Yesterday, I commented on the depressingly incoherent and poorly reasoned defense of Will Smith by Denzel Washington, who, based on his performances, I had assumed could beat the Scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz” at Scrabble. Maybe not. “It was another reminder, and I have had many in my career, that even actors who excel at portraying complex characters and who can radiate perception, depth and wisdom in screen and stage roles are too often just not very bright,” I wrote.
This puts into perspective how absurd and destructive it is that these celebrities actually have influence over public opinion. One bit of proof that they are so often a couple of ice cream scoops short of a sundae is that some of the most dim and vocal Hollywood celebrities actually think they are smart, so they keep opining publicly on matters they know nothing about. Ron Perlman—he’s the “Beauty and the Beast” and “Hellboy” star whose defining characteristic is that he can play monsters and freaks with a minimum of make-up—provided a great example yesterday, when he tweeted,
Dear Gov. De Santis:
Don’t say gay? ‘Don’t say’ as the first two words in sentence spoken by a political leader in a state in the United States of America? Don’t say? Don’t fucking say, you Nazi pig? Say, the First Amendment. Read about it, then run for office you piece of shit.
See, Ron’s brilliant colleagues and peers referred to the new Florida parental rights law as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, and he, trusting them implicitly, was certain that the law actually was about prohibiting people from saying “gay.” He didn’t bother to read the law, which doesn’t mention the word gay or the topic of homosexuality, nor prohibit saying anything.This is, of course, monumentally stupid.
Ron’s embarrassing blunder was spectacular, but not much worse than those made by such luminaries as Robert De Niro, Bette Midler, Alyssa Milano, Rosie O’Donnell, Jane Fonda, Leonardo diCaprio, Rob Reiner, and many, many others, all of whom have impressive talents in their own realm, but as much business expounding on public policy as John Lennon would have had teaching philosophy.
Then there is Whoopi Goldberg. In attempting to explain why the Oscar audience should be excused for giving a roaring ovation to a colleague who had just unapologetically committed assault and battery and had the gall to expound on the value of “love” from the same stage, Whoopi thought and thought and concluded that it was because her friends were “stunned.”
Oh. When in doubt, wildly applaud! That never occurred to me.
Her next bit of wisdom was that in live shows, “Stuff happens.” Isn’t that a Timothy McVeigh quote? I know it qualifies for trenchant analysis in Hollywood. Then Whoopi said, bristling at the suggestion that the standing-O was an indication of an elite and insular group of elites giving a member a pass,
“I just want to stop with this ‘elite’ stuff. A lot of us work for a living. We work. We collect a check. We got families. We try … to do the good stuff that everybody else tries to do. It really pisses me off ..Please, when you’re talking about actors, be specific. If you’re pissed off about somebody and how they act, don’t put it on all of us — cause that’s like saying all Black people like chicken.”
No, Whoopi, it’s not like that at all. Goldberg is smart, but she’s uneducated, and shows it frequently. She needs to bone up on analogies. First of all, that wasn’t a single actor cheering on Smith, it was an entire audience of actors who were representative of the industry. That is significant. Second, making a judgment about those who applauded Smith is nothing like “saying all Black people like chicken.” Hollywood is a culture, and its denizens are marinated in that culture. That’s how cultures work: culture has been compared to the influence of water on a fish. It is perfectly fair to conclude that the “elites’ in that group are cut off from normal sensibilities and gravitate to protecting their own, even under extreme circumstances. They prove it constantly. Whoopi proved it by comparing the artists in that cheering crowd to 7-11 clerks.
Yeah, the celebrities work–and get five and six figure checks for a few months of effort, sometimes less. Whoopi get paid a fortune for sitting with a bunch of less intelligent women once a week and saying whatever pops into her head. It’s not exactly carrying a lunch pail.
They also get constant adulation and people asking for their autographs on the street. They have agents and managers and assistants and drivers and servants taking care of them and often their families too. Of course they are “elite,” and if they are like Whoopi, they don’t even know it.
Many years ago, a star of a professional show I had directed was talking to my wife, who said that she felt regret that I only could direct theater as a sideline, because I loved doing it and was good at it. He said, “Are you kidding? That’s a great situation. Do you think I would be an actor if there was anything else I could do? It’s a terrible profession, unfair, insecure, stressful. Jack can walk away whenever he likes. I can’t.”
Actors, as a group, make poverty wages on average. Most have to supplement their income: there are Tony winners who sell real estate. The decision to devote one’s life to performing isn’t rational, so what my friend was really saying was that those who do usually are either not too bright or have no choice. There are exceptions, as always, and some smart performers get lucky and succeed quickly, making their continuing in the crazy occupation a less crazy choice.
Giving them the outsize megaphones and publicity they receive to influence the public about anything else, from politics to the environment, is one of the ways society cripples itself.