Jewish World Review March 28, 2003 / 24 Adar II, 5763

Tresa McBee

Tresa McBee
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Hollywood hates when we don't listen | Don Cheadle got it half correct. He absolutely has the right to express his opinion. But nowhere is it written that he has any right to express an opinion without being called anti-American -- or any other label he dislikes. Such is the risk one assumes when speaking out. But you understand Cheadle's confusion. Most actors don't inhabit the same reality orbit as regular people and tend to believe we care to hear them positing on policies and politics as much as we want to see their latest appearance on "Entertainment Tonight."

So when fly-over folks bristle at some performer's comments, it's shocking to a system accustomed to sycophants eagerly awaiting the next utterance. How else to explain the absolute amazement that several actors who grace Vanity Fair's recent men of Hollywood cover actually drove their own cars? By themselves.

Cheadle was reacting to the knocking that some within the rich-and-famous set have received for their anti-war and anti-administration stances.

There's even an online petition, "Citizens Against Celebrity ŒPundits,'" begun by a North Carolina woman who seeks signatures to protest what she sees as misuse of celebrity status. She claims at least 47,000 signatures so far. And earlier this month, two Los Angeles radio hosts encouraged the non-famous to flood performers and talent agencies with their own thoughts independent of the beautiful people who have access to televised platforms. Feeling irritated by those with whom you disagree is understandable, particularly on topics that ignite emotion. But I say, keep them talking. Free speech illuminates. Besides, you don't have to listen. To be ignored is an arteeest's nightmare.

Then again, too much attention brings its own drawbacks, as the Dixie Chicks have discovered. Lead singer Natalie Maines recently told a London audience that the gals were ashamed President Bush is from Texas. Country fans didn't appreciate Maines' comments and let radio stations know. Maines initially said she's entitled to her opinion, which is, of course, correct. But apparently those opinions last only as long as songs air and CDs sell. So when profits appeared in peril, Maines instead said that her remarks were disrespectful.

It appears the Chicks' public-perception problem made other celebs nervous by Oscar time -- but only when the cameras were around. At the untelevised star-filled luncheon for the arthouse Independent Spirit Awards the day before the Oscars, celebrities were reported to freely express their political discontent and vow Oscar-night protest. But by the time cameras scanned the Important People during Michael Moore's anti-administration Oscar acceptance speech during his predictable best documentary win for "Bowling for Columbine," the stars stayed silent. The booing by the end of Moore's comments came mostly from the balcony where the little people sat. Moore, of course, is the exception to backing away from controversy in public. He did what he said he'd do and blasted Bush with a warning that "any time you've got the pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, your time is up." Quite an alliance.

Moore should perhaps be forgiven his grandiose belief that he has "the will of the people" -- as Moore told reporter Roger Friedman and which Moore bases on sales of a book of his -- because he appears fuzzy on truth. As related by The Wall Street Journal's John Fund, "Bowling for Columbine" contains some distortion, among them that the Lockheed Martin factory in Littleton -- supposedly part of the violent culture -- makes rockets that carry TV satellites into space, not weapons of mass destruction. And the scene where Moore shows the ease with which guns are bought? Forbes reports it was staged, much to the chagrin of a local bank employee who claims Moore "portrayed us as backward hicks." In Hollywood? You're kidding.

The paranoia among celebs that they are somehow prevented from expressing their opinion -- witness Barbra Streisand's Oscar-night performance about how she's pleased to live where everyone, "even artists," can speak up, as if people with mass-media access have been excluded -- is as amusing as it is ridiculous.

What famous folks can't get over is that we can make up our minds without hearing what's on theirs.

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JWR contributor Tresa McBee is a columnist for the Northwest Arkansas Times. Comment by clicking here.

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