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
June 22, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Karl Grossman
Star Wars Redux: Trump’s Space Force
Andrew Levine
Strange Bedfellows
Jeffrey St. Clair
Intolerable Opinions in an Intolerant Time
Paul Street
None of Us are Free, One of Us is Chained
Edward Curtin
Slow Suicide and the Abandonment of the World
Celina Stien-della Croce
The ‘Soft Coup’ and the Attack on the Brazilian People 
James Bovard
Pro-War Media Deserve Slamming, Not Sainthood
Louisa Willcox
My Friend Margot Kidder: Sharing a Love of Dogs, the Wild, and Speaking Truth to Power
David Rosen
Trump’s War on Sex
Mir Alikhan
Trump, North Korea, and the Death of IR Theory
Christopher Jones
Neoliberalism, Pipelines, and Canadian Political Economy
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Why is Tariq Ramadan Imprisoned?
Robert Fantina
MAGA, Trump Style
Linn Washington Jr.
Justice System Abuses Mothers with No Apologies
Martha Rosenberg
Questions About a Popular Antibiotic Class
Ida Audeh
A Watershed Moment in Palestinian History: Interview with Jamal Juma’
Edward Hunt
The Afghan War is Killing More People Than Ever
Geoff Dutton
Electrocuting Oral Tradition
Don Fitz
When Cuban Polyclinics Were Born
Ramzy Baroud
End the Wars to Halt the Refugee Crisis
Ralph Nader
The Unsurpassed Power trip by an Insuperable Control Freak
Lara Merling
The Pain of Puerto Ricans is a Profit Source for Creditors
James Jordan
Struggle and Defiance at Colombia’s Feast of Pestilence
Tamara Pearson
Indifference to a Hellish World
Kathy Kelly
Hungering for Nuclear Disarmament
Jessicah Pierre
Celebrating the End of Slavery, With One Big Asterisk
Rohullah Naderi
The Ever-Shrinking Space for Hazara Ethnic Group
Binoy Kampmark
Leaving the UN Human Rights Council
Nomi Prins 
How Trump’s Trade Wars Could Lead to a Great Depression
Robert Fisk
Can Former Lebanese MP Mustafa Alloush Turn Even the Coldest of Middle Eastern Sceptics into an Optimist?
Franklin Lamb
Could “Tough Love” Salvage Lebanon?
George Ochenski
Why Wild Horse Island is Still Wild
Ann Garrison
Nikki Haley: Damn the UNHRC and the Rest of You Too
Jonah Raskin
What’s Hippie Food? A Culinary Quest for the Real Deal
Raouf Halaby
Give It Up, Ya Mahmoud
Brian Wakamo
We Subsidize the Wrong Kind of Agriculture
Patrick Higgins
Children in Cages Create Glimmers of the Moral Reserve
Patrick Bobilin
What Does Optimism Look Like Now?
Don Qaswa
A Reduction of Economic Warfare and Bombing Might Help 
Robin Carver
Why We Still Need Pride Parades
Jill Richardson
Immigrant Kids are Suffering From Trauma That Will Last for Years
Thomas Mountain
USA’s “Soft” Coup in Ethiopia?
Jim Hightower
Big Oil’s Man in Foreign Policy
Louis Proyect
Civilization and Its Absence
David Yearsley
Midsummer Music Even the Nazis Couldn’t Stamp Out
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail