Celebrities For President!

In case you hadn’t heard about it — that is, in case you were stationed in Antarctica — Oprah Winfrey gave a moving speech at the Golden Globes awards show on Sunday night, and now lots of people are saying she should run for President in 2020.  Sources are saying that Winfrey is “actively considering” making such a run.

telemmglpict000150742729_trans_nvbqzqnjv4bqm4jyxbdwa13jcdosysta2-snmrgcd6wdaswajbpatnmIt’s interesting that a speech given at one of those ever-present, self-congratulatory Hollywood awards shows, in the center of the culture of harassment, misogyny and denial that gave rise to Harvey Weinstein — who incidentally won a lot of those self-congratulatory awards, including a Golden Globe at a prior, glitzy ceremony — should be seen as positioning one of our country’s most well-known, well-liked celebrities for a run for the country’s top job.  It tells you something important, I think, about how many people are searching for someone to lead the country in a different direction — and obviously aren’t finding anyone compelling in the current crop of American political leaders who have followed the more traditional gubernatorial and senatorial paths to a potential presidential bid.

In the age of President Donald Trump, it’s hard to argue about what constitutes being “qualified” for the presidency anymore.  Trump was a wealthy businessman who became a celebrity; Oprah Winfrey is a celebrity who became a very successful businesswoman.  If Donald Trump can run for President, then so can Oprah Winfrey.  We’ll have to wait and see whether she wants to expose herself and her friends and family to the kind of relentless, withering scrutiny that presidential candidates receive in the modern world of 24-hour news channels, internet news outlets, and political blogs.  With Oprah Winfrey’s years of TV broadcasts, magazine articles, and long career in the public eye, the campaigns of other contenders in 2020 will have a lot of  material to sift through to try to find one or two damning statements or issues that always seem to be the focus of presidential campaigns these days — and somewhere, some flunky has probably already started that task.

So while we wait to see whether Oprah Winfrey actually decides to throw her hat in the ring, let’s reflect on what the outpouring of adulation she received says about the other people who might be contenders.  It’s not a positive endorsement, is it?  People may be turning to the notion of celebrities running for President for a lot of reasons — like fighting Trumpian celebrityhood with other celebrityhood — but one obvious impetus is that they aren’t finding anyone exciting among the politicians who are thought to be lining up for a shot at the job.  Given the performance of our political class over the past few years, can anyone blame people for hoping that celebrities might be the answer?

Enduring Celebrityhood 

This morning I stopped at the grocery store on my way back from my morning walk and there, on the magazine rack in the check-out lane, was a Time-Life tribute to Marilyn Monroe.  It’s pretty amazing when you think of it:  More than 50 years after her death, she still commands precious impulse-buying space in America’s retail establishments and remains capable of knocking the currently famous off the racks.  And, as the magazine cover shows, she’s one of the few “one-word” celebrities, too — just “Marilyn.”

Marilyn Monroe has to be the most durable celebrity in American history — and given America’s longstanding obsession with celebrities, that’s saying something.  

What is it about Marilyn Monroe that causes magazine publishers to roll out new editions about her, when most of the current magazine-buying public wasn’t even born at the time of her death?  She was a beauty and sexual icon, of course, who was a gifted comic actress and likable personality on the big screen.  She married famous men and divorced them, reportedly had dalliances with politicians and jet-setters, and died a mysterious death.  It’s an interesting story, to be sure, but it has long since been told, over and over.  And yet, here she is in the summer of 2017, once more in the public eye.

Will the fascination with Marilyn Monroe ever end?  Is any other American celebrity even close to her in terms of staying power?

When Celebrities Act Like Normal People

I don’t know much about him, other than his work in Schindler’s List and his hard-ass role in the Taken movies, and his getting to utter the memorable line “Release the Kraken!” in the remake of Clash of the Titans, but I’m guessing that, deep down, Liam Neeson is a pretty nice guy.

uke8zhvWhy?  My admittedly off-the-cuff conclusion is based solely on one recent incident.  Neeson is up in Vancouver, filming a movie called Hard Powder.  Because Neeson’s arrival in town got some local press, the proprietors of the Big Star Sandwich Company put up an outdoor sign that said “Liam Neeson eats here for free” on one side and “Come in and get Taken away by our sandwiches” on the other, and they apparently served up a few sandwiches to the movie’s production crew.  And then, to their surprise, Neeson actually showed up at their little shop, walked up to the counter, and asked the staffer there, in his best gruff, hard-ass voice, “Where’s my free sandwich?”  It was a pretty cool move on his part.

Neeson didn’t actually take a free sandwich due to his schedule, but he did pose for a photo with the happy guys who put up the sign, and as a token of their respect they’ve now named a special sandwich after him — which I have to say looks pretty darned good.  And with the photo with Neeson in their pocket, suddenly their choosing the name Big Star Sandwich Company looks like it was a prescient move.

Normally, the celebrity culture in our modern world makes me sick, with its worshipful treatment of cloistered celebrities who get special treatment everywhere they go and seem to have almost no idea of what the lives of normal people are like.  It’s refreshing when a big film star like Neeson is willing to do something that will make the day of some everyday guys who are trying to make a go of their business.  It says something nice about Neeson that he would do that — and it also reminds you of how many other puffed-up celebs who’ve read too many of their own press clippings just wouldn’t take the time.

Dead Or Alive?

Don Rickles died today.  The insult comedian who was a mainstay on The Tonight Show and the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts and who delighted in calling people “hockey pucks” was 90.

abc-don-rickles-obit-jc-170406_mn_4x3t_384And this sounds terrible to say, but my first reaction to the news was:  “That’s interesting.  I guess I thought he was dead already.”

I feel very guilty about this reflexive response, but it happens all the time these days.  Some musician, comedian, movie star, or sitcom actor from the ’50s, ’60s or ’70s kicks the bucket, and you could have sworn they’d already gone to meet their maker.  I think the reason for that response is that, during their period of great fame, those celebrities are seen so frequently that they become expected, everyday sights on talk shows, in magazine articles, on game shows, and in guest roles on sitcoms.  Then, when their period of fame ends, as is inevitably the case, you associate their ongoing lack of presence on the popular scene with . . . death.  In fact, the only way you know for sure that they’re not in fact dead is if they suddenly get hauled out to award an Oscar or give a tribute to one of their just departed colleagues.

So, Don Rickles is officially dead.  Doc Severinsen, on the other hand, is still with us.

Kowtowing To The Rich And Famous

Nobody likes traveling through the LAX airport, one of the many airports serving southern California.  It’s crowded and hectic, jammed with luggage-toting people heading east and west and crammed with the fast food outlets and franchise shops you find in every airport.

So, nobody likes traveling through LAX.  But you know who really doesn’t like LAX?  Movie stars.  Star athletes.  The random celebrities who have somehow become famous in America despite their apparent lack of any discernible talent or known accomplishment.  They hate rubbing elbows with the hoi polloi, being recognized despite their ever-present sunglasses, being photographed by paparazzi and the masses alike, and being pestered by fans for an autograph.  God forbid that they should have to hobnob, unprotected, with the common folks who buy the tickets to their movies or games or watch their reality TV shows.

paris-hilton-walking-through-lax-airportSo what do you do if you’re on the Board of Airport Commissioners that controls LAX and you learn of the evident dissatisfaction of the rich and famous with LAX?  Tell them, sorry, but they’ll just have to suck it up and endure an occasional interaction with the plebes when the celebs pass through a facility built largely with public funds?

Nah!  You vote to authorize the construction of a private lounge for the glitterati in a converted cargo facility, where the celebrities and sports stars and one-percenters can use a private parking lot and access area, sip wine and eat brie in posh, ultra-private suites, and be whisked off to their boarding areas in private shuttles if they’re unfortunate enough to be traveling by a commercial flight.  Of course, they’ll pay for the privilege of being shielded from the smelly, bustling peasants, and the operators of LAX will earn additional millions in revenue from the fees paid by the VIPs and the company that will run their special little enclave.

It’s just another example of the trend toward kowtowing to the rich and famous and allowing them, for a price, to be removed from any of the unseemly disruption that is part and parcel of everyday life for the common man.  They can pay to skip lines at amusement parks, pay to bypass the standard security screening at airports, watch movies at private screenings, sit at private boxes at sporting events, avoid buying their own groceries, hire private assistants to handle their daily affairs, and otherwise avoid the hassles that are all-too-familiar to the rest of us.

There’s nothing to be done about it, because money talks, and airport commissions and sports franchises and restaurants and other businesses are perfectly happy to honor the celebrity desire for separation . . . for a hefty price.  But just remember, the next time a celebrity tells you who to vote for, or offers their confident, all-knowing assessment of how to cure the country’s or the world’s ills — the speaker is someone who probably has only a hazy understanding of the realities of everyday life and who would rather shell out thousands of dollars than walk through an airport concourse with the likes of you and me.

So why in the world would we listen to what they have to say?

Her Majesty’s Bloomers

It seems that people collect almost everything these days, and are willing to pay amazing amounts of money to do so.  Still, some of the “collectables” are decidedly . . . odd.

Consider a recent auction in England, where an anonymous collector paid $16,500 for a pair of Queen Victoria’s underpants.  The white cotton u-trou, which are, well, expansive, bear a monogram with a crown and a “VR,” and experts believe they were worn by England’s longest-serving monarch back in the 1890s.

This story is weird on two levels.  First, why would anyone want to acquire such items?  Were the Queen’s old bloomers bought to be part of a collection of royal family memorabilia, or as part of the apparently growing interest in underwear collection — with people paying big money for the unmentionables of Elvis and Michael Jackson and even the dingy undergear sported by Walter White on Breaking Bad?  Are these underwear collections ever actually displayed to anyone?  Can you imagine being invited to someone’s country estate and, while there, being taken by the proud owner on a tour of their collection of celebrity boxers and briefs, nicely displayed in glass cases?  Small wonder that the bidders at these auctions are acting anonymously.

Second, it’s sad that people are selling this stuff, and it’s got to be embarrassing for the descendants of the long-deceased Queen.  Who wants to see an ancestor’s underwear being publicly displayed, especially when it is very much plus-sized?  Apparently Queen Victoria’s clothing was parceled out to staff members after her death, and some of the staffers’ families kept the garments for generations before finally being unable to resist the temptation to make a few bucks.  If I were Queen Elizabeth, or any member of the current royal family, or any kind of celebrity, I’d make sure to include a provision in my will that required all of my underwear be cast into the bonfire as soon as I breathed my last.

Ironic, isn’t it?  Queen Victoria so characterized primness and propriety that people now use the phrase “Victorian attitudes” to refer to antiquated, repressive views on gender and sex — and yet Queen Victoria’s underwear is being publicly displayed, sold to strangers, and made the subject of jokes because of its size.  I think the Queen would be shocked and sternly disapproving of this regrettable development.

“Spiritual” Celebrities

Recently I was scrolling through a news website and saw a story about some celebrity coming out of her most recent rehab.  During an interview, she declared that she was a “spiritual” person.

I don’t know how many celebrities are religious in the conventional sense, but few celebrities seem to want to declare that they are.  It seems old-fashioned, and inconsistent with the cutting-edge personas that most celebrities want to portray to the world.

At the same time, some social niceties must be observed, mustn’t they?  Celebrities can’t be all about getting hammered at late-night raves and being photographed under tables and shacking up with a new, dim-witted actor or rock star.  It seems so empty and vacuous.  So, their publicists decide that celebrities need to have a pet charity to show they support larger causes.  They need to make mindless political statements from time to time.  And, to show they’re really deep, they claim to be “spiritual.”

What does being “spiritual” mean?  Who knows?  It sounds good, though, doesn’t it — like maybe, once in a while, amidst the drinks and the drugs and the wild partying, the celebrity pauses to reflect on deeper issues.  It’s a wonderfully flexible, elastic term that has no fixed meaning.  Every listener imbues the term with their own sensibilities.

Our celebrity-obsessed culture disgusts and amuses me, and in this case the “spiritual” claim is worth a chuckle or two.  Really, is anyone fooled by this stuff?

Michelle Obama And The Oscars

On Sunday’s Oscars broadcast, First Lady Michelle Obama was the surprise presenter of the award for Best Picture.  What isn’t a surprise is that, in the wake of the Academy Awards show, some people have criticized her appearance as frivolous and not befitting her role as First Lady.

I’m heartily sick and tired of this kind of sanctimonious stuff.  I don’t see anything wrong with a First Lady participating in the Academy Awards broadcast if she wants to do so (although I’m not sure that, if I were the First Gentleman, I’d want to be part of the phony, kissy-face Hollywood scene).  It’s not as if Michelle Obama — or any other First Lady — is expected to be pondering weighty affairs of state at all hours of the day and night.  Even her husband, who unlike Michelle Obama was elected to his current leadership position, is not begrudged an occasional vacation, golf outing, or basketball game.  Why should anyone care if the First Lady wants to spend an hour of her time appearing on an awards show?

People who think First Ladies should act like Mamie Eisenhower are kidding themselves.  The line between politicians and celebrities has long since been blurred to non-existence.  Presidents and presidential candidates and First Ladies have been appearing on talk shows for years now; how is the Oscars broadcast materially different?  Hollywood is one of America’s most successful industries, one that employs a lot of people and generates a lot of income.  Would people object if the First Lady presented an award to, say, the Teacher of the Year or recognized the owner of a successful business that opened a new plant?  If not, why object to the First Lady’s acknowledgement of the film industry?

In our struggling country, Michelle Obama’s decision to present the Best Picture Oscar is the least of our concerns.  If the First Lady wants to share a bit in the glitz and glamor of Oscar Night, I’m not troubled by her decision.  Now, can we start talking about the real, important issues of the day?

The Extended Turtle Neck Position (And Other Celebrity Tricks Of The Trade)

Every so often, we are asked to update our photos on the firm’s website.  I always thought the update requests divided people into two categories — those who like, or even love, getting their picture taken, and those who dread the thought of getting in front of the camera again and will do whatever they can to avoid it.  Now I realize there is a third category:  those who know the tricks of the trade.

I recently met with an attorney who had a page of portrait proofs on his desk.  He said he used the “extended turtle neck position” when he had the photos taken, stretching out his neck and thrusting his head toward the camera.  This technique is supposed to eliminate sagging necklines, double chins, jowls, wattles, and other unsightly neck-related features that are an unfortunate consequence of aging.  It also makes your head look slightly larger, which supposedly enhances your attractiveness.  (Some psychologists contend that people with larger heads are deemed more attractive because they look more like infants and thereby trigger instinctive protective impulses.)  He said it’s just another trick used by cunning celebrities and not typically shared with those of us in the Great Unwashed — like the scene in Broadcast News where the William Hurt anchorman character explains that, when you are on camera, you should sit on the tails of your jacket so that your shoulders fit snugly and your shoulder lines stand out in sharp relief.

If you try the turtle neck position, you’ll soon realize it’s uncomfortable.  If I did it regularly, I’d end up with a stiff neck.  I guess putting up with a stiff neck — like having a face constantly tweaked by plastic surgeons, and wearing pounds of makeup, and getting yelled at by personal trainers — is just one of the prices of celebrity.  I’d rather just stick with my wattles.

Celebrities Are Sons And Daughters, Too

I was saddened to read of the death of Amy Winehouse.

Winehouse was a talented singer with a distinctive voice and a larger-than-life persona that included a larger-than-life beehive hairdo, tattoos, and heavy makeup.  Her best album, Back to Black, combined her fine vocal stylings with a retro lounge feel and included the great song Love Is A Losing Game.  Winehouse struggled with drinking and drug addiction problems.  Officially, the cause of her death is unexplained, pending an autopsy, although acquaintances are being quoted as saying she was on a binge.

On these sad occasions, my heart aches for the family of the deceased.  We tend to think of famous people as iconic figures who exist solely for our amusement and entertainment, without remembering that they are people like anyone else, with families who love them and have tried to help them when they struggle with their inner demons.  Winehouse’s parents didn’t look upon her as some famous singer, they saw her as their daughter and someone who brought joy to their lives.  I cannot imagine the pain they are experiencing as they attempt to deal with a gaping void in their lives.  I hope the media respects their privacy as they deal with their profound loss.