FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

It's the Other Oscars

It’s celebrity time again. The Golden Globes have been, and the Oscars are coming. This is a “vintage year”, say Hollywood’s hagiographers on cue.  It isn’t. Most movies are made to a formula for the highest return, money-fuelled by marketing and something called celebrity. This is different from fame, which can come with talent. True celebrities are spared that burden.

Occasionally, this column treads the red carpet, awarding its own Oscars to those whose ubiquitous promotion demands recognition. Some have been celebrities a long time, drawing the devoted to kiss their knees (more on that later). Others are mere flashes in the pan, so to speak.

In no particular order, the nominees for the Celebrity Oscars are:

Benedict Cumberbatch. This celebrity was heading hell-bent for an Oscar, but alas, his ultra-hyped movie, The Fifth Estate, produced the lowest box office return for years, making it one of Hollywood’s biggest ever turkeys.  This does not diminish Cumberbatch’s impressive efforts to promote himself as Julian Assange — assisted by film critics, massive advertising, the US government and, not least, the former PR huckster, David Cameron, who declared, “Benedict Cumberbatch — brilliant, fantastic piece of acting. The twitchiness and everything of Julian Assange is brilliantly portrayed.”  Neither Cameron nor Cumberatch has ever met Assange. The “twitchiness and everything” was an invention.

Assange had written Cumberbatch a personal letter, pointing out that the “true story” on which the film claimed to be based was from two books discredited as hatchet jobs. “Most of the events depicted never happened, or the people shown were not involved in them,” WikiLeaks posted. In his letter, Assange asked Cumberbatch to note that actors had moral responsibilities, too.  “Consider the consequences of your cooperation with a project that vilifies and marginalises a living political refugee …”

Cumberbatch’s response was to reveal selected parts of Assange’s letter and so elicit further hype from the “agonising decision” he faced — which, as it turned out, was never in doubt.  That the movie was a turkey was a rare salute to the public.

Robert De Niro is the celebrity’s celebrity. I was in India recently at a conference with De Niro, who was asked a good question about the malign influence of Hollywood on living history. The 1978 multi-Oscar winning movie The Deerhunter was cited, especially its celebrated Russian roulette scene; De Niro was the star.

“The Russian roulette scene might not have happened,” said De Niro, “but it must have happened somewhere. It was a metaphor.”  He refused to say more; the celebrity star doesn’t like giving interviews.

When The Deerhunter was released, the Daily Mail described it as “the story they never dared to tell before … the film that could purge a nation’s guilt!”   A purgative indeed — that was almost entirely untrue.

Following America’s expulsion from its criminal invasion of Vietnam, The Deerhunter was Hollywood’s post-war attempt to reincarnate the triumphant Batman-jawed white warrior and present a stoic, suffering and often heroic people as sub-human Oriental idiots and barbarians.  The film’s dramatic pitch was reached during recurring orgiastic scenes in which De Niro and his fellow stars, imprisoned in rat-infested bamboo cages, were forced to play Russian roulette by resistance fighters of the National Liberation Front, whom the Americans called  Vietcong.

The director, Michael Cimino, insisted this scene was authentic. It was fake. Cimino himself had claimed he had served in Vietnam as a Green Beret. He hadn’t. He told Linda Christmas of the Guardian he had “this insane feeling that I was there … somehow the fine wires have got really crossed and the line between reality and fiction has become blurred”.  His brilliantly acted fakery has since become a YouTube “classic”: for many people, their only reference to that “forgotten” war.

While he was in India, De Niro visited Bollywood, where his celebrity is god-like. Fawning actors sat at his feet and kissed his knees.  Bollywood’s asinine depiction of modern India is not dissimilar to The Deerhunter’s distortion of America and Asia.

Nelson Mandela was a great human being who became a celebrity. “Sainthood”, he told me drily, “is not the job I applied for.”  The western media appropriated Mandela and made him into a one-dimensional cartoon celebrity tailored for bourgeois applause: a kind of political Santa Claus.  That his dignity served as a facade behind which his beloved ANC oversaw the further impoverishment and division of his people was unmentionable. And in death, his celebrity-sainthood was assured.

For those outside Britain, the name Keith Vaz is not associated with celebrity. And yet this Labour Party politician has had a long and distinguished career of self-promotion, while slipping serenely away from scandals and near-scandals, a parliamentary inquiry and a suspension, having acquired the soubriquet Keith Vaseline. In 2009, he was revealed to have claimed 75,500 pounds in expenses for an apartment in Westminster despite having a family home just 12 miles from parliament.

Last year, Vaz’s parliamentary home affairs committee summoned Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger to Parliament to discuss the leaks of Edward Snowden. Vaz’s opening question to Rusbridger was: “Do you love this country?”

Once again, Vaz was an instant celebrity, though, once again, not the one he longed to be. He was compared with the infamous Senator Joe McCarthy. Still, the sheer stamina of his  endeavours proves that Keith Vaseline is no flash in the pan; and is the Oscar Celebrity of the Year! Congratulations Keith, and commiserations, Benedict; you were only just behind.

John Pilger’s film, Utopia, about Australia, is released in cinemas on 15 November and broadcast on ITV in December. It is released in Australia in January. www.johnpilger.com

More articles by:

John Pilger can be reached through his website: www.johnpilger.com

Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
Ted Rall
Why Christine Ford vs. Brett Kavanaugh is a Train Wreck You Can’t Look Away From
Lauren Regan
The Day the Valves Turned: Defending the Pipeline Protesters
Ralph Nader
Questions, Questions Where are the Answers?
Binoy Kampmark
Deplatforming Germaine Greer
Raouf Halaby
It Should Not Be A He Said She Said Verdict
Robert Koehler
The Accusation That Wouldn’t Go Away
Jim Hightower
Amazon is Making Workers Tweet About How Great It is to Work There
Robby Sherwin
Rabbi, Rabbi, Where For Art Thou Rabbi?
Vern Loomis
Has Something Evil This Way Come?
Steve Baggarly
Disarm Trident Walk Ends in Georgia
Graham Peebles
Priorities of the Time: Peace
Michael Doliner
The Department of Demonization
David Yearsley
Bollocks to Brexit: the Plumber Sings
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail