Letter from California

An archive of the weekly "Letter from Calfornia", written by Jim McCarthy.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Letter from California-January 26, 2004

I’ve heard Hollywood-types occasionally repeat the saying, “politics is show business for ugly people.” Maybe in the past, you could have drawn a line between politics and show biz and separated people accordingly: doughy-faced shlubs and women in sensible shoes on one side; hunky dudes with cleft chins and Barbie dolls in Bruno Magli heels on the other. No more. In the Age of Governor Arnold, it’s tough to tell the wonks from the studs. Schwarzenegger has gotten very good at talking about complex policy issues and just to balance things out, the Democrats in the state Assembly have toned up their delts and glutes and put on a few pounds of muscle mass.

I made that last part up, but could it be that show business is just politics for stupid people? The last few years have seen a change in the attitudes of entertainers toward open participation in politics. It used to be thought that a star’s personal feelings about politics should be kept personal and not thrust upon the world. For example, Farrah Fawcett ruled the television and bikini poster world during the mid-70s and no one ever heard about her passionate support for the preservation of the unicorn. She just didn’t feel it was appropriate to burden her many fans with it.

Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen are neither stupid nor ugly people. Danson, you’ll remember, starred as recovering alcoholic and former pro baseball player Sam Malone in Cheers and Steenburgen, his wife, has been a successful actress in both TV shows and movies whose names you can’t remember for years . A few days ago, they both announced with great fanfare their support for General Wesley Clark in the Democratic primaries. They even left the warm Santa Monica sun for the frozen tundra of New Hampshire to extol the virtues of General Clark to the locals. Pity the good people of New Hampshire-if they’re not getting a phone call with a pre-recorded message from one of the candidates, they’re being hassled while shopping by an Hollywood actor. Imagine it: “Honey, don’t go to the mall. Sam from Cheers and that woman who’s been in all those movies won’t let you leave.”

Stars, like anybody, have the right to express their political opinions, and many of them seem to be going for the General. Madonna, also neither stupid nor ugly, most recently published a letter on her website explaining that while she had never before come out in support of a candidate during the primaries, she just felt she had to do it. Why Clark? The most specific thing she had to say about him is that he is “smart and good.” She thinks the current administration has a “complete lack of consciousness” which must be corrected immediately.

If you aren’t convinced by now, well, I’m not surprised. Clark, if elected, could prove to be a wonderful President, and it may be true that Bush is completely unconscious for more than the required 6 to 8 hours a night. Still, the question worth trying to answer is why? Why does someone like Madonna, who has an IQ of 140, write and publish a letter that’s as thoughtful and clever as a Bazooka Joe comic? Why would Danson and Steenburgen assume that any rock-ribbed New Hampshire-ite would give any more weight to their political opinions than to the opinions of the guy down the street who volunteers at the soup kitchen or runs a small engine repair shop? General Clark isn’t asking that guy to wow the crowds for him.

It reminds me of the time that I almost hospitalized Jamie Lee Curtis. I was walking around a street corner in Santa Monica a few years ago and there she was, trundling her two little kids into a bakery. Being about 100 pounds lighter than me and distracted by her kids, Jamie Lee would have gotten by far the worse of the collision. After I recovered from the double shock of nearly clobbering a movie star and being dazzled by how good she looked in person, there was a brief moment where we were looking at each other. I said, “oh, sorry” or something like that. She didn’t say anything at all. She just gave me a look that said, “I know you know I’m a star, and that’s enough.”

They must go through their whole lives like that, with most people just dazzled to see them. I loved Halloween and Trading Places. She’s a good actress and her reputation is that she’s a good mom and a nice person. It was very cool to see her (and of course that no teeth were lost or bones broken in the process), but it wasn’t anything more to me than a funny story to put in a newspaper column one day. She saw my surprise and delight at seeing her, but she didn’t see the fact that 2 minutes later, I was completely over it.

So Madonna, Ted, Mary, express yourselves. Support your favorite politicians. It’s your right to do so. Just remember that even though we’re excited to see you, we don’t expect you to say anything important.

Leave that to the generals and the engine repair guys.


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