October 22, 2011

#OWS has a celebrity problem

Frank Bruni nails it: Roseanne and other celebrities aren't the 99 percent. They're not even the 1 percent. They're the 1/10 of 1 percent.

That said, celebrities of allegedly liberal stripe at protests like this do fit with the Adbusters-influnced segment of Occupy Wall Street population that probably is interested in protest as performance art more than anything else.

Again, Bruni nails it:
While (wearing lots of bling) doesn’t disqualify (Russell Simmons, Kanye West) or Barr or other entertainers from sympathizing with Occupy Wall Street, it does give their public gestures of solidarity a discordant, sometimes specious ring. It also confuses the identity of a protest movement that already has challenges aplenty in the coherence department.
Good word-smithing, not just "coherence," but "specious."

And, for the portion of the 99 percent that is NOT about Adbusters style, is not about myths of leaderlessness, and is about speaking its individual demands, at least, without "shusshing" from Occupy Wall Street officialdom, the problem is bigger.

Again, Bruni:
The movement’s “we are the 99 percent” motto expresses ire over not only the unaccountability of huge financial institutions but also income inequality in America and the concentration of so much wealth and privilege in so few hands. Every time a wealthy messenger gloms on, that aspect of the message gets muddled and possibly compromised.
And the glomming has begun. With a slowly growing number of actors and musicians paying well-chronicled visits to Zuccotti Park, the movement is in danger of becoming a sticky fly strip for entertainers who like to flaunt their self-styled populism: a gadfly strip. 
But Bruni's just warming up. With a Baldwin brother and his bloated, scene-munching acting style an easy target, he pulls both barrels:
In some cases entertainers even make money for the banking industry itself. This issue came up last week when Alec Baldwin dropped by Zuccotti Park.
Critics noted that he appears in television commercials for Capital One, a banking behemoth. While he responded that he gives his fee away, he’s still promoting the company, and there remain other facets of his work and life that render him, like other stars, a very odd fit for a movement concerned with the sway of big companies and the distribution of wealth.
He has homes in both the Hamptons and Manhattan, a fact widely noted in news reports about a New York City tax inquiry into which is his primary residence. He claims the Hamptons.
His television show, “30 Rock,” is shown on NBC, which is part of NBC Universal, whose president and chief executive officer, Steve Burke, had a total compensation package worth $34.7 million last year, according to a recent survey of executive salaries in The Hollywood Reporter.
That same survey put the compensation of Brian Roberts, the chief executive officer of Comcast, which owns a controlling stake in NBC Universal, at $31.1 million. Philippe Dauman, the chief executive officer of Viacom, which owns Paramount Pictures, outpaced both of them. ...
Celebrities help line those executives’ pockets, even if that’s not their goal, and then take the extra step of supporting other affluent corporations as pitchmen and pitchwomen. 
Man, this is the best column I've seen by far from Bruni's brief tenure. But he's STILL not done:

There are many mixed signals in the celebrity assist to Occupy Wall Street, along with a reminder that we too seldom hold stars to account for their own greed.
Some have reportedly accepted payments in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to show up and even perform at the private parties of superrich despots. The musicians Mariah Carey, Nelly Furtado, Usher and Beyoncé (a pitchwoman over time for L’Oréal, Armani, Nintendo, Pepsi) sang for members of the Qaddafi family. Will they be warbling at the funeral? Hilary Swank and Jean-Claude Van Damme attended the 35th-birthday bash for the Chechen tyrant Ramzan Kadyrov. This was not the outgrowth of a long, deep friendship. 
Now, many of these A-list "liberals" of entertainment will circle the wagons. You'll probably have them protesting too much, inquiring about Bruni's politics or other things.

And, that said, wingnut blogs will "run" with Bruni's column. But he's right.

Celebrities who really cared would donate supplies, not make public pronouncements.

Celebrities who really, really cared might spend a night on the streets.

Celebrities who really cared would, like Warren Buffet, call for tax reform.

Celebrities who really, really, cared, would stop performing for political thugs or making commercials for financial thugs.

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