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Dear Celebrities: SHUT UP!

Nov 11 2004



Just before the US election day, I found an article in our local daily about star power and its effect on the Kerry campaign; .The author (whose name I can’t recall) determined that it didn’t really  exist. The stars and celebrities attached to the Kerry campaign were not having the positive effect they’d anticipated. Later, Kathleen Parker’s column from the Orlando Sentinel Times (Stunning Defeat)  appeared on the Sunday editorial page. Parker, obviously a champion of the right witheringly denounced Sen. Kerry’s campaign for pandering to the ‘elite’ and forgetting voters in the flyover states. Yes- those elite liberals who run the media and who contribute to the moral decay of society. The elite, who, she says, many voters see as an alien, hostile culture (obviously that label isn’t reserved for Middle Eastern countries anymore).


But it was obvious she was not the only one who’d made the observations Since the US election, I have read a number of articles in newspapers, online, in blogs, op-eds, letters to the editors: all agree, whatever their political stripes,  that the cavalcade of stars studding the Kerry Campaign –Bruce Springsteen, Ben Affleck-simply did nothing to attract voters and may have even driven them away. While we may wonder what the hell the American voters were thinking when they reelected Bush, I found myself wondering what was going through the minds of those in the Kerry camp when they decided to run his campaign as if it were “Night of 1000 Stars  They probably hoped stardust would rub off on their candidate, but instead it fell to the floor and made a mess. I’m not convinced that it means voters are being alienated by the ‘elite’, of Hollywood but that it was just another gimmick that failed. Speaking to “The AGE”, an Australian newspaper, Marty Kaplan, a professor of communications at University of southern California, said: “Few voters will choose a candidate because he has a celebrity endorsing him. Stars…just don’t deliver votes to candidates.”


I found the presence of all those celebrities to have the same effect as do victim impact statements in court. I have seen them on Court TV and various crime shows, and I question what they do besides cause us to cringe. Yes, the victim’s families may feel better but most people are simply not creative enough or articulate enough to express themselves well. No one gets up there and reads something that evokes Milton. Usually it’s the same rant to the defendant about how he must rot in hell forever. Neither human tragedy nor celebrity can endow one with literary skill, the gift of gab, personality or sharp wit. Celebrities create the expectations that they will say something charming, interesting, maybe even observant and incisive; yet that expectation almost always goes unfulfilled. Yes, they are entitled to their opinions, and yes, they look good and can get that applause, but no, you can’t count on them to spout wisdom. With a few exceptions, celebrities don’t seem to be able to carry on a conversation unless they’re rapping to music or reading from a script. One only has to tune into Larry King Live or any talk show or watch Much Music interviews with musicians (the interviewers are marginally better- they are required to have at the very least a fifteen word vocabulary).


The more celebrities you have in your charge, the harder it is to keep track of who says or does what, and Kerry simply overloaded his campaign. Cameron Diaz is still being raked over the coals for weeping on Oprah about voter apathy and rape. And while I like Michael Moore’s films, but he calls to mind those angry relatives who give out victim impact statements. Vitriol works beautifully on film; verbally, it’s like semtex and should only be handled by those few that know how.


Bush was shrewd enough to avoid gimmicks. We never saw him skiing, shooting or bowling. His family wealth is no secret, so he doesn’t even try to be ‘one of us’ and yet he is accepted as such. This is because he speaks in samplers designed for short attention spans (most likely his own). He went with the tried and true format to which he knew his voters would respond: God Bless America, a strong and free country, red white and blue and other patriotic imagery. Only this time there was the trump card of terrorism. After jacking up paranoia and convincing voters that he stood between them and Saddam, he then comforted them with down home imagery. By contrast, those in the anti war camp appeared angry. Bush supporters may not necessarily agree with war in Iraq but came off as serene and content in their support of the USA. In short, an America love- in. Who can argue with that? War means peace (remember 1984- the novel that is).  Bush supporters don’t live in a cave; they saw the hearings on TV and know of the 911 report, they probably know there are no WMDs and that the justification for the war is sketchy. But Bush represents a comfort they seek in times of war, which is why leaders who run during times of war tend to be reelected.


And the Bush camp saw almost no celebrities or movie stars-save for a few country and western singers. They did their stumping by singing and holding benefits or rallies for America or making videos. All one has to do is watch Country Music Television to see one long patriotism commercial that would cheer Betsy Ross. Gone are the days when country music was about bad men, bad women, bad liquor, railroads and jail. These days, American country music is a tribute to the flag, fallen firemen, fallen soldiers, widows and orphans, and above all, family and good morals- those homey morals that attracted all those Bush voters. Nor did Bush try to show he was one of the stars. The man may not be concerned with the possibility of blurring the line between church and state but he and his campaigners knew that Hollywood (the evil liberal bastion of perfidy, hangovers and sin) has no place on the campaign trail.


 Whatever democratic candidate emerges from the rubble should examine the Bush campaign while pondering where things went wrong.  Advisers take note: celebrities are great on screen and beautiful to look at in person. Let them sing or dance; let them silently donate money.  Let them follow Jerry Lewis and have a telethon. But above all, think of them as kids at a big party in your house. Make sure they stay in the background, look cute and clam up. No, you can’t help at this party; just sit there and behave, and above all, be quiet!

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Copyright© Marlene Blanshay 2004, All Rights Reserved

Copying or reproduction (in whole or in part) on any medium (such as in print or on the web) is expressly forbidden without written permission from HBI

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