Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Tear Down the Icons

While we're being justifiably outraged at the corporate oligarchs who took outrageous risks with our money, garnered massive bonuses, wrecked their companies and are now the recipients of massive bailouts (and more massive bonuses), let's open up the discussion a little to take a fresh look at our relationship with celebrities, as well.

The culture of entitlement that has emboldened the CEO/director class to pillage public companies is not an attitude that stops at the end of Wall Street. Our culture's celebration of wealth has allowed all rich people to have a free ride in most aspects of their behavior. Money and celebrity have become far too important in our collective value system. Our celebrity culture has become almost celebrity worship. A better example could not exist than yesterday's interview of Billy Bob Thornton by Jian Ghomeshi on CBC Radio (which was also filmed).

Thornton's band would never have been featured on Ghomeshi's show if not for Thornton's Hollywood fame. After a brief introduction Ghomeshi, who is a successful musician himself, tried to start what could have been an interesting conversation about the band's development and musical influences. Thornton, in a snit (apparently over Gomeshi's having mentioned that Thornton is an actor and at Toronto's anti-smoking by-law) was as rude and petulant as anyone I've ever seen over the age of three.

(I've always thought that for every Hollywood success there are thousands of struggling actors who are just as talented, business-savvy, charismatic and attractive. People make it to the top through a mixture of luck and strategy. Thornton falls into the strategy camp, having made his name in the tabloid papers as the face-licking husband of Angelina Jolie a decade ago. Perhaps that's why he's impatient with people talking about his acting chops: deep down he knows how unjustified the accolades are.)

It was perhaps a rare glimpse into how a Hollywood star interacts with the world. Normally hidden behind a phalanx of staff or following a highly scripted PR agenda, we rarely see a celebrity's real attitudes. Thornton stepped out from behind the curtain and let us see what he really thinks of us. It wasn't pretty.

Sometimes wake-up calls come from small incidents. We may not be able to fully comprehend that Wall Street is currently ripping off hundreds of billions of dollars in bailout money, but injustice hits us in the gut when we read about bankers in London taking bets on how many citizens would die, be injured, or be arrested during the G20 protests.

Every day brings fresh wake-up calls. It's time for a change.



Anonymous said...

Jian and the CBC are getting some very favourable coverage worldwide from the Q interview. I enjoy Q. It's my link to new indie music, web curiousities, international arts of note that I simply wouldn't have the time or access to learn about otherwise. Jian is a true enthusiast for new and interesting talent and issues. Its a shame that BBT's name got his band noticed by CBC for the interview.

Yappa said...

I like Q too. Ghomeshi is a very good interviewer, even when not talking music, and he manages to attract some really interesting people - more like Gzowski than you might think from his background. He handled himself well with BBT. I'm glad the incident is getting him some extra publicity.