fine policy makers: you may, in fact, be the solution to this nation's many grievous ills. And the way to find out is to get some names on a petition, get out of the limo, knock on some doors, and meet some real people for once in your pampered, isolated lives. Go to some cookouts, some ethnic celebrations, press the flesh, kiss some babies and do all the other messy, disgraceful, comical things that politicians have to do to get elected in this country.
I suspect you will find that life is somewhat more complicated than you might have guessed. If my pale and wafer-thin exposure to on-line 'celebrity' is any guide at all, you will find that hearing from people who both agree and disagree with you will make you a better person, and the hopes, compliments and criticisms they pin on you will raise you to a plane you never thought you would be able to exist on. Try it. It will do you good. But until then, stay out of the smoky rooms and leave policy to the tens of thousands of elected officials in this nation who have met and listened to the unruly public, endured the germs in a public restroom, and earned the right to govern.
Third, a personal favor: when you call for higher taxes so we all know what swell-hearted guys you are, could you please wait for a few weeks until some of the rest of us are sitting on a few hundred million? I know that you think it shows you're not being hypocrites ' I'm a millionaire! I'll pay even more! Problem is, those of us who aren't millionaires but who would like to be are still trying to slug it out down here, see? And while higher taxes may mean you only take home 2 million of the 13 million you make on a two-month shoot, it still seems like you could have the decency to hold off until some of the rest of us working stiffs get there too.
It's widely known that when something bad happens in the world, when something big goes south surprisingly fast, the first words out of the President's mouth are 'Where are the carriers?' It's not, 'Where are the celebrities?' 'Where are the carriers?"
An Aircraft Carrier is nothing more than a big piece of steel ' a really big piece of steel displacing 90,000 tons of water ' but an inanimate hunk of iron ore nonetheless.
What the President really wants to know is, 'Where are the nameless, unglamorous, 18, 19, 20 year-old ordnance specialists, where are the barely-shaving fueling technicians, where are the pimply-faced fire-fighting crews and the cooks and the medics and the engineers' that we pay a few thousand dollars a year for, people we pay less in a month for a hellish life of service in the hot bowels of a carrier than we do a movie star in one minute of their catered lunch break in their personal trailer, being waited on hand and foot by an army of sycophants? Where are the twenty- and thirty-something Lieutenants and Lt. Commanders, family men who left tearful wives and sons and daughters on a dock in San Diego or Norfolk so that they could sail into harm's way on behalf of spoiled, immature, Peter-Pan types like Warren Beatty whose God-given right to bed millions of starlets might be threatened by developments overseas? Where are the Commanders and Captains and the crusty old CPO's and Warrant Officers, men and women who have given a lifetime of service to their country; capable, good-hearted people who could have immeasurably increased their wealth and comfort had they chosen life in the private sector?
One of the many things we learned on September 11th, 2001 was that there are in fact real heroes in the world, and they are not, surprisingly, supermodels or dating Nicole Kidman. They are policemen and airline passengers and fire fighters like Mike Moran who have the guts to look terror in the eye, give out his home address, and tell Osama bin Laden to kiss his royal Irish ass. We pay these people nothing, chump change ' they are unsung, faceless and forgotten. Shame on us.
For a moment, for a few weeks or months, the reality of what these men and women do daily was there in front of us to see, and all of a sudden the glitterati seemed pale and ephemeral and really kind of silly. But, as usual, the unsung and unknown armies of soldiers and intelligence analysts and baggage screeners and all the rest have done their jobs with such quiet professionalism and skill that once again the undead, make-believe legions of the famous feel safe to expound on a reality many of them never have to face and lecture us all on morality.
Let me say this from the bottom of my heart: these people are entitled to their opinion. Anyone who thinks them traitors for disagreeing with the government has a lot to learn about what America really means, no matter how heartfelt their patriotism nor how loathsome the criticism. And, I suppose, they deserve respect for having the guts to speak their minds publicly, to go on record for what they obviously believe in.
The danger, as I see it, is that we live in a culture awash in celebrity, and this gives these people not only a voice, but influence over large numbers of people ' perhaps enough influence to significantly effect election results. One of the reasons that a person's ego can become so diseased that they feel they can order free people to avert their eyes in their presence is because they know full well the power they have. The inclusion of some of these names in a movie can be worth hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. Just think about this for a moment: you could, in the space of eight weeks, generate more income than some nations do in the course of a year.
And so when and how is such power challenged? When do they ever have to defend themselves and their ideas against fact, reason and logic? Who do they ever meet that repeatedly and hotly disagrees with them? These are people who can afford to employ armies of willing Smithers' to ensure that this exact thing never happens.
Anyone who has seen a recent photo of Michael Jackson, must, if they have any compassion at all, feel a great pity for this man, because what he has done to himself only shows that he has never had a real friend in his entire life. Not one. He has reached a level of celebrity so advanced, that no one, anywhere, is willing or able to confront him, to challenge him, to pull him aside and take away the car keys, to get the poor man some help. You and I never deal with Michael Jackson ' we deal with Michael Jackson's people. And these are folks who are hired as a bulwark against the unpleasant realities the rest of us face on a daily basis. In the case of Michael Jackson, it is a perfect prison of his own construction, and almost every celebrity the average person could name has at least the beginnings of such a wall already in place.
As long as celebrity worship is about who's dating whom and what gown was worn at what self-congratulatory award show, there is really very little harm in all this. But when people with this degree of influence over the public step into the political arena, we might perhaps be a little concerned that all of the fact-checking, criticism and downright surveillance that the press correctly applies to political figures is completely lacking when it comes to celebrity proclamations. So they get to have things both ways. They have the influence without the responsibility. They can claim that they are just a citizen exercising their right to their opinion, and in this they are absolutely correct.
But is it too much to ask, that in return for all of the largesse and privilege and adulation that we lay at the feet of these idols, that perhaps they develop some cogent, defensible argument, something based on history and research and logic rather than on what feels good to them? Something worthy of the disproportionate weight their opinions are given? It is not uncommon to see actors, famous or otherwise, carrying dense tomes by Tolstoy (alongside tiny little thin ones by Harold Pinter), wearing round spectacles with no prescriptions on the thick lenses: the trappings of deep thinking, the props and costume work needed to convey to the audience in the coffee shop or the protest line the very profound and meaningful cogitation done by people who run from deep and meaningful thought like a rabid dog from a water hose.
And would it also be too much to ask, just as a common courtesy to those who pay for your mansions and limousines, to every once in a while assume that perhaps this freely elected, multi-racial, multi-cultural democracy is not automatically in the wrong when confronting dictators, murderers and terrorists? Will you abide by this reasonable request, or do we have to write it into your next contract?