We should hope that the election of Donald Trump will finally impress upon celebrities the true extent of their political irrelevances.
Because leaving the EU didn’t do it, did it? Remember Brexit? I only ask because a lot has happened since then… we’ll come to that later… let’s start with Brexit and the celebrities who couldn’t resist shooting their mouths off. First up, Emma Thompson. She decided to vote remain. While I am very able to sympathise with her decision, I cannot sympathise at all with the way she revealed it during an interview. Having been asked the question – which way will you vote? – she rolled her eyes and said “of course” she would be casting a remain vote (with the vowels elongated to such a self-righteous extent that “of course” sounded more like “a horse.”) And just like I had never before found fault with Emma Thompson, the same applied to Christoph Waltz, but my estimation of him likewise fell when he generalised Leave politicians as “rats leaving a ship”. The fact that he said this without being satirical, without recognising the irony involved in using such a metaphor, is reflective of the shallowness of these starry waters. Unlike those two, I wasn’t very aware of Charlotte Church before Brexit. She tweeted Farrage with: “I want my fucking European Union back you piece of shit.” Then, later that same day, she tweeted: “A lot of hate on here today. I’m shocked at the level and type of abuse I’ve had today.”
Following the EU referendum result, Paloma Faith said in an interview with Owen Jones that “voting needs to be online” because it otherwise puts people off getting involved (she is possibly ignorant of the fact that this referendum resulted in one of the biggest democratic turnouts in modern political history.) Paloma Faith admitted that she was “terrified” of the future of this country. She urged young people to “have confidence in what they believe in” and “as time progresses they can enforce change.” This kind of insubstantial emotive wish-wash might sound nice but it is revealed to be, once given a cursory glance, as hollow as her lyrics. Paloma then lamented the fact that there were no more Bob Dylans or Bruce Springsteens to inspire the younger generation. Well, in the context in which she now speaks, even they might be hard pressed to summon up a tributary continental ballad. But, if it really is time for us youngsters to start championing our souls and mastering our rudders, then when is the release date of Paloma’s album ‘Ode de la EU’? Even if she could write such a song, she would never think to do it because she doesn’t need to do it; a true artist understands that talking-up the EU is easier achieved through on-your-side interviews.
So yes, it’s very annoying when celebrities don’t treat complex debates seriously. Of course there would be less of an objection if, say, Emma Thompson had instead rolled her eyes and elongated her vowels at the question of who she would vote for in the American election. It’s obvious that Trump is a bully, a misogynist, a narcissist, an autoerotic, a conspiracy-theorist quack and a pathological liar (our only hope, by the way, is that the newly elected con-man is fully-rounded in his lying, and so absolutely none of his statements can be believed). Emma Thompson would be entirely in the right in this scenario. But why stand for this double standard? One only has to be able to empathise the smallest amount with an angry and ill-educated Harry Angstrom, the non-fictional resident of the fictional Brewer in Pennsylvania, to identify the electric current which lit up Trump tower and understand that there will always be a problem with wisecracking celebs.
The nature of this celebrity problem is twofold. Firstly, it is in the inadvertent damage they do to their own cause. Secondly and more crucially, it is in their lack of any intelligent contribution.
On the first of the two prongs: November 8th 2016 has revealed the self-harm. Every celebrity minus the senile Clint Eastwood came out in favour of Hillary Clinton and not even the united power of Hollywood could swing the states blue. I enjoyed the video of Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo – the one where Mark Ruffalo is surprised to be promising that he will do a nude scene if we vote in Hillary – but the underlying assumption is that ‘common folk’ are willing to trade policy and principal in favour of getting the kit off a star. A fun gag, but entirely demeaning if their intention was to effect our politics. And it must have been one of the most wide-of-target political judgments to think that Hillary Clinton should duo with Katy Perry in order to accentuate her down-to-earth and relatable qualities.
Now, it is the prerogative of the celebrity to be involved in politics. It’s a free country and they can do as much damage to their own cause as they want. What is inexcusable is that when they do enter the public sphere – and this is my second and more pertinent point – they add nothing to the debate. Nothing. With very rare exceptions, each single one of them is less able to make an educated contribution than your average graduate student. Why should I care what celebrities think? Why should anyone? I’m sorry Cumberbatch, but people don’t go to the theatre for your lecture on the refugee crisis; many people in your audience know and care more about the crisis than you do. Celebrities will fork out a bunch for whatever cause they happen to champion, but if they really cared about an issue they would be able to do so much more than any of us. They are quite literally part of the absolute few who are financially stable enough to drop everything else. But there’s never any follow through. Amy Schumer said she’d leave the country if Trump won. Now she says she isn’t going to leave the country. Her pathetic attempts to pass it off her comment as one made in jest doesn’t wash when you watch her interview back. She’s meant to be funny remember…
Celebrity saps need wise up or shut up. To rely on them to take the initiative is to accept the bigoted Ben Affleck surprising you like cramp on Real Time, which is unthinkable. Could we shut them up? The media could, but it doesn’t. They don’t screen their celeb guests in any meaningful sense; if they are at all selective it’s solely on the basis of who is the funniest or the sexiest or has the biggest hit movie coming out next. They have celebs on their couches and they ask after their ignorant opinions and apparently we’ll watch them do it even if we don’t listen to whatever it is that they say. And it’s tragic because the vacuousness in broadcast analysis will expand with each year of Trump’s presidency: nothing is easier or more lucrative than breaking news. I doubt I’ll ever wake up to the day when I don’t have to search the web for intelligent analysis because I can find it on my TV. Unfortunately, too many of us consume our news passively and are therefore at the mercy of false equivalency on the one hand and unequal jousts on the other.
“We’re impartial here at CNN and so since we’ve been looking at Trump’s misogyny, we will now discuss all the ways that Trump isn’t a misogynist.”
“Welcome to Question Time. We’ve heard from Nigel Farage on immigration, and now we turn to Russel Brand / Eddie Izzard.”
It’s tragic; really tragic now. Obama out.