I’m never sure if celebrities are actually stupid, or if they simply have more opportunity to look it.
Sean Penn (Milk, Mystic River, I Am Sam) has contributed the latest prize act of idiocy, interviewing fugitive Mexican drug-kingpin ‘El Chapo’ about his recent business ventures and oh-so-glamourous lifestyle. Penn did not break the law – nothing he did constitutes aiding and abetting – but as CNN analyst Joey Jackson points out, ‘you can argue that it’s morally reprehensible’.
This is hardly the first time that actors and actresses have done or said dumb stuff. Whether it be Jane Fonda and her ill-advised trip to North Vietnam, Peter Lawford taking joints onto Air Force One, or Sean Connery openly advocating domestic violence, Hollywood has produced some fabulously moronic incidents. We’re even getting it from teenagers: ‘School is the tool to brainwash the youth’ tweets Jaden Smith. He has been retweeted over 11,000 times, only some of which will have been taking the piss. There is even a book, literally entitled ‘Movie Stars Do The Dumbest Things’.
I am particularly reminded of a 2014 interview in which Ben Affleck debated Bill Maher and Sam Harris on the nature of Islam. Affleck proceeded to shout over his better-informed colleagues like a toddler having a tantrum, foisting his lack of tangible knowledge on host and audience alike. ‘You’re not listening!’ pleaded Maher, but (unsurprisingly) he was paid no heed. Regardless of your views on the topic, the entire episode was coated in celebrity entitlement.
There are obviously exceptions – I congratulate Joanna Lumley on her Gurkha campaigns (and yes I know Jennifer Lawrence is ‘just so relatable’) – but broadly speaking when actors mouth off about public issues the results are facile.
There’s a terrible misuse of public image running through all of this: charisma on the silver screen obviously doesn’t translate to expertise in other areas, even if it dazzles the electorate. Arnold Schwarzenegger flexed his way to governorship of California in 2003, cashing in on his years of tough-guy publicity and the disgrace of his Democrat predecessor. Known by his critics as Mr. English-as-a-second-language, ‘I think gay marriage should be between a man and a woman’ remains a highlight.
However, I can’t help but feel that celebrities may not be the only ones at fault; the public and the press must share some of the blame. By making actors and actresses celebrity-central, we focus on their words more than their craft. If someone experiences all the forensic pressures of having a public platform – with cohorts of paparazzi hanging on their every statement and mistake – it’s then not surprising if they expect to be able to use that platform to express their views. You can hardly ask Cameron Diaz if she has any message for her fans, and then switch off the camera if she starts talking about the housing crisis.
If you treat someone like a politician, they may start to think that they are one, and many actors and actresses now presume that they have an inviolable right to a social and political stage. But when I read the Guilty Pleasures section of the Metro I’m seeking a vicarious ‘what have they done now’ form of entertainment, more wardrobe malfunction than political discourse. This is how we use and abuse our celebrities: we convince them that we care and then throw them on the trash-heap the moment they get boring.
Penn’s defence for his latest foray was ‘I’ve got nothing to hide’; perhaps an embittered swipe at the relentlessness of public life.
Penn has unquestionably behaved like a complete and utter tool, but he only thinks he’s invincible because we’ve told him he is. Perhaps Guilty Pleasures and its ilk should take a long, hard look at themselves.