Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The Pot, the Kettle, and "The Point"

To paraphrase a saying from a recent “Point” editorial, doesn’t this guy think before he attacks?

The the latest “Point” features a one-on-one conversation between Mark Hyman and Andrew Breitbart, co-author of Hollywood, Interrupted, a book that “reveals” the scandalous side of today’s celebrities. And who said literary life was dead? It’s almost as if Boswell and Dr. Johnson have come back to life!

In a scintillating 45-second interview, Hyman talks to Breitbart about how dysfunctional contemporary Hollywood celebrities are compared to when they were “looked up to” in the past, and their arrogant belief that their political views are relevant simply because they are celebrities.

Of course, before running out to get the book, you might want to keep in mind that Breitbart is the long-time partner of right-wing political hitman Matt Drudge (something Hyman doesn’t mention). You might also want to look at some of the less-than-stellar reviews Breitbart’s star-bashing tome has received. Of Hollywood, Interrupted, Publisher’s Weekly says:

Not since Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons have two journalists
(Breitbart feeds stories to Internet scandalmonger Matt Drudge and Ebner wrote for Spy) gathered more mean-spirited gossip about celebrities they condemn as sick and depraved. This diatribe is so unrelentingly negative that it loses all power to persuade . . .this is a sour and joyless read.

And Deirdre Devers of Pop Matters says:

[T]he authors are able to ignore their own complicity in what they describe. But Breitbart and Ebner don't shy away from putting forth a unified voice that speaks with a conservative, moral authority by alluding to what constitutes appropriate conduct, often that of women.

On the other hand, the book has received rave reviews from Ann “All Liberals Are Traitors” Coulter and Penthouse magazine, so Mr. Hyman isn’t alone in his praise of the book

But the timing involved in both the book and Hyman’s featuring of it seems a bit odd. After all, is Hollywood scandal anything new? Breitbart suggests that contemporary celebrities are the dysfunctional descendents of the silver screen paragons of class and virtue we looked up to in the past. But wasn’t scandalmongering the bread and butter of many a journalist during the “golden age” of American cinema? Weren’t silent movie icons such as Clara Bow, Fatty Arbuckle, and Charlie Chaplin the subjects of rumors of the sort that make the foibles of Hugh Grant and Courtney Love seem trivial? Jean Harlow cavorted with gangsters, posed nude when underage, allegedly had an illegal abortion of a child fathered by a fellow movie star, and had a husband who committed suicide. Errol Flynn’s checkered past included multiple charges of statutory rape. Lana Turner’s daughter killed her mother’s lover (who happened to be a prominent mobster). And we’re supposed to believe Wynona Ryder’s shoplifting escapade represents Hollywood’s slide toward depravity?

As for the parenting abilities of celebrities (a topic that seems particularly central to Breitbart’s work), is this new territory either? Perhaps Messrs. Breitbart and Hyman should rent Mommie Dearest (no wire hangers, Mark . . . EVER!). Then there’s the story told by a son of a prominent celebrity turned politician (we’ll call him Michael “R”) whose dad, after giving a graduation speech at his high school, didn’t even recognize his own flesh and blood. Talk about a lack of family values!

We’re just wondering: might this revisionist view of Hollywood’s supposed decline and fall have anything to do with the fact that celebrities of various sorts have been featured prominently in both anti-Bush and pro-Kerry contexts? And in particular, might this particular “Point” be in response to the recent announcement that an unprecedented series of music concerts will be given by major music stars such as Bruce Springsteen and R.E.M. in the fall as part of an attempt to mobilize pro-Kerry voters?

But bad reviews, revisionist history, and odd timing aside, there’s no denying the central point of both Hyman and Breitbart: celebrities do seem to think they’re status as stars gives them the right to be taken seriously as political players. In fact, Hyman goes easy on them. Hyman usually reserves his condemnation for celebrities who simply comment publicly on politics. But he could say so much more! What about those stars who aren’t content to simply speak out on issues, but actually use their celebrity to win public office and force their twisted views of right and wrong on the rest of us? There’s Fred “Gopher” Grandy, former Republican congressman from Iowa; Sonny “I’ve Got You, Babe” Bono, deceased Republican congressman from California; Fred “Law and Order” Thompson, former Republican senator from Tennessee; and Arnold “The Governator” Schwartzenegger, Republican governor of California, to name just a few. There was even this one actor a while back who thought co-starring with chimpanzees in the movies didn’t only qualify him to be governor of a major state, but the nation’s president! Damn that Hollywood elite! Why didn’t you go after these guys, Mark?

In fairness, sometimes celebrities get a bad rap. They’re citizens, too, after all, and they’re entitled to speak and act in support of candidates and causes just as we all are. If the fact that their celebrity status causes the media to pay inordinate attention to them, that says more about the public than it does about the celebrities themselves.

But there’s no doubt that at least some celebrities do presume their notoriety somehow entitles them to be taken seriously as political voices, and that’s ridiculous. The idea that being a movie actor confers on you some sort of authority on political matters is absurd. It would be like . . . oh, I don’t know . . . if some corporate vice president thought that simply because he was an executive at a company that owned television stations, he was entitled to be taken seriously as a political commentator . . . something crazy like that.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


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