“God is a living doll.”
—Jane Russell, actress [when asked to give her views on religion and God, Look magazine, 1957]
Why is it that a no-name college professor (albeit with a Ph.D. in history or political science) can’t attract a dozen pilgrims to listen to him discuss world affairs, but when George Clooney starts talking about Sudan, or Sean Penn discusses U.S. foreign policy, they are instantly surrounded by cameras and microphones?
The same goes for Bono, frontman for the rock group U-2. All Bono has do to get an audience with a head of state is merely hint that he’d like to sit down and discuss human rights or trade imbalances, and presto!—kings, presidents and prime ministers fall over themselves to accommodate him.
Not surprisingly, this fish-out-of-water routine doesn’t cut both ways. While movie stars get to pontificate on politics, arms control and climate change, that no-name college professor with the Ph.D. in history isn’t encouraged to share his theories on show business. It’s a one-way street.
Social critics revile this shameless celebrity-worship. They not only ridicule the puerility of egotistical matinee idols and spoiled-rotten rock stars being treated like pundits, they depict this whole phenomenon as one more nail in our coffin—irrefutable evidence of our shallowness and cultural decline.
Indeed, Truman Capote once said that the dumbest individuals he ever met in his life were actors….movie actors and stage actors. He maintained that the reason most people don’t consider actors to be dumb is because they forget that those pretty words rolling off their tongues were written down for them on a sheet of paper by other people.
While most of Hollywood’s activist celebs, like Angelina Jolie, Woody Harrelson, Johnny Depp, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Barbra Streisand, Martin Sheen—the list goes on and on—are liberals, there are a few intrepid, vocal Republicans among them.
Very few. In fact, unless we include country music stars, the list of entertainment celebrities who acknowledge themselves as Republicans is pitifully short: Patricia Heaton, Bruce Willis, Ted Nugent, Kelsey Grammer, Kid Rock, Tom Selleck, Chuck Norris, Angie Harmon, Gary Sinise—these are names that immediately come to mind.
The late Dennis Hopper, himself a Republican, suggested that there are plenty more conservatives in the acting community, but they’re lying in the weeds afraid to expose themselves, fearing that their politics could result in career-damaging retribution from Hollywood’s liberal establishment.
But a closer look at those who ridicule celebrities for weighing in on political matters reveals that they object more to what’s being said than who’s saying it. In truth, these critics are predominantly conservatives and reactionaries, armed with their own ideological agenda, but cloaking themselves in the guise of objective observers.
Just think about it. You didn’t hear so much as a peep from these people when Charlton Heston came out as a Second Amendment zealot. They loved him. And when that other actor, that Ronald Reagan fellow, expressed an interest in seeking political office, his announcement was greeted with cheers, not jeers.
Give George Clooney credit. Big-time movie star or not, his social conscience, willingness to take a stand, and high public profile resulted in making a difference in Darfur. No, he didn’t “fix” Sudan, but his involvement resulted in exposure the region never would have gotten had it been some well-meaning but nondescript policy wonk doing the talking instead of a movie star.
Not only have celebrities brought focus to world problems, they have helped raise hundreds of millions of dollars and have personally donated tens millions of dollars to worthy causes. And that’s all that really counts.
DAVID MACARAY, a Los Angeles playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former union rep. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org