Entry from March 26, 2003

Interesting — wasn’t it? — that Michael Moore’s Oscar-night outburst purported to speak for the other nominees in the category of Best Documentary Feature because “we like nonfiction and we live in fictitious times — a time when we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious president — a time when a man is sending us to war for fictitious reasons.” A less self-righteous and self-absorbed person than Mr Moore might have had the thought that the night of Hollywood’s annual festival of self-congratulation was not the best occasion to be found standing four-square against the “fictitious.”

At any rate, he was roundly booed for his remarks, though not because the vast majority of Hollywood people were not anti-war. It was not just Moore who claimed that “we are against this war, Mr. Bush.” The Mexican actor Gael García Bernal also insisted that his countrywoman and the subject of a recent biopic starring Salma Hayek, Frida Kahlo, would have been on “our” side. She would have been too — assuming that Trotsky, or Diego Rivera, had told her it was OK. But even many of those who were lining up with Saddam and Frida and friends were hostile, I think, because the decorum and solemnity of the occasion was thought to be too great for such crass political self-advertisement.

“Anytime you”ve got the pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, your time is up!” said Mr Moore as, his own time being up, he was being gently led offstage. Maybe so, but it seemed at least equally obvious that anytime you find such bumptious celebrity politicoes as Barbra Streisand and Susan Sarandon practising some measure of self-restraint on a public occasion — a mention of protest songs and a peace sign between them — a loud-mouthed buffoon like Mr Boor will appear an embarrassment even among the seemingly unembarrassable of Tinseltown.

All the same, it’s a little late in the day, one might have thought, for Hollywood to be getting all tasteful on us. I myself am always in favor of movie stars and other celebrities going public with their political opinions on the basis of the converse of the principle stated by Mark Twain when he said that “it is better to keep your mouth closed and appear a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” To me it is always better for fools to look like fools than to skulk around, like journalists, under a pretense of “objectivity.”

For the same reason, I am always in favor of teachers’ and academics’ being up-front about their political views. It is better for impressionable young people to be indoctrinated when they know they are being indoctrinated than when they don’t know it, or only suspect it. In the case of the celebrities, however, there is also the entertainment value of listening to, say, Janeane Garofalo complain that her political views are not being treated with sufficient seriousness or Martin Sheen solemnly opining that President Bush is “out of his depth.”

What I don’t understand is why more people aren’t taking the opportunity to laugh at them. Too many of those who are not fools themselves seem incapable of recognizing folly when it issues from the expensively capped teeth of celebrities. Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post, for example, took the bizarre view that the celebrity war protestors were ahead of the curve, leading the press into what he described as a much needed “full-throated debate” on the war.

Debate? What has Howie been smoking? These guys wouldn’t know a debate if Cecil B. DeMille caught it in close-up. Maybe Moore had a point, after all, about the fictitious times. Though the president and the election results and the reasons for the war were all real enough — trust a fool like Moore not to see that — the illusion that the views of someone like him matter a hoot is a fiction too many of us seem determined to uphold.

Mind you, we are loath to confess it. A CNN/USAToday Gallup Poll asked in February: “Are there any entertainment celebrities who, if they spoke out in favor of a position, would make you more likely to favor that position” and, as a separate question, Are there any ditto who would make you more likely to oppose it. The answers: 11 per cent yes to favor, 13 per cent yes to oppose, and 87 and 85 per cent no.

Now this is, like most polling results, less interesting as an indicator of people’s real opinions than it is as a sign of the things that matter to their sense of self. In other words, I would be far from certain that the disinclination to be influenced by celebrities is really as overwhelming as these figures suggest, but it seems indisputable that huge majorities are unwilling to have others think that they might be so influenced.

Yet they are not so sure about thee and me. When asked for their “best guess” as to “how effective” the celebrities are “in influencing the views of the president and other government officials,” 34 per cent said very effective or somewhat effective, while 64 per cent said not too effective or not effective at all. But at least the sense of shame that people seem to have about paying any attention to celebrities’ views on political subjects is something we ought to be able build on.

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