Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Dangers Of Celebrity Worship

Predatory and accused: Kevin Spacey, Dustin Hoffman, Brett Ratner, Ben Affleck, Jeremy Piven, Roy Price, James Toback, Mark Halperin.  


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Saturday, November 11, 2017

"I am not a role model."  Charles Barkley said that 24 years ago.  He was right.  I don't agree with Mr. Barkley on much but on this I do.  Celebrities should NOT be role models.  Parents, grandparents and teachers -- those who shape our lives more directly and profoundly -- should be.  This 24-7-365 media culture "pushes" certain people on us.  We must ask why.  In the United States for decades we have a very unhealthy obsession with celebrities.  (Some of us stalk them.)  If the last few weeks have demonstrated anything it is an obsession we must immediately jettison.

Sure, some famous actors, athletes, entertainers, etc, have done important, historic positive things and are good people at heart.  Yet some celebrities -- those who tout and spout a model of goodness, are monsters in private and/or public.  Harvey Weinstein.  Bill Cosby.  Kevin Spacey.  Many others.  Celebrities aren't saints or gods.  They are people like us except with more money, more houses and, as the song goes, more problems.  Often the charities and nuclear families these celebrities promote, surround or immerse themselves in are merely a shelter or cover for their true, unadulterated, heinous selves.

Criminals hide.  Mainly in plain sight.  And they often hide in the very professions that supposedly espouse the opposite of what they themselves are truly about.  Attorneys.  Police.  Priests.  And, yes, even some teachers.  Celebrities are not exempt from this.  The Academy gives out Oscars often not because of the actual deserving performance by an actor but because of who they know.  Surely some of them know about the criminal behaviors before they awarded some of the Oscar recipients.  That should alarm you.

For too long we've worshipped celebrities while conveniently ignoring the reality that the system they contractually agree to participate in is the very engine that upholds, protects and encourages the worst behaviors and patriarchal systemic ills and oppressions: the rape culture, the institutionalized racism, the homophobia.  The product (numerous Hollywood films, for example) reflects this very truth.

When you celebrate someone, please ask: what are you celebrating? 

I don't think you can separate an artist's work from the fabric of who she is as a human being.  An artist's work is an expression of their very selves; their thoughts, feelings, experiences, political views, beliefs.  We all have unsavory capacities.  So Louis C.K., who essentially dear diaries his personal life in his stand-up comedy, expresses the very fabric of his pathetic life to paying customers (you and me) who are watching him.  It is akin to a cry for help and a dangerous assault on a beloving public at the very same time. 

Actors explore the at-best unsavory capacities of humans in their work, too.  So do film directors.  Stanley Kubrick.  Alfred Hitchcock.  Both directors and so many other feted male directors were misogynists.  Their treatment of women, either on or off camera, or both, does not make for comfy reading.  Look at Darren Aronofsky's film "mother!"  (Or don't.)  Then there's Roman Polanski.  Woody Allen.  Brett Ratner. 

Yet we as a consuming general public also enable these people: male directors like D.W. Griffith, who directed one of the most racist and consequential films ever "The Birth Of A Nation" (1915), which spawned increased Klan membership in Indiana (Mike Pence country) and elsewhere, has been hailed by some prominent film critics as one of the best films ever made.  

Musicians like Elvis Presley, who stole Black music and said racist things about Black people while he did so ("they can buy my records and shine my shoes") are lauded as "the King" of rock and roll.  John Wayne, who killed Native Americans aplenty on the big screen as ritualistic sport, is still celebrated as are his films with John Ford ("The Searchers" and "Stagecoach".) 

Then there's Ronald.  And Donald.  And the millions of Americans who voted for them. 

I've been jaded for decades about celebrities -- especially those in Hollywood.  I've interviewed lots of them.  Some are fantastic, sincere, warm and genuinely engaging conversationalists.  Most others are scripted.  They never remove the yolk of celebrity from their visage.  It's a tightly-packaged, orchestrated (acted), robotic company/system assembly-line interaction.  Rinse, wash, repeat -- for 8-10 hours of any given press junket.  It is a product (film, show) they are selling, not themselves.  It's business for a system and an industry.  That's the key point: a system.

Loui(sIC.K.): An admitted sexual harasser, in a statement Louis C.K. did not apologize to the women he harassed. 

When we find out that people like Mr. Ratner or Jeremy Piven ("Entourage", eye-roll) are public or private monsters respectively I yawn.  Yet yawning itself isn't enough.  It is time to act, to call out, disavow, repudiate and stop patronizing the machinery that these flawed -- excuse me, monstrous people -- prey in.  This cannot be emphasized enough:  It is time to end these behaviors, and, to the best we can and whenever we can, challenge them.

The corporate media in America plays a colossal part in casting a glow on some of these pedophiles, rapists and assulters in big and small screen Hollywood, promoting them, sticking cameras in their faces at baseball games, basketball arenas, boxing rings or tennis courts.  The paparazzi-like television camera shots are an intrinsic nod to the idea that these millionaires have some endorsed value beyond the two-dimensional image beamed to our homes or iPhones. 

We stare too deeply into those phones and not enough into the mirror at ourselves.  We consume celebrities too much.  Then we defend them because we love them too much.  It is a different less punishing kind of abusive syndrome.  We swallowed the red AND blue pill decades before "The Matrix".  And we have celebrated excess for too long and earnestness for too little a period of time.  When a professional athlete, musician, film actor or any other celebrity speaks about political issues many of us reflexively say, "stick to your day job".  That is troubling.

When George Takei was exposed last night I didn't blink an eye.  Even that in and of itself is a dangerous normalization.  More dangerous still is the comparing of one event of criminal conduct and assault done by someone to dozens of criminal behaviors done by another.  It is the behavior that must be condemned and end.  It's not about the amount of criminality.  It's the criminality itself, stupid.  Like Donald, sadly many of us have become obsessed with numbers and sizes.  It's a human thing.  The bigger the better (or worse).  Toting up a scoreboard or engaging in comparison theater or political party championshipping of criminal behavior is the worst kind of enabling of all. 

Such enabling reflects a deep sickness in our own collective consciousness and culture, a twisted, psychotic need to inherently rationalize wrongdoing no matter how big or small because it is somehow not nearly as bad as the other guy's wrongdoing or criminality.  Or a need to rationalize that, well, it isn't so bad because the wrongdoing happened much further back in the past.  Some Republican politicians did this with Alabama U.S. senate candidate Roy Moore.  (Will Alabama vote him in on December 12?)  Or in 2017 we blame the woman who didn't go to The Washington Post in 1979 when she was a 14-year-old girl.  Women like Katie Hopkins do this.  We've descended WAY deep beyond any swamps that were supposed to be drained: we are the swamp.

Men laugh as Jason Alexander assaults a post-partum Mary McCormack and makes her lactate on "Celebrity Poker" (2005).  (Watch at the 22:15 mark.)  Audiences join in.  Women and men in the audience laugh as David Letterman "jokes" about sexually harassing women (2009).  He has a Netflix show coming in 2018.  Our emphasis on reality television and a centuries long obsession with celebrities has blinded or brainwashed us to such a degree that we are actually conflicted when some celebrity we love has done a heinous or criminal act.  That is disturbing.  The much-heralded Jon Stewart, who says he worked with Louis C.K. for 30 years, claims not to know that Louis C.K. engaged in the sexual assaults and harassments (watch starting at 1:14:00) that women in the same comedy sphere have talked about for decades.

Ellen Page should have jolted people into the reality of what the systemic machinery of Hollywood does and is.  Her powerful statement about her experiences should have been a wake up call for all.

Then again, so should Sacheen Littlefeather in 1973 (mild boos in the audience.)  Or Josephine Baker in the 1920s. 

This movie has played before.  And before.  And before.  And before.

When will we finally say, THE END?

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