by Coop Cooper
Becoming a celebrity is a double-edged sword. On one side you gain the admiration of the public, you are offered ample opportunities to obtain wealth and you receive special treatment due to your status. On the other side, you lose most of your privacy, people have unrealistic expectations of you and every word you speak (or type) in the public arena is scrutinized. While some celebrities bemoan this scrutiny, some use it as a platform to promote their beliefs and pet political causes, as well as expand their fame and influence. Some express these beliefs/causes thoughtfully and eloquently. Many do not.
Most recently, Liam Neeson publicly railed against gun ownership in America calling it a “disgrace” while at the same time promoting his latest film “Taken 3” in which his character unapologetically uses firearms to defeat the bad guys. As a result, Neeson has earned a lot of backlash with many labeling him a hypocrite and calling for a boycott of his films. Additionally, Para-Ordinance, the gun company which supplied firearms to the “Taken 3” production have stated they regret having their brand associated with Neeson and have preemptively pulled their products from any future films he stars in.
Following the opening weekend success of “American Sniper”, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore posted his disdain for snipers on Twitter, calling them “cowards”. Likewise, comedic actor Seth Rogan tweeted that the Oscar-nominated “American Sniper” was akin to the fictional Nazi propaganda film “Nation’s Pride” depicted in the third act of “Inglorious Bastards”.
It almost seems unbelievable that someone who spends so much time in the public eye would give the impression that they have contempt for a sizable percentage of their audience. Yet it happens frequently, almost daily in our 24 hour news cycle.
You can blame a lot of things for this behavior: Arrogance, ignorance, public detachment, mental illness, substance abuse, marital problems, fatigue, jet lag, an overly tight girdle or necktie, etc… and yes, some are entitled narcissistic, spoiled brats. Unfortunately, for every insufferable fool like Lena Dunham, Kanye West or Jesse Ventura there are fewer wise paragons of inspiration to quote like George Takei, Jessica Chastain and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (don’t prove me wrong, guys!).
The fact of the matter is, they live with a microphone and camera constantly in their face. They have to answer a nonstop barrage of questions, many of which focus on their personal beliefs. Unless making controversial and polarizing statements is a part of their career and public activism (as it is with Michael Moore), even the most beloved of celebrities are eventually going to have an off day and say something they wish they could take back. Sometimes they might feel as if they are in safe company, even amongst journalists, to express some of their more radical views only to find that the age of internet journalism is unforgiving. That’s no excuse for reprehensible statements, but it is the reality they live in and many of us would be guilty of the same if we expressed our views publicly on a daily basis – and now on Facebook and Twitter, we can all get a taste of that.
Unfortunately, instead of owning up to their off-the-cuff statements, many celebrities blame the messenger for misquoting them, taking the quote out of context or claiming their statements were a poor attempt at humor (the comedian’s best defense). Those excuses rarely go over well with the media or the public. Alas, most celebrities want to keep their careers, so owning up to offensive statements isn’t an option if they want to keep working, even if it makes them come across as sleazy. Likewise, they may feel apologies make them look weak, so they take the advice of their publicists who always instruct them to ‘make excuses or blame others and then lay low’. The smarter ones don’t make the same mistake twice and only talk about positive subjects or issues that everyone can agree on from that point forward. The worst of these offenders use such scandals to develop a ‘bad boy/girl’ image in a desperate attempt to keep their dying career alive.
Neeson isn’t known for making rash, controversial statements (other than his vocal support of keeping horse carriages from being banned in NYC) so it will be interesting to see how he handles it. Rogen is usually more savvy as well, but as a comedian, forgiveness will find him quickly. Moore is infamous for exploiting controversy for personal gain but this time he may have gone too far. Now he is attempting further clarification by praising “American Sniper” as a film and expressing his admiration for Bradley Cooper’s performance… but he still stands by his original statement. At this rate, Moore runs the risk of repeating the same folly Jane Fonda committed during the Vietnam War. To this very day, war veterans continue to protest her public appearances, including one this past Saturday in Maryland where one of the vets held a sign reading “Forgive? Maybe. Forget? Never.”