July 14, 2005

Celebrity Pundits

Victor David Hanson has a great column on Hollywood's part time pundits:

Entertainers wrongly assume that their fame, money and influence arise from broad knowledge rather than natural talent, looks or mastery of a narrow skill. In fact, what do a talented Richard Gere, Robert Redford and Madonna all have in common besides loudly blasting the current administration? They either dropped out of, or never started, college. Cher may think George Bush is "stupid," but she — not he — didn't finish high school. If these apparent autodidacts are without degrees, aren't they at least well informed? Not always. Right before the Iraqi war, Barbra Streisand issued an angry statement assuring us that Saddam Hussein was the dictator of Iran. Second, liberal guilt over their royal status explains why leftist entertainers drown out the handful of conservative celebrities. Sanctimonious public lectures provide a cheap way of reconciling rare privilege with professed egalitarianism. British rockers draft legions of lawyers to evade taxes, yet they parade around at hyped concerts to shame governments into sending billions of taxpayers' money "to end poverty" in Africa. Such public expressions of caring provide some cover for being long-haired capitalists — or, in the case of an impoverished Africa, not worrying how in the messy world one really deals with Zimbabwe's kleptocrat Robert Mugabe, who just bulldozed the homes of 1.5 million of his own people. Third, celebs have lost touch with the tragic world that outside of Malibu and Beverly Hills cannot so easily be manipulated to follow a script or have a happy ending. Thus an exasperated Danny Glover, Martin Sheen and others recently ran an ad in the trade magazine Variety lamenting that Hollywood's illegal alien nannies couldn't obtain driver's licenses to drive to their estates. How dare the voters of California not grant licenses to those who broke the law to nobly serve the exalted? Fourth, Hollywood's megaphones don't have a very good track record of political persuasion. While Stalin and later Mao slaughtered millions, many actors still preached that communism offered a socialist utopia. Jane Fonda went to enemy Hanoi to offer marquee appeal to the communist Vietnamese but was ignorant of their documented record of murder and autocracy. If retired actors and entertainers wish to become politicians — an old tradition, from the empress Theodora to Ronald Reagan, Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger — let them run for office and endure during a campaign sustained cross-examination from voters. Otherwise their celebrity is used only as a gimmick to give credence to silly rants that if voiced by anyone else would never reach the light of day.


Read it all. This has been one of my biggest "pet peeves". Not because I necessarily disagree with their views on a particular issue. Rather, at times, I may actually agree with them .
My annoyance stems from the fact that, more often than not, these celebrities have no expertise or real substantive knowledge that informs their opinion. Many celebrities have little, if any, formal education beyond high school (many did not even complete high school). Yet, their status as a celebrity gives them a unique access to the media that guarantees their opinion or views will be heard by a mass audience . You will see these celebrities on television, hear them on the radio and they will be quoted in newspapers and magazines. They will provide lectures on issues at rock concerts in front of thousands of fans. Often, these celebrity pundits are viewed as more informed than they really are due to the fact that our culture practically worships celebrity.
It doesn't matter whether we are talking about the Iraq war or aid to end poverty. I watched parts of Live 8 this weekend. Each performer talked in unequivocal terms of how this concert was going to be the beginning of the end of poverty in Africa. Pretty naive in my book. Live 8, after expenses, may indeed result in a substantial amount of humanitarian aid. The humanitarian aid may alleviate some people starving. It may focus the world's attention on the issue for the summer. Yet, it will do nothing about the causes of poverty in Africa including, but not limited to, corrupt and tyrannical governments (who often steal or divert such aid), public health epidemics (e.g., AIDS), lack of infrastructure and lack of industry to name a few. There will be no resolution until these issues are resolved by the African people. Were any of these issues addressed? Nah. Evidently, the celebrities thought that the only problem is that people are poor and starving. Look, any idiot who picks up an international newspaper or a National Geographic could have told you that these problems exist.
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