This year’s Academy Awards, with its exciting new face-slapping feature, got me thinking about celebrities and their wisdom, in addition to the usual thoughtful babble about the political cause that’s currently capturing the attention of glittering oafs.
You may have noticed that many people tend to turn to famous actors, musicians, political pundits, and entertainers for advice on issues of public policy and morality, and celebrate these prominent opinions as irrefutable sources of wisdom and moral clarity . Being hot, slick, and in public apparently serves as a kind of “validating imprimatur” for star people, prompting some to avidly absorb the kind of mindless trash an otherwise captive audience could only stoically tolerate.
Of course, others may ask if this is wise. The unkind might argue that a significant portion of people in the celebrity world live chaotic, dysfunctional lives filled with addiction, divorce, drama, institutionalization, crime, and depravity, and demonstrate an inability to successfully lead their own lives. Even in the seemingly sober context of political commentary, one would notice that CNN commentator Jeffrey Toobin got into trouble when he was spotted “enjoying himself” during a Zoom conference call with staffers at New York magazine. Should you really listen to someone you would hate to shake hands with?
Other figures of CNN integrity were also honored, such as Chris Cuomo and Stormy Daniel’s former attorney Michael Avenatti, who was described as providing material from the President before he was arrested for attempting to blackmail Nike and stealing customers.
So, what’s the track record of our biased celebrities giving us great advice on some of our most pressing issues and leading by example?
Substance abuse is a problem that the entertainment industry is tackling, albeit perhaps not in a positive way. Prior to the 1960s, there was no media portrayal of drug use other than as ugly, inferior, and unattractive. Then drug use became fashionable as we were instructed to “turn on, turn on and get off,” a sentiment eagerly embraced by the entertainment industry.
In Easy Rider, a tormented Peter Fonda is portrayed as a heroic hard drug smuggler on an important mission. Cheech and Chong became cultural icons, various songs celebrated the joys of psychedelics, and Steely Dan celebrated the joy of “hunting the dragon” – smoking heroin. Liberal scholars of the time dismissed drug vigilance as pure Puritan rudeness. Of course, these celebrities had the wealth and resources to usually recover from their reckless adventures, and they fared better than ordinary people who jumped on the pharmaceutical bandwagon, many of whom began occupying sidewalks, homeless shelters, and morgues.
Think of single parents making a huge contribution to poverty and crime. While being a single parent can be successful in raising children, it is much more difficult and would discourage most people from attempting it voluntarily. But not like Hollywood.
Think of the 1980s and 1990s TV series Murphy Brown starring Candace Bergen as an attractive and successful TV news reporter who decides to have and raise a child on her own. Offending the fashionable mindset of the time, then-Vice President Dan Quayle expressed the opinion that perhaps single motherhood should not be glamorized due to the likely effect it would have on receptive viewers. Predictably, opinion leaders of the time derided him as old-fashioned and “out of touch”. One impressionable viewer could only conclude that single moms were what all the cool kids did.
Violent crime has always found its voice in the entertainment world, with films and songs celebrating robbers and killers. The Steve Miller Band classic Take the Money and Run offered a romantic tale of two young, bored stoners who decided to “break out” by robbing and “shooting” a man in his castle and being followed by a good boy. a cop named Billy Mac who just didn’t understand the need for the kids to ease their boredom. They happily fled to Mexico, where they are still living on the stolen money. I wonder how many young, impressionable, drug-addicted fools have adopted this song as their personal anthem when embarking on a criminal enterprise? Consider if musicians really are a group to learn moral lessons from the next time the pathologically smug Neil Young takes center stage in his latest thing.
My recommendation is that you believe celebrity opinions the same way you believe your “eccentric” Uncle Lester’s prank when he escapes from the attic and finds a full bottle. Δ
John Donegan is a retired attorney in Pismo Beach. RSVP for publication [email protected]