Read an Excerpt
The Politics of Fame
There’s a sort of “group think” in Hollywood. Ask anyone who’s lived there, worked there, or played there. The whole crazy, intriguing town leans decidedly to the left.
A lot of theories have been floated to try and explain the phenomenon. Some suspect the condition is caused by a rare virus that lies dormant in overly groomed poodles. Others think it comes from Botox needle sharing. Oh heck, maybe it’s the sushi. Like the veritable fish in water, residents of Tinseltown are generally unaware of the left-churning whirlpool they’re soaking in.
But the most obvious sign of their cockeyed mentality is seen whenever a star decides to speak out on a political or social issue. Pick any topic from the last 30 years. Chances are if a celebrity commented on it, his or her take was, more often than not, unmistakably liberal.
When Julia Roberts, Barbra Streisand, and Alec Baldwin open their mouths in public, cameras rush in. The press is there to capture their every word. Things like accuracy and merit don’t seem to matter much. The celebrity status of the speaker is what counts.
Now not all star speech is the same, but it’s basically treated that way. Whether the individual is talking about mundane matters of life (like where to live, which servants to hire, what clothes to shoplift, or what color to paint the yacht) or about monumental issues (like foreign policy or federal procedure), the patter is likely to get equal attention.
Because of our preoccupation with celebrity standing, every bit of information about the famous somehow seems newsworthy. The public wants to know who they’re dating, who their plumber is dating, and who their plumber’s second cousin, twice removed, is thinking of dating.
The public’s hunger for an account of the life struggles, courtships, marriages, tragedies, and deaths of prominent personalities is insatiable. It’s fed by both the entertainment and information media outlets. And these days it’s getting increasingly tough to tell the two apart. A typical news teaser nowadays has listeners hearing something like “Hollywood doctor reveals how star clients lower their cholesterol and achieve normal regularity—Details on Eyeball News at 11.”
There’s a formula that underlies the sort of muddled mess we’re seeing. Take the right amount of controversy and slap it up against an attention-grabbing public figure. The result is media attention to the max. Bill Clinton’s escapades, Robert Downey Jr.’s rehab, Robert Blake’s courtroom capers, and Brad Pitt’s facial hair are all cases in point. Each managed to overshadow most of the other news of the day. If the trend continues, we can expect the evening news to have a celebrity link for every story: “Rioting in Rio—Catherine Zeta-Jones forced to change vacation plans.”
Still, we all need someone to look up to. We yearn for excitement, glamour, and beauty in our own lives, especially if things seem a tad boring in our neck of the woods. Not that a nine-to-five routine, irritable-kid syndrome, and income taxes aren’t exciting. But we do seem to need a little acknowledgment for our existence. Each of us seeks a sense of acceptance, some proof that we belong to something that’s larger than ourselves. This explains, in part, why we’re so fascinated with the famous.
Celebrity fever has spread just about everywhere. It’s no surprise since TV delivers stars right into our living rooms. Although we’d sometimes prefer not to have people barging in unannounced, stars are usually the exception. Viewers fall in love with movie, sitcom, and drama characters. There’s a feeling that they’re part of an extended family. And all the new technology only serves to narrow the distance between us and them.
The media explosion that’s going on is propelling fresh faces into the celebrity spotlight each and every day. Reality show participants are suddenly recognized everywhere they go, regardless of how many weird things they’re willing to eat on cue. Extras on music video productions land their own contracts. And personalities like Cindy Margolis expand existing fame to extraordinary heights thanks to the Internet peep show.
Technology is actually causing an increase in the overall celebrity population. And that’s a godsend for oddities like Celebrity Boxing, Celebrity Fear Factor, and Celebrity Booty Camp. Naturally, the more celebrities there are, the more press coverage that’s needed.
Over the past several years, reporting on celebrities has grown into a massive industry. From nonstop TV updates to entertainment sections of virtually every newspaper, tracking the stars has become big business. The enormous success of tabloids and television entertainment shows provides living proof. Remember, it wasn’t so long ago that Entertainment Tonight was pretty much the only show devoted exclusively to celebrity news. Now we have the 24-hour cable channel E! and a host of other shows, like Extra, Inside Edition, Where Are They Now?, Where Have They Been?, and What Are They Doing on This Cheesy Nostalgia Show?, just to name a few.
Still, there is the matter of the personal investment that takes place on the part of fans. Because of the amount of energy expended, people start to assume that they’re entitled to know everything about a public figure. Print, radio, television, and film media try to satisfy the marketplace by giving the public as much information as possible. Naturally, celebrities want to withhold certain details about themselves, like whether they wear boxers, briefs, or plus-sized thongs, but this only makes the public more curious. What happens, in the end, is one heck of an info battle.
When we look at the relationship between celebrities and fans, we realize how unique it is. In a peculiar way, it’s an involvement where both sides win, or lose, depending on how you look at it.
Fans identify with celebrities they admire. They often imitate their behavior, thinking, manner of dress, and lifestyle. Those who feel a bit ordinary themselves can latch onto a grander image. It’s their chance to mentally connect with someone who has a more sophisticated edge and understated flair, like Marilyn Manson. Fans even come to believe that they actually know celebrities intimately. Despite the fact that stars are likely to be distant strangers, folks feel as if they’re truly personal friends.
At the same time, stars desire, and desperately need, their fans. They need the steady stream of what money isn’t always the best at getting—publicity. So a quiet tug-of-war wages on each day. Those in charge of publicity try to get favorable information into the public square. At the same time, they try to keep the more unflattering stuff out. This explains why so many paparazzi end up with cameras stuck in places that were never designed to accommodate wide, angular objects.
Because of the exaggerated interest, many stars develop an inflated sense of their own importance. Not that flying in a private jet or buying a medieval castle is necessarily going to change a person. But stars often find themselves living in a different world than most other people. As their status grows, they’re slowly wrapped up in a kind of a cocoon. It’s a physical barrier of private transportation, private clubs, and private rooms in macrobiotic restaurants, far away from admiring throngs. Phone calls are screened, appointments selected, appearances restricted, public contact limited, homes secured, and workplaces guarded.
Eventually they end up surrounded by a human buffer. For some, the hoopla feels tremendous. They’re so esteemed. For others, it’s suffocating. But that doesn’t make them any more eager to give up the perks.
Regardless of perspective, for almost all celebrities, there’s one question that haunts them, wherever they go, whatever they do. And that is, How do others see me? With the kind of constant pressure this question brings, it’s sometimes difficult to maintain reality. And hovering about is the image created through PR, the media, and recent arrest records. It can all literally take on a life of its own.
Star status involves lots of illusion. Whenever the paparazzi catch a star in pre-hair-waxed condition and Wal-Mart attire, the results can be out and out shocking. Sometimes the star’s individual identity is swallowed up by the image molded by the media. The star emerges as a product to be sold rather than a person. But fame doesn’t ever remain static. It’s like the life cycle of a human being. The star is born, grows, matures, has 7,003 plastic surgeries, and ultimately fades away. As a result, careers are in a perpetual state of flux. Fame is either increasing or decreasing, depending on one’s stage in the cycle.
Like fear of death, the famous often experience anxiety about the inevitable loss of their celebrity cachet. Competition is intense, and so is the knowledge that fame will someday dwindle. Otherwise the names of the actors from Gilligan’s Island would still be on the tip of everyone’s tongue. It’s because of the drive to remain in the public eye, and to have some sort of meaning beyond the show business world, that activism draws some stars like a magnet.
In so many instances, the nature of the actor’s, writer’s, and musician’s work is fictional. In the case of Oliver Stone, it’s the consequence of paranoia. Anyway, it all fuels a desire to impact the real world. It stands to reason that a good number of people in the creative arts long to be taken seriously when they step offstage. For some, like Pee-Wee Herman, this may be enormously difficult. But what could be better than to have continued publicity and credibility and maybe even have an impact on society? When you look at it from this angle, political activism begins to become downright alluring.
Now some people say, Who cares what stars think, say, or do on the political front? Why should it matter if celebrities make fatuous statements or take up any number of goofy causes? Well, there’s one little old word that explains why it matters. It’s called influence.
In this town, influence comes in three flavors: money, power, and merchandise. When it comes to money, success often brings massive wealth to a chosen few, and the windfall can happen in two shakes of a silicone lamb’s tail.
Hollywood heavyweights then throw large amounts of star-soaked personal and corporate cash at half-baked causes and liberal political candidates. This gives certain celebs the kind of power that can make a Speaker of the House sit up and beg and may even get a president or two to roll over.
Then there’s the merchandise. We’re talking about the actual products being shipped out of the Left Coast: music, television shows, films, documentaries, and the like. If you start to pay attention, more and more you’ll notice there’s a commonality to the banality.
This is where celebrity influence starts to get real serious. Why? Because the kind of influence we’re talking about ends up affecting the beliefs, morals, dreams, and directions of an entire society.
Right now, Hollywood is pretty much in liberal lockstep, politically speaking. It has been for a number of decades. We can’t get away from the fact that what the stars say and do on the political front matters. Their words and actions carry tremendous weight in all-day spas, Pilates circles, and society at large. They carry tremendous weight in Washington, D.C. And more and more their ideas are infiltrating our minds in the sneakiest way possible—through our entertainment.
Americans seem to go through phases where they wonder why so much of what they see and hear feels out of touch with their own thinking. Long-held values are ridiculed, and the most extreme kind of liberal behavior is portrayed as commonplace.
Then something happens. After having been mentally massaged by the “group think,” the culture takes a leap. How we should act, what we should believe, and how we should view the world simply changes.
When we look at this kind of influence through the lens of politics we see that, in the end, it can affect how people reason, what view of the world eventually wins out, and, ultimately, the kind of society we end up with.
From the Hardcover edition.