Jewish World Review March 22, 2002 / 9 Nisan, 5762

Lewis A. Fein

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Ribbon-hood: Killing Patriotism at the Oscars -- This Sunday is the 74th annual Academy Awards, the greatest gathering of Hollywood celebrities since the Betty Ford Clinic opened its doors. Rehabilitated alcoholics, drug addicts and ordinary criminals - all of them outfitted by Italian designers, with less masculinity than a Vespa fueled by soy milk - will walk Oscar's red carpet. And, though styles of dress will vary from elegant to awful, one fashion accessory may finally be dead: ribbons, signifying "support" for everything from AIDS research to sympathy for Mariah Carey's acting career.

But, if the all-important ribbon now gathers dust beside autographed glossies of Gary Coleman, does this then mean a better replacement exists - perhaps even an American flag pin? Do not hold your breath . . . unless asphyxiation is Hollywood's latest dieting trend. For any patriotic display makes celebrities quiver.

Celebrities obsess about their clothing, because fashion is a form of social status: Michael Jackson's sequined glove, Cher's half-naked body or Jack Nicholson's cool shades. Compared to these iconic displays, an American flag pin is just plain ordinary. After all, would Sharon Stone or Barbra Streisand ruin a perfectly good silk dress with a brass trinket, especially a tricolor ornament that upsets the pattern scheme devised by Renee or Marci or any other androgynously named assistant?

In fact, any patriotic display will be less about America - this year's current nominees have more in common with INS detainees than Army Rangers - and more about jewelry. Celebrities sporting an American flag pin will have diamonds for stars, rubies for stripes and white gold for decorative trim. Gossip columnists will inevitably ask which store (Tiffany or Harry Winston) supplied the beautiful pin, while everyone strikes a pose.

The point, of course, is that patriotism is not about price, style or convenience. Patriotism is not about what an agent thinks or a studio executive recommends. Patriotism is an act of *individual* conscience, which may explain why so many celebrities - without a script and devoid of directorial guidance - cannot make such an easy decision.

Remember: most celebrities have assistants, agents and assorted helpers to perform the most basic tasks. So, when confronted by a brain teaser of profound complexity - Is it acceptable to publicly support America during wartime? - it is natural for Brad, Warren and Babs to require immediate medical attention.

Yet, ordinary Americans have no trouble recognizing the morality of America's war against terror. These individuals recognize the difference between murderous violence and righteous indignation, regardless of whether People magazine considers patriotism inappropriate past Labor Day.

Again, celebrities struggle with patriotism as something too conventional. For Hollywood's marketing calculus suggests that, because infamy and fame are relatively synonymous, ordinary Americans want a break from life's predictable and morally acceptable rules. So, any drug addicted, physically abusive, marginally talented "celebrity" must satisfy the public's appetite, right?

(Please leave Sean Penn out of this dispute.)

Perhaps Hollywood will spontaneously embrace America's patriotic fervor this Sunday. Or, maybe an asteroid the size of Marlon Brando will destroy most of Hollywood Boulevard this weekend. Either way, the likelihood of political solidarity or regional catastrophe seems slim.

Instead, celebrities should reaffirm one simple principle: that America is a great nation. Not a racist nation. Not a sexist nation. Not a xenophobic nation. Simply a great nation.

Only then will I truly enjoy the Oscars.

JWR contributor Lewis A. Fein is a writer and Internet entrepreneur in Los Angeles.Comment by clicking here.


© 2002, Lewis A. Fein