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 many, extraordinarily successful ‘business ventures’. Penn did not break the law – nothing he did constitutes aiding and abetting – but in the words of CNN analyst Joey Jackson, “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. Even teenagers are getting in on the act: ‘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, available on Amazon, 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 generally when actors mouth off about public issues the results are unerringly 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 the 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 putting performers up on pedestals, we focus on their words more than their craft. If someone experiences all the forensic pressures of having a public platform – cohorts of paparazzi hanging on their every opinion 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 often understandably presume that they have an inviolable right to a social and political stage. But readers of Metro‘s Guilty Pleasures section are seeking a vicarious ‘what have they done now’ form of vicarious entertainment, more wardrobe malfunction than political diatribe. 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 fool, but he only thinks he’s invincible because we’ve told him he is. Perhaps Guilty Pleasures and its celeb-stalking peers should take a long, hard look at themselves.