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A Political Epidemic

Hollywood's A-list has morphed into a political epidemic that cannot be contained. Once content to limit their extracurricular activities to fashion advertisements, adulterous sex and sunbathing, actors have recently taken an interest in how to run America - nay, the world.

The star of Tomb Raider, Angelina Jolie, commiserates with refugees in her role as goodwill ambassador to the UN. Julia Roberts, one-time pretty woman, cried while addressing Congress about neurological disorders. John Travolta zealously lobbies for the rights of Scientologists and Warren Beatty will keep playing politicians until he actually gets to be one.

Pop stars and models are into it, too. Backstreet Boy Kevin Richardson recently addressed a congressional subcommittee on the downside of coalmining and model Christie Brinkley wields her long-legged power in the area of anti-nuclear activism.

Such is the strength of this Armani-clad heave towards the White House, an organisation called the Creative Coalition has been built to attend to it. Formed to monitor the activities of actors roaming free without a script, the coalition is a group of entertainment industry professionals with an awareness of "contemporary issues". It is led by William Baldwin and educates stars with politics in their eyes how to when there's no take two if they fall off the podium. When one must speak without a scriptwriter, feel without mood-enhancing music and think without Steven Spielberg, there is the Creative Coalition. It is not confined to America. Sarah O'Hare, who as the model for Wonderbra once showed women how to lift and separate, now raises awareness of breast cancer, while blonde babes from Home and Away tell the Australian public that doctors say cigarette smoke is poison.

There is little doubt that in some instances celebrities are a blessing to the cause they advocate. Charitable and humanitarian aid organisations regularly use celebrity appeal to drum up support. When the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees announced Jolie's commitment, the campaign immediately benefited from increased attention. (Although the UNHCR might now be cringing at the alleged illegality of the adoption of Jolie's and husband Billy-Bob Thornton's Cambodian baby). Suddenly, with the addition of a pretty face to all the hungry and homeless ones, the UN was reaching an audience that might otherwise ignore it.

This is a sad indictment of a society where compassion is dependent upon the right aesthetics rather than ideals, but at least it's honest. As goodwill ambassador, Jolie is not pretending to be anything more than a famous person who knows that if she travels to the Third World, cameras will follow. The greater offence is perpetrated by stars who equate their ability on screen with their ability in life: actors can be anything in the movies, but their talents are usually vastly more limited off it. John Travolta might have played a politician, but he's also played the local idiot.

That the prominence of celebrity in politics is tolerated, and even courted, signifies a dangerous conflation of the will of the audience and the will of the electorate. Regardless of good intent, it is relevant to a democracy that none of these celebrities parading as opinion leaders was ever subject to a vote. Actors are not the brilliant social pioneers they pretend to be, and if they were we probably never would have heard of them. It's just they were really good in this and that movie.

All the world might be a stage, but Hollywood actors should probably stay off it. American culture has given birth to a star-struck majority who applaud as its actors gatecrash the erudite world of lawmaking - simply on the basis that they like them. Ronald Reagan has a lot to answer for. The difference is, at least, that he was elected. Most are self-important annoying celebrity do-gooders.

Hollywood, D.C.

America has always had a soft spot for celebrity-loving politicians. Now it’s time to cut out the middleman. Bark-eating Palm Springs celebrity mayor Sonny Bono may be dead now, but his legacy lives on. With Charlton Heston the vice president of the NRA and an unofficial campaign under way in Miami to get Madonna elected mayor, it seems clear that we can expect our favorite stars to start sweeping incumbents out of office across the nation. Our predictions (Maxim, October 1998):
O.J. Simpson, governor of Colorado
Signature policy: JonBenet’s parents receive full immunity; governor vows to track down the real killer.
Complications: Lieutenant governor and a waiter are cut to ribbons.
Mickey Rourke, premier of France
Signature policy: Not bathing becomes law, not just custom.
Complications: Runner-up Jerry Lewis demands re-count.
Howard Stern, secretary-general of the U.N.
Signature policy: Peacekeeping forces are staffed entirely by Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.
Complications: Howard’s “Towel-Head Diplomacy Initiative” touches off bloody pan-Arabian war.
Michael Jackson, U.S. education secretary
Signature policy: New, crotchless school uniforms.
Complications: Think about it.
Pete Rose, mayor of Las Vegas
Signature policy: “Mathematics of spread betting” replaces calculus in local high-school curriculum.
Complications: Mayor takes entire city budget to The Sands and puts it on lucky seven.

Sure Sean Penn did some cool things back in the day: He banged Madonna (when she was still cheap and hot looking), starred in the teen classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and constantly scuffled with the paparazzi. These days, however, Penn's channeled his hotheadedness into political activism, writing convoluted open letters to the Bush Administration (hearing him read one was akin to watching his performance in I Am Sam), allying with outspoken U.S. opponent Hugo Chavez, and driving a boat around a flooded, hurricane-ravaged New Orleans like it was a damn movie set..

This unwed duo has apparently been trying to make up for living in sin all these years by supporting every liberal cause in the book: protesting the Iraq war at rallies in D.C. among "common folk," backing unelectable presidential candidate Ralph Nader, and constantly spewing antiglobalization rhetoric. Too bad Susan Sarandon didn't actually drive off that cliff in Thelma & Louise; and here's hoping Tim Robbins goes back to making good flicks like Bull Durham.

In recent years, ol' Madge (Madonna) has been on a crusade to class up an image that's been tarnished by affairs with Dennis Rodman and Vanilla Ice, public nudity, shitty music, and even shittier acting. After becoming a mother, moving to England, and masking her hybrid Michigan–New York City whine with a fake British accent, the blonde-haired strumpet adopted (stole?) an African baby boy from his loving father, all in the name of goodwill. Who is guessing the little tyke's head winds up stuffed and mounted to the wall in her mansion's big African game room?

This former bad girl with a penchant for collecting exotic ethnic babies gave up swapping blood vials with Billy Bob Thornton in favor of helping global refugees (not to mention endlessly boasting about it). In our book, the only person to ever benefit from Angelina Jolie's spotlight-hogging do-gooding was Brad Pitt, when she lured him away from Jennifer Aniston with her hotness.

What do you do when your once-edgy band starts rocking middle-aged suburbanites at arena tours? If you're a blowhard like Bono, you start beating a dead horse about all the starving Africans. Yo, Bono, we've seen the swollen stomachs and glazed-over eyes, but we'll be damned if your preaching is gonna make us part with our mid-afternoon Jamba Juice break.

They go on and on about the environment, abortion crap, and gun control, but back in 1994 Pearl Jam canceled their summer tour in an attempt to save the concertgoing public from Ticketmaster's price-gouging. After going all the way to the justice department to plead their case, the flannel lads totally stuck it to Ticketmaster by losing their case a year later. Ticketmaster was pretty much unaffected.

You pay about $1.80 for a bottle of this shitty water (Ethos Water) because Starbucks is sending a "portion" of the money to help someone somewhere. But that "portion" is a measly 5 cents. Wow, Starbucks. You guys are really tightening the belt.

We all want to live in a world we can breathe in, but try reading one of Perry Farrell´s recent interviews without wanting to burn all the coal you can get your hands on. It´s "carbon neutral" this and "green energy" that. He´s now vowing to become a completely digital artist to create less waste from music packaging. Thank God, ´cause those 300 copies of Satellite Party´s Ultra Payloaded were going to be the straw that broke the polar ice cap´s back.

Katrina was a total disaster and it would've been terrible to witness it firsthand, so we don't really have a problem with Anderson Cooper's on-air breakdown. But did CNN have to show it every 30 seconds? We get it, he has feelings. We also get that marketing a tragedy for ratings is up there with pushing old ladies down stairs and stepping on people's heads when they're drowning.

If there's one thing worse than a mildly effeminate man crying at a tragedy, it's a mustachioed former talk show host (of the Sally Jessy Raphael variety) pushing a real-life rescue worker out of the way in order to be filmed aiding a wheelchair-bound Katrina survivor. The maniacal, Machiavellian Geraldo Rivera denies all this while cackling to himself and dastardly stroking his mustache, of course.

One way to get flag-waving Americans to actually give a shit about Tibet's autonomy is by making kick-ass music, a la the Beastie Boys. One way to make all those same supporters do an immediate about-face is by sicking the male lead of Chicago on 'em, and then allowing the gray-haired pretty boy to wax equal parts sappy and bombastic about freedom. (Hell, we'd rather listen to Toby Keith). Now the former gigolo is urging Americans to boycott next summer's Beijing Olympics. To which we respond: "Human rights violations be damned, Richard Gere, we got ourselves a case of gold fever, yeehaaaw!"

Emma Young is an arts student at Sydney University. Reality blurred by star-spangled politics. The Sydney Morning Herald. July 24 2002.

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