Friday, May 13, 2005

In Defense of Celebrities

Sweet Christ, I may live to regret this.

It is assumed by most people that celebrities, whether they be actors or pop stars or rich guys with bad hair, are all kind of dumb. Or at least, naive and/or so full of themselves that they couldn't possibly have anything of substance to say. The media encourages this belief because it helps to sell papers or boost TV ratings - what's the latest celebrity fuck-up, right after this commercial break. It gives people the false impression that celebrities are more than just fallible, but that we're really better than they are, morally and mentally, and it's just blind luck that they're rich and famous while we're poor and unknown.

Once again, I turn to a comedian for the truth. Chris Rock points out that life is like your class in school - every class has five dumb kids, five smart kids, and the rest are in the middle. That's what this world is, a planet of B and C students, with a few brainiacs and idiots to round things out and make life interesting. Celebrities are no different. I have read my share of gossip columns, biographies, and insider accounts to get a rough idea of how many celebrities are, and I can tell you that Rock's theory pretty much holds true. Sure, the pretty quotient is a lot higher, but otherwise Hollywood is so much like high school that it's scary.

Tom Cruise is the perfectionist jock that everyone wants to hang out with, but he's so obsessed that few people get close to him. Cameron Diaz is the ditzy blonde hottie who loves attention but her tastes are rather indiscriminate. Russell Crowe is the moody genius at the back of the class who is so far ahead of the others that he even intimidates the teachers. Drew Barrymore is Miss Popularity, who knows everybody, wants desperately for everybody to like her, and will do anything for a friend. Tom Hanks is the Student Council President, popular and smart, quick-witted and always ready to work, but at the end of the day you realize you don't really know much about him because he keeps his cards so close to the vest. Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon are the tree-hugging Power Couple, the ones who are always in the cafeteria trying to get people to sign petitions and organize student rallies, and they soldier on despite their peers' indifferent attitude.

There are a lot of smart celebrities, a lot of dumb ones, and the vast majority are in the middle. Unfortunately, whenever a celebrity dares to have an opinion about a controversial issue, they are often dismissed out of hand, as if their ideas weren't even worth hearing. This is not only unfair, it borders on ridiculous. I see this on the internet all the time:

"What could Tim Robbins or Susan Sarandon possibly know about blah, blah, blah, they're just actors."

Well, first of all, what are the chances they might know as much or more about the issue at hand than you? They have the same access to information as you do; perhaps even more, since they're rich and can afford to take the time to do research and visit places you can't. Sean Penn went to Iraq to see what was going on. No matter what you might think, unless you've been to Iraq yourself, your on-the-ground knowledge of what's happening there isn't going to match what Sean Penn knows. I can't go to Iraq, so Sean's got me there. I don't have a degree in Political Science like Alec Baldwin, so Alec's got me there.

These are smart people who take the time to educate themselves on the issues they want to discuss. The internet is rife with people who have finger-snapping opinions on everything and anything, and I'm no different, except that I have enough humility to acknowledge that I am not the final word on anything, and it is certain that there are many others who know more and are more qualified to speak than me. More and more, we are seeing a new mindset where people are encouraged to believe that what they think is more important than what anyone else thinks. People are congratulated for having opinions, even while the media tries hard to trivialize and marginalize those opinions. You know what? Your opinion doesn't mean shit. Neither does mine, if it makes you feel any better.

A celebrity's opinion, on the other hand, has a chance of mattering, because their voice will reach more ears. This is a frightening thought to all those career pundits out there whose credentials aren't that much more impressive than the celebrities they demonize. Yeah, it hurts when one of the dumber celebrities like Britney Spears comes out and says something stupid. But that doesn't mean we should ignore the smart ones who have something worth hearing. Is it possible that Tim Robbins or Sean Penn or Alec Baldwin or Susan Sarandon might have a more considered and informed opinion than you or me?

I think it's not just possible, it's a virtual certainty.


Anonymous Bron said...


That was very well said.

And it was about time someone said it.

Well done.

9:04 AM  

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