Are Celebrities Qualified To Have Political Opinions?
Or should they just keep their yappers shut?
Photograph by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images.
My husband and I were recently asked to host a fundraiser by Democratic New York state senatorial candidate Brad Hoylman. We immediately got down on our knees and begged him to reconsider: “Why are you intent on destroying your career?” we asked him. “We are both way too fluffy for this kind of thing! Shields and Yarnell have more political cred than we do. Get yourself someone with gravitas, like Tom Brokaw or Tom Friedman, or anyone called Tom!” we shrieked.
Call it “Snooki Effect.” (Rumor has it that when the folks at Coach clocked the Jersey Shore star toting their bags they promptly sent her a Gucci purse. Their intention was to redirect the potentially brand-corroding effects of her patronage.) My Jonny and I were terrified that we, with our J-list celeb wattage, might taint and derail Brad’s career by association.
Despite all our misgivings, the fundraiser went off surprisingly well. I attribute this to the fact that I stayed on the couch the entire time pretending to be a cushion.
While I am acutely aware of my limitations as a source for political opinions and credibility, the same cannot be said of the A-listers du jour. Like the attention-seeking activists depicted in the Andy Warhol movie Women in Revolt, today’s actresses are a bunch of PIGs (Politically Involved Girls).
Which brings us to the burning question: Obama has Hollywood, but does he want Hollywood? Is it serving him well? The Republicans have John Elway, and the Democrats have Reese Witherspoon. Sports gods have more heroic cred than anyone on Earth. But rom-com queens? Is it helping Obama to have all those thespians and carnies in his corner? Does he earn votes when Katy Perry gets a Barack Obama manicure? Celebs are well-intentioned. They just want to help out. But do “folks”—that’s what politicians call human beings—in the swing states look to actresses and action heroes for political sign-posting?
Oblivious to any potential Snooki Effect, the celebs are convinced that they can have a positive impact. When Madonna screeched, “We have a black Muslim in the White House. Now that's some amazing s—t,” I’m sure she thought she was doing a real mitzvah for the Democrats. A-listers like Madge—as opposed to J-listers like me and Jonny—enjoy a glorious omnipotence, and, as a result, it never occurs to them that they might not be qualified to hold opinions of any kind, and that they should spend their off-duty hours trying to blend into the upholstery.
Whence comes my brutal self-awareness, my conviction the vast majority of the populace is simply too fluffy to hold opinions about anything? I’m glad you asked. Two words: Terry Doonan.
My dad was an old-school news journalist at the BBC, back before our lives were overtaken by 24-hour speculative commentary delivered by “folks” with showgirl maquillage and foaming tresses ... and that’s just the men. Terry was immersed in current affairs his entire professional life. Despite his minimal education—aged 15 he ran away from home and joined the Air Force during World War II—Terry’s knowledge was encyclopedic. His career spanned the Bay of Pigs, Suez, right through to the fall of the Berlin Wall. His attitude could be summed up as follows: Facts are more important than opinions. Facts should precede opinions. Since most people have only a glancing connection to the facts, most people’s opinions are shite.
I rarely heard Terry, or any of his boozy colleagues, espouse an opinion. Any personal viewpoint or speculation had to be pried out of him. He lived long enough to see the post-9/11 explosion of opinion-based news coverage and frequently mistook CNN and Fox for comedy shows. They reminded him of a French and Saunders parody.
Let’s try to end on an up-note. (I need to wrap this up so I can go back to pretending to be a cushion.)
Celebrities are not entirely useless. Once in a while their expressed opinions produce a positive outcome. For example: Let’s talk about those trailer park lads who took the rap for some unutterably gruesome child murders and then became known as the West Memphis Three. Damien Echols—of the three, he has the best hair and, as a result, received the harshest sentence—has a newly published gripping account of his conviction and his 18 years on death row titled Life After Death. Damien is now walking in the sun in Lower Manhattan thanks to the efforts of Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder, director Peter Jackson, and Henry Rollins. After a close examination of the facts, they all came to the opinion that Mr. Echols was innocent and set about the task of strategizing his release. Bravo, girls!
One particular celeb who shall remain nameless—OK, it was Marilyn Manson—recognized his Snooki-potential and thoughtfully elected to support the West Memphis Three on the down low, which is another way of saying that, for the good of all concerned, he pretended to be a cushion.
Simon Doonan is an author, fashion commentator, and creative ambassador for Barneys New York.(Photo by Roxanne Lowit.)