The Minefield: Where Entertainment Meets Politics

What a cowardly Guardian editorial:

Notice the carefully employed weaselly question mark – to allow themselves future wriggle room and blathering cover. (“We were merely asking a question.”) Note this as well: the word “seems” appears three times within the editorial. Also peppered throughout are gaseous words and phrases such as “echos,” “appears,” and “not sufficiently.”

Currently there is something “unseemly” too in the paper “seeming” to attack her “apolitical” stance. (Marie Claire magazine has done much the same.) We are in the midst of the entertainment sexual harassment/abuse revelations. Most of the victims were young women assailed by powerful men capable of shattering those women’s careers.

Only recently Guardian writers were extolling Ms. Swift for defending herself forcefully in court against a former radio guy who was suing her due to the fact that he was fired after her management team had told his employer he’d gropped her at one of her “meet and greets.” One wrote her behavior was a “punch-the-air moment for girls.” Another stated that she was “tough, cool and in control. Unlike Donald Trump.”

Of course that was in August. It’s now late November. So she’s now just like Trump.

Or should we – Guardian-brave – ask, rather, “Is she?”

There is a reason we have a secret ballot: none of us need ever reveal, explain, or justify our vote to anyone if we wish not to do so – and that includes to the Guardian. I don’t believe most people really take on board celebrities’ political views on most matters anyway. I sense fans merely gravitate towards those celebs who say the sorts of things that they as “ordinary” people already believe: a celeb “agreeing” is a form of self-validation.

Celebrities have always paid a price for voicing controversial or partisan political views. In doing so, they risk alienating potential “customers,” but winning no new ones. Indeed they also risk alienating existing customers.

[My novels so far: Passports, Frontiers, Distances, and Conventions: The Garden At Paris. Photo by me, 2017.]

As a writer, I am fully aware that EVERY word I write could be misinterpreted. Moreover, given my subject matter, despite it being fiction I can’t avoid politics and social issues, but I also believe writing about such needs to be done with care. Although I have taught politics and history, I know I DON’T KNOW everything and that there are those who know FAR MORE than I do.

Some celebrities, however, appear to forget what they DON’T KNOW, and even attempt to interpret ill-knowledge as somehow virtuous. For example, about a year before her Oscar win in 2008, the then far less famous French actor Marion Cotillard had voiced views that appeared to support the dimwitted idea the attacks on New York’s World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 were a staged, “inside job” – and thus also taking by default an extremely political stance. After those old comments were unearthed, she backtracked quickly and apologized for any “offense” caused.

Yet why she had to wander there in the first place was hard to understand. As a fan, I was disappointed. (A young firefighter who had grown up near my parents on Long Island had died in the Towers.) Suddenly she was now no longer an actor who had portrayed Edith Piaf so well; she had instead positioned her ignorance as somehow constituting insightful thinking, vacuously theorizing well-outside her area of expertise and in doing so inadvertently lent support to scientifically illiterate “conspiracy theorists.”

That was not all. She had also expressed “doubts” about the Moon landings:

Did a man really walk on the moon? I saw plenty of documentaries on it, and I really wondered. And in any case I don’t believe all they tell me, that’s for sure.”

In a detailed, educational, and widely-cited investigation published in 2005, Popular Mechanics magazine had already explained why the buildings fell: in short, science. Had she ever read anything substantive like that on that subject she had been blabbering on about? Indeed we could well also ask why the same Ms. Cotillard who now supports groups like Greenpeace and decries climate change and clearly accepts that science unquestioningly, has had such a tough time “believing” the far more accessible science on why skyscrapers may “pancake” after being struck by fully-fueled passenger jets and on how man landed on the Moon and returned safely to Earth?

Taylor Swift is for now probably the savviest performer-businessperson in music. It is almost impossible to imagine her ever opining to an interviewer on how skyscrapers react structurally when slammed by passenger jets, or questioning the Moon landings. And, wow, that’s a relief.

While she no doubt has political opinions, given her track record to date it looks unlikely she will also bash a president about a third to a half of the country does like, or come out overtly in support of him by belting out the national anthem at one of his rallies. Doing either, all she is going to do is infuriate large numbers of her fans – a reality she obviously understands. She probably also clearly gets that a week after she criticizes this president the Guardian and other media will have forgotten about that and will be on at her about her “not sufficiently” speaking out about something else they deem she should. (“What are her views on the United Kingdom leaving the EU and why doesn’t she share them?”)

[In the stairwell outside my office. Photo by me, 2017.]

Yesterday was the 75th anniversary of the release of Casablanca. Some years later one of its three main screen writers – Howard Koch – was blacklisted for having been a communist and fired by Warner Brothers. The minefield that is entertainment crossed with politics is ever present.

Newspapers are in business to sell papers. Musicians are in business to sell records. Taylor Swift owes no one an explanation of her partisan politics – whatever they may be – any more than any of us would pay to hear Guardian editorialists cover one of her songs.

I chose years ago to forget about Marion Cotillard’s “interesting” earlier views about the WTC destruction and the Apollo missions. I opted just to enjoy her films.

As I write this, I also realize I have never owned a Taylor Swift song. Maybe I’ll buy a few. 😉

Have a good Monday, wherever you are in the world. 🙂

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UPDATE: “Is Taylor Swift off the Guardian hook for now?” (It required the form of a question, of course.)

The Guardian editorialists and writers will be very busy, one suspects, between now and the wedding day.