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Comment: America-Celebrities, Politics and Money

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After all, Hollywood stars are the closest thing America has to aristocracy and being instructed by psuedo-rebellious aristocrats (as they mingle with millionaire lobbyists) cannot help but rub people up the wrong way. What the stars' Democratic allegiance shows to this part of the public is not the glamour of Democratic candidates but their shallowness and insufferable moral superiority

August 02, 2004--It's surely a sign of the times that the Taoiseach Bertie AhernBertie Ahern Taoiseach Ireland (Irish Prime Minister) who used be known as 'anorak man' when he gave little attention to sartorial appearance, has been revealed to have spent about €140,000 of taxpayers' money on cosmetic make-up services since entering office in 1997. In the age of mass media and celebrity culture, image making is a key part of the political trade and politics is often targeted by so-called celebrities to give them a legitimacy beyond their particular art. Fifty years ago, the United Nations UNICEF fund for children introduced the concept of 'UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador' and the actors Danny Kaye and Audrey Hepburn gave serious attention to highlighting the plight of children in need. Hepburn testified before subcommittees in the US Congress, visited refugee camps of the Sudan, clinics in Vietnam and worked tirelessly for the health and safety of the world's children until her death in 1993. Today in our celebrity obsessed culture, it is difficult to separate the fakery from genuine concern as the designer humanitarianism of some modern UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors can maintain the flicker of celebrity through spreads in such media outlets as Hello magazine.

There are modern celebrities who have followed in the tradition of Kaye and Hepburn and take their roles in highlighting injustice and deprivation very seriously. The Irish musicians Bono, the lead singer of U2 and Bob Geldof come to mind. Bono has made significant headway in getting progress on developing world debt relief by seeking to understand the issue and work with world leaders to push for solutions. It is far from the world of photo opportunities. Bob Geldof who was responsible for the Live Aid concert in the 1980's which brought attention to starvation in Ethiopia is another serious individual who has made a real difference. Both Bono and Geldof know that sloganeering and abuse may get headlines but seldom advances the cause of those in need. Irish Times columnist Vincent Browne disagrees and wrote this on the G8 meeting of the leading industrialised countries in July 2001, under the heading-Geldof and Bono Out of Tune on G8

The spectacle of Bob Geldof and Bono bear-hugging G8 leaders in Genoa on Saturday was revolting. It was not just the manic presumption that they would have an iota of influence, or the phoniness and the crass attention-seeking of the exhibition that was stomach-churning. It was their giddy association with the rulers of the world and their eloquent dissociation from the tens of thousands who had gathered to protest against the unfairness and inequities of the new world order.

The G8 represents the tyranny of the new world order against the interests of the world's poor. Self-chosen on the basis of their military might and capitalist credentials, the G8 seeks to further its hegemony of the world, amid a pretense of compassion for the developing world. (Geldof and Bono unwittingly - one assumes - helped further that pretense by the ghastly photo-opportunity in which they participated.) It represents the damaging consequences of globalization and the marginalization of the Third World.

In December 2002, the actor Sean Penn visited Iraq to help avert the impending war with the US. The comedian Joan Rivers remarked: 'He thinks he can solve it, that moron. This is a man who couldn't even make it work with Madonna.' Penn didn't avert the war in 2003 but his fellow actor Ben Affleck was getting a lot of media attention. Affleck was like a love struck puppy and despite a $2.5 million pink 6.1 carat diamond engagement ring, Jennifer Lopez eventually turned him down. Having made a public ass of himself in 2003, Affleck was 'everywhere' in Boston last week at the Democratic Convention and then joined the Kerry-Edwards Campaign to bring Hollywood glitter on the stump. Asked by a TV reporter whether he had any political aspirations, Affleck said, 'After I've seen the glamour and the glory? Thanks, guys.' He also said that he wished to bring 'the power of his celebrity' to the campaign.

Thomas Frank, the author of What's the Matter With Kansas? wrote an article for the Financial Times on the Democratic Convention, titled: At the Democratic Dream Factory. In his book, Frank refers to what he calls the 'thirty-year backlash' -- the populist revolt against a supposedly liberal establishment. The high point of thatSenator John Kerry and John Edwards backlash is the Republican Party's success in building the most unnatural of alliances: between blue-collar Midwesterners and Wall Street business interests, workers and bosses, populists and right-wingers. In asking 'what's the matter with Kansas?' -- how a place famous for its radicalism became one of the most conservative states in the union -- Frank, a native Kansan and onetime Republican, seeks to answer some broader American riddles: Why do so many of Americans vote against their own economic interests? Where's the outrage at corporate manipulators? And whatever happened to middle-American progressivism? Frank answers them by examining pop conservatism -- the bestsellers, the radio talk shows, the vicious political combat -- and showing how America's long culture wars have left it with an electorate far more concerned with their leaders' 'values' and down-home qualities than with their stands on hard questions of policy.

In his Financial Times article, Frank recounts how as a journalist, he attended a party at Boston's Ritz-Carlton Hotel that was sponsored by a film industry lobby group. The journalists were not allowed to mingle with the guests because of the presence of celebrities. The party was a transplanted bit of California with its accompanying social hierarchy and the minor Hollywood figures were the ones illuminated by portable spotlights and talking into cameras. Frank writes that there is 'a vision of liberals as a ruling elite, a collection of snobs...that believes it is more sophisticated than average people...When celebrities stump for their candidate of choice, the ones they support are usually Democrats...Somehow, this glitzy world of risqué dresses and velvet ropes has the opposite effect on much of the public. They hate it and hate everything Hollywood has come to stand for. After all, Hollywood stars are the closest thing America has to aristocracy and being instructed by psuedo-rebellious aristocrats (as they mingle with millionaire lobbyists) cannot help but rub people up the wrong way. What the stars' Democratic allegiance shows to this part of the public is not the glamour of Democratic candidates but their shallowness and insufferable moral superiority; the distance of those candidates from their historical base of average Americans.  For them, Hollywood's superficial leftism only validates the Republicans to be the party of the common man.'

Frank recounted how he got rid of his journalist dog tag and joined the great and good. The special guest Senator John Breaux mounted the podium and spoke of cracking down on illegal copying, thereby ensuring that 'creative' people are 'justifiably compensated.'  Cameras clicked for a shot of Breaux sporting a boyish grin together with a member of an acting family, known as 'the Baldwin,' who displayed a 'practiced sullenness.' A woman in a headset barked: 'C'mon celebrities' and the exalted ones were ushered towards the elevators. 

There is the odd Bono and Geldof in the celebrity world but most are on the make whatever their angle for attention may be. The renowned Irish labour leader said: 'The great are only great because the rest of us are on our knees.' It's about time the rest  of us woke up.  

- Michael Hennigan

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Our Comment feature has been incorporated in the:
The Finfacts Ireland News & Comment  Service from October 2004

Archive

September 2004:

Ireland Tops Cash per Head Income Aid from European Union
Can Vincent Browne Shake Up a Cosy Irish Media?
Get an Education and Make Crime Pay

August 2004:

America: Celebrities, Politics and Money
Is Saudi Arabia on the Brink?
The Manchurian Candidate and the Evil Corporation
Darfur, the Media Loop and When News of Mass Killings is News

July 2004:

Incendiary Money Spinners: Fahrenheit 9/11 and President George W. Bush Assassination Novel Plot
Aer Lingus Management Buyout/MBO-A Contrarian View

UN Human Development Report 2004 and Ireland
Should Bertie Ahern Sack Mary Harney from the Irish Cabinet?

June 2004:

Senator Joseph McCarthy: The Implosion of an Irish American Demagogue
Irish Media-Caged or Paper Tigers?
The Celtic Tiger and Public Squalor in Modern Ireland
The Many Facets of Racism Part 1
The Many Facets of Racism Part 2

May 2004:

Balancing Frugality and Miserliness
The Gekko Doctrine-Fair Pay in an Age of Greed 
The Genesis of American Foreign Policy
In an Age of Cynicism: Trust me, I'm a Politician!

April 2004:

Dealing with Al Qaeda Terrorism
Employment Rights and Human Rights
The Opiate of the Masses
Prison of Culture-Japanese Hostages Get Icy Welcome Home 

March 2004:

The Irish Abuse of Power Tribunals
1989-A Year of Irish Corruption and Freedom
Iraq War and Embittered Tit-for-Tat
Irish Corruption and Morality: 'But sir, don't they all steal?'

Previous:

US Corporate Scandals and the Laws of Unintended Consequences
Self Interest - Common Interest Imbalances

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