I meant to get this out last week. The buzz has simmered some now. I had a show last Friday night and as I was walking through the lobby I saw, on an overhead monitor, George Clooney in handcuffs. He and his dad were protesting Omar Al-Bashir outside the Sudanese embassy, when they were arrested.
Clooney said of Al-Bashir that he wanted to make him famous for his atrocities. I guess like Bojangles’ Chicken and Biscuits.
I think a lot of people look askance at celebrity altruism. The reactions seem to fall into one or all of a few boxes: (1) it’s not genuine; (2) the sacrifice involved is nominal and made, therefore, in gesture alone; and/or (3) they can, simply because they’re rich and well-known.
We want to cradle Angelina Jolie’s neck in our tightening hands as she cradles an orphan child in hers. We want to dump Sean Penn in the Mystic River every time he navigates the Haitian seas. We want to rattle and hum Bono right in the nose every time he gets behind a pulpit with those sunglasses. We want to make sure he has none, when Clooney does a preachy movie like The Descendants. (Well maybe that’s just because it didn’t make any sense.)
And, the people who like this paparazzi philanthropy the least are typically the ones who otherwise champion missional living the most — conservatives and evangelicals.
The psychology is probably fairly complex. Obvious observations include the view of many that celebrities live a moral lifestyle incongruent with selflessness and real concern for others. But, this has always been a kind of moralist non-sequiter. You don’t have to Bible or Quran thump to be kind. And, sometimes the disdain exists just because people disagree with the politics of movie stars. And, sometimes it’s because they did a crappy movie. Or, jumped on Oprah’s couch screaming about true love and pharmaceuticals.
But, I tend to think it’s mostly contrarianism. See, the source of an idea matters. If you decide to clean the dishes, on your own, then you’re pretty willing to do it. But, if, heaven forbid, you’re wife or mom or husband suggest you do it? Woooah nelly. “Do you think you’re the boss of me?!” When the behavior or demand of someone else casts judgment, even incidentally, on our own choices, we tend to be very resistant, even where we might otherwise agree or be in favor of the action considered in a vacuum. People aren’t disdainful of Jolie because they hate Ugandan orphans. They’re disdainful of Tomb Raider. Wait, no, sorry. They just don’t like that she gets to prance around looking like Mother Theresa. When she’s not.
But, the view is misguided. And, pitiable. First, there’s that whole judge not lest you be judged deal. But, less strategically and more fundamentally, isn’t celebrity altruism always and fully better than the alternative: nothing at all? So they can be unengaged and full of themselves in their palatial homes or they can be with the orphans and the diseased, even if they’ve gotten there by private jet, wearing designer clothes, and under personal security? The answer is a resounding “yes.” And, just because some publicity or notoriety comes with it, even to extents unjustified, who cares? The children adopted are real. And, the issues raised are serious. And, the atrocities exposed are unspeakably heinous.
But, our celebrities have the luxury of time and money and platform to actually speak them out loud. Make them famous.
Clooney’s story came in the wake of the Kony 2012 film and aftermath. That film caught a lot of flak for being some combination of untimely and self-aggrandizing to the producers. Those were some of my initial concerns as well. But, now I think we should all basically shut up. Where were we 15 years ago when Joseph Kony was mutilating children? Unless you and I produced a Kony 1998 video that I somehow forgot about, then the fact that Jason Russell and Ben Keesey are a decade or so late is a hades of a lot more than we can say. Do something.
I saw Hunger Games the other night. I ain’t proud.
I will say that on the heels of Breaking Dawn Pt. 1, Hunger Games looked like Casablanca. But if the book/movie has any redeeming value, even banally so, it’s that we devour our reality and celebrity culture for the bloodsport. Hollywood is certainly not beyond our criticism. But, their efforts to serve the poor and the hungry, albeit imperfect and mixed in motive, are not reasonable targets of it.
Today is our 14th wedding anniversary. The shame of being married to a news rapper deserves special public commendation. Therefore, because my wife is such a fan of the Hunger Games series, I’ve decided to dedicate today’s war crimes awareness song to her and the love we share. And who says romance is dead?
Thanks for being my wife and best friend.
Performed by ipoetlaureate. Music produced by djclutch.
Today’s song blog here: