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The talk show squawkers call them the "Hollyweirds." Makes no difference if they’re writers, actors, directors, producers, or grips and gaffers. Makes no difference if they’re poets, artists, sculptors, dancers, cartoonists, musicians, or singers. And, it makes absolutely no difference if they live in Southern California or Iowa. As long as they’re in the creative arts, they’re "Hollyweird."
No one knows when the term was first used, but it first became popular on radio talk shows during the Clinton campaign. The Righteous Ranters increased their screeching in 1999 when numerous celebrities–among them Ed Asner, Paul Newman, Barbara Streisand, Martin Sheen, Tim Robbins, Lily Tomlin, Mike Farrell, Robin Williams, Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn, and Rob Reiner–spoke out against the presidential candidacy of Texas Two-Step Darlin’ George W. Bush. And, then, having seen Al Gore lose the election by a 5-4 vote, the creative community not only had the audacity to oppose President Bush’s let-the-oil flow domestic policies, but they, like millions of others, spoke out against the President’s one-note chorus to go to war in Iraq on claims we now know (and many of us knew then) were built upon a cauldron of lies.
Nevertheless, the conservatives say that although Americans have the right of free speech, celebrities should "keep their pie-holes shut," since they not only aren’t knowledgeable enough to be in politics, but that they unabashedly use their fame to lure the naive media into reporting their views. The celebrities "are abusing their stature [and] need to be put back in their place [and] need to understand where they are in the great food chain of life," said John Kobylt, talk-show host at radio powerhouse KFI-AM in Los Angeles.
Of course, none of the hosts seem to understand that they are celebrities who use the media to pound their views into the public. Rather than challenge their ideas, the talk show hosts and many of their audience often resort to name-calling, spitting out venom that classifies celebrities as whackos and looney-tunes. During the BushII/GulfII War, the talk-show addicts falsely and maliciously claimed that anyone–celebrity or laborer–who disagreed with the President’s call for war not only supported world-wide terrorism, but didn’t support the troops; they were branded unpatriotic traitors. So powerful is the backlash against celebrities that Lori Bardsley, a housewife in North Carolina, collected more than 100,000 on-line signatures in a little more than one month on her petition that claimed celebrities (translation: anyone who disagreed with President Bush and his war machine) were "using their celebrity to interfere with the defense of our country." Of course, no one objects to throwing millions of dollars in fees to celebrities to speak out on everything from shampoo to Shinola. Advertising pitches are acceptable; social and political opinions by celebrities aren’t. "The media created us, puts us on the air, and then says ‘how dare you use your rights as a celebrity?" TV producer Robert Greenwald told a major Australian newspaper
A few celebrities have spoken out against their fellow celebrities. Charlie Daniels called anti-war celebrities "the most disgusting examples of a waste of protoplasm I’ve ever had the displeasure to hear about," and said he wouldn’t go to any of their movies. "Barbara Streisand has opened her alligator-sized mouth wide before her humming-bird brain has had a chance to catch up," ranted R. Lee Ermey, whose best-known role was as a drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket. His argument, reported in London’s Sunday Telegraph, was that Streisand used the "bully pulpit, helped by her fame, and people think she’s talking for Hollywood."
The misinformed Right conveniently overlook the ‘bully pulpit’ of 24/7 news coverage of anything the President and his senior advisors utter. And, they made exceptions for conservative actor-politicians Ronald Reagan, Sen. George Murphy, Sen. Fred Thompson, Reps. Fred Grandy and Sonny Bono, Mayor Clint Eastwood, and even the ceaseless fiery polemics of 2nd Amendment fury Charlton Heston.
And now comes body builder/actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the best-known of a gaggle of more than 200 legally-certified candidates (including dozens of businessmen, the current lieutenant governor, a sumo wrestler, and a porn star) who are hoping to recall and terminate 1-1/2-term California Gov. Gray Davis, then be elected to fill the vacancy.
Schwarzenegger–why don’t we just call him "Arnold" and give headline writers a break?–says he has the business and political skills to lead the state that has more problems than Halliburton and the energy cartel have ties to the Bush White House. Unlike other candidates who gather their photogenic families before a courthouse, Arnold used his celebrity status to announce his candidacy to more than seven million viewers on the "Tonight Show Starring Jay Leno." The announcement was so important that it blew stories about Marines landing in Liberia and soldiers being killed in Iraq off the front pages, was featured on the morning news/entertainment shows, and led evening network news reports. The next day, Arnold appeared on almost all major TV entertainment programs. Look for dozens of satellite trucks to leave the Kobe Bryant circus they created in Colorado and carry the Arnold Juggernaut to millions of Californians and hundreds of million Americans.
Arnold’s campaign will cause talk-show addicts to twist into knots–they don’t like celebrities spouting their opinions, but the Austrian-born Terminator is–well–a genuine, 100 percent all-American! The Right kind. Actually, Arnold is a moderate Republican, who is liberal on numerous social issues. He’s pro-choice, believes in limited gun control, and is strong in both civil rights and educational reform. It’s possible that this multi-millionaire Republican actor who had the audacity to marry into the Kennedy clan is too liberal for the squawkers and squeakers. We’ll know when celebrity mega-mouth Rush Limbaugh from his newly-erected perch as an ESPN "commentator" chirps out who should be the "Right" governor for California.
Assisting on this column was Rosemary Brasch.
Walt Brasch is professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University, a former newspaper reporter and editor, and author of 12 books. His latest book is Sex and the Single Beer Can; Probing the Media and American Culture.