Thursday, March 23, 2006

House of Lords, Part Deux

A "highly credible public figure"

THE SEQUEL. Back in January, we suggested that the liberal universe is organized around an older cultural model than the Constitution of the United States, namely, the French concept of four estates: the nobility, the clergy, the peasants, and the press. The current version, we argued, regards the Democratic leadership as the nobility, secularist university faculties as the clergy, conservatives and dependent minorities as the peasantry, and the press, of course, is still the press. The specific context for our discussion was the Alito nomination to the Supreme Court, and we proposed that the Dems would like the judiciary to augment and supercede the Congress as a kind of House of Lords. (You can read the whole essay here, if you like, but do it later.)

Our consideration of the liberal nobility focused on the U.S. Senate, but there's another arena where one can see the anachronistic revival of a born aristocracy in action: Hollywood. Has anyone else noticed how many of the current stable of stars are descendants of other celebrities and show business moguls? In the old days, this was rarely the case, and the few exceptions proved the rule: Lon Chaney, Jr., followed directly in the footsteps of Lon Chaney, Sr.; Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., emulated the career of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., and, notably, the offspring of the illustrious Barrymore siblings -- John, Lionel, and Ethel -- fared poorly in their own attempts to light up movie marquees. And we suppose we should mention Frank Sinatra, Jr, Patrick Wayne, and Chris Mitchum. There. It's done.

But in the world-changing sixties, the worm turned. As with so many contemporary show business trends in the U.S., this one began with Jane Fonda, who parlayed her father's superstardom into a career, first as a semi-soft-porn bimbo in Barbarella and other forgettable films, then as a celebrity political activist and international movie star. After her, the deluge: Michael Douglas, son of Kirk Douglas; Alan Alda, son of Robert Alda; Jamie Lee Curtis, daughter of Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis; Katherine Ross, niece of Katherine Hepburn; Anjelica Huston,  daughter of actor and director John Huston; Rob Reiner, son of actor and producer Carl Reiner; Carrie Fisher, daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher; Margaux and Mariel Hemingway, granddaughters of Ernest Hemingway; Drew Barrymore, granddaughter of John Barrymore; Angelina Jolie, daughter of Jon Voight; Kiefer Sutherland, son of Donald Sutherland; Sean and Christopher Penn, sons of screenwriter Leo Penn; Isabella Rossellini, daughter of Ingrid Bergman; Gwyneth Paltrow, daughter of actress Blythe Danner; Miguel Ferrer, son of actor Jose Ferrer; Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen, sons of Martin Sheen; Sean Astin, son of Patty Duke and John Astin; George Clooney, nephew of singer and actress Rosemary Clooney; Nicholas Cage, nephew of director Francis Ford Coppola; Sigourney Weaver, daughter of producer Sylvester Weaver; Robert Downey, Jr., son of director Robert Downey, Sr.; Bridget Fonda, daughter of Peter Fonda and niece of Jane Fonda; Kate Hudson, daughter of Goldie Hawn; Freddie Prinze, Jr., son of comedian Freddie Prinze; Roseanna, Patricia, and David Arquette, grandchildren of comedian Cliff Arquette; Liv Tyler, daughter of rock star Steve Tyler; and probably others we'll remember later.

Of course, there are still plenty of Hollywood stars who come from nothing and nowhere, but surely there has been enough second and third generation stardom by now to make one wonder how much of show biz success is a function of real talent and how much is a function of connections and serendipity. Interestingly, there's very little of this multi-generation stardom to be found in the world's other great (and arguably greater) acting talent pool, the United Kingdom. The Redgrave and Mills girls are all pretty long in the tooth now, and Geraldine Chaplin hasn't made much of a splash since 1965's Dr. Zhivago. But isn't it the U.K. which is still clinging officially to the tradition of aristocracy by birth? What does it mean that Hollywood is beginning to resemble a community where titles are inherited things while we look in vain across the pond for a corresponding phenomenon in the land of kings, dukes, and earls?

Two attributes of the above list of stars are striking. First, despite their roots in the entertainment industry, an inordinate number of them have experienced deep personal and professional turmoil over the years. Various of them have been arrested, some repeatedly, for legal problems ranging from drug and alcohol abuse to assault. And it may seem priggish to point out that of the female aristocrats on the list, all but one have done nude scenes and most have simulated the sex act on screen -- priggish but nonetheless true (definitely NSFW). Yes, the Hollywood life is a fast life featuring plenty of temptations, and artists are notoriously flamboyant, but the personal lives of these privileged heirs to fame and fortune tend to be every bit as messy as those who enter the world of celebrity with no early preparation for the shock of stardom. Even the "artist" excuse becomes suspect in these circumstances. How many great writers and painters do you know of who are the sons or daughters of great writers or painters? No wonder actors refer so ostentatiously to their profession as a craft rather than an art. And even if you make every allowance for the unique stresses of celebrity, the irreducible fact that remains is this: these are not people who have grown up like most of us or who have lived lives anything like ours. They are a breed apart, a separate class in the world's most egalitarian democracy.

That's why the second striking attribute of this list is so striking: the percentage of second and third generation Hollywood aristocrats who are loudly and self-righteously hostile to Republicans on topics ranging from capitalism to social values to foreign policy. For some reason, they believe they are expert advocates for the needs and rights of ordinary people. Alan Alda is a sappy male feminist and bleeding heart. Rob Reiner hasn't found a leftwing cause he can't slobberingly endorse in every possible venue. Sean Penn has the nerve to visit Saddam's Iraq as if he somehow speaks for any sliver of ordinary American experience. Gwyneth Paltrow goes out of her way to disdain Americans and the American way of life in foreign interviews, as if she knew anything about either. George Clooney is a boorish leftwing ass who acts more like a candidate for office than a so-so actor with more ambition and connections than talent. Angelina Jolie is auditioning simultaneously for the  roles of Mother Theresa and secretary-general of the U.N. Michael Douglas has delusions of Democrat presidency almost as toxic as Martin Sheen's. And if you google their names, you'll find others on this list, including even the winsome Kate Hudson, who are eager participants and donors at Democrat fundraising (and Bush-bashing) galas.

Which brings us to Charlie Sheen, erstwhile addict of hookers and cocaine, who has just stepped into the spotlight to announce his conviction that the 9/11 attack was not planned by bin Laden or Islamist terrorists, but evil rightwingers in the camp of Bush and Cheney. The news article reporting this actually begins with this ridiculous statement:

Actor Charlie Sheen has joined a growing army of other highly credible public figures in questioning the official story of 9/11 and calling for a new independent investigation of the attack and the circumstances surrounding it.

Highly credible public figure? Charlie Sheen? An assertion so idiotic that it's proof-positive of our First Estate theory. But Bad Boy Charlie's choice of causes is a helpful insight into the true nature of lefty celebrity politics. Where have they gotten the majority of their education about world affairs, after all? From the movie scripts they've memorized and play-acted in. His first big role was in Platoon, where he learned about the Vietnam War and American foreign policy from the paranoid megalomaniac Oliver Stone (who is also memorable for having resurrected an absolutely discredited conspiracy theory about the JFK assassination). Charlie has starred in various other movies featuring wild conspiracy plots, including alien invasion and White House assassination intrigues. He has learned about the nearly flawless efficiency of his country's special forces units by starring in Navy SEALs. Why wouldn't it be credible to him that an intricate and profoundly evil conspiracy could be planned at the top of the national power structure and executed through its myriad phases and details in absolute secrecy? It happens in the movies all the time, and it's always the case -- on-screen, anyway -- that the malignant plotters would succeed easily if it weren't for the handsome hero who single-handedly undoes their dirty work.

But why would anyone -- especially the intellectuals of the news media -- expect us to regard an advocate like Charlie Sheen as credible? Because the press propagandists also belong to one of the anointed estates -- the Fourth -- and are so removed from the lives of the peasantry that they believe we are gullible enough to genuflect before any of the nation's true aristocrats, including a spoiled high-school dropout who hitched a glory ride on the back of his Dad's celebrity. We're supposed to forget that this particular noble family is headed by a patriarch who flunked his own college entrance exams and has yet come to believe somehow that he's the Nobel laureate PhD. President he plays on a TV show.

The sad fact is that the years-old 9/11 conspiracy theories are being deliberately revived right now as part of the general effort to administer a coup de grace to the Bush presidency. Celebrity endorsement is a necessary vehicle for this scheme because time has not been friendly to the conspiracy theorists. Only a determined idiot could sign on to all that's left of their witches' brew of contextless claims. How, for example, do you think Charlie acquired his expertise in the gospel of WTC treachery? By watching a movie, of course, in this case one of the numerous flash documentaries that appear and reappear in viral persistence on the Internet. Here's one called Loose Change, which is archetypally ominous in tone, inconsistent with multifariously documented facts, and blatantly self-contradictory in its own terms. And if you can't discern these defects by watching, here's what even a dedicated 9/11 conspiracy theorist has to say about the movie.

While it is still possible to find thousands -- or even hundreds of thousands -- of web pages devoted to crackpot fictions about 9/11, the more educated of the conspiracists have been waging a long war of attrition against the transparent nonsense of films like Loose Change for a couple years now. Their own belief in conspiracy has been reduced to one point of contention -- the way the twin towers and Building 7 fell. Their understanding of physics is insufficient to imagine how the towers could collapse at the speed of freefall, because they keep seeing the process as an incremental series of floor-to-floor collapses (akin to the fallacy of Zeno's Arrow), which, by their accounting, would require ten seconds or more to complete.

Seriously, that's all that's left of the dozens of errata which have been compiled into the bizarre story that lets bin Laden and al Qaida off the hook. And anyone who has the wit to perceive that the collapse of the towers was not an incremental affair, but a wave of collapse that fed instantaneously from the level of the fire down to the foundations without resistance will see that, in truth, there's really nothing left of this whole tired tantrum of hateful paranoia.

And shouldn't it be easier to understand a few elementary aspects of materials and engineering than to concoct an explanation for why hijacked airliners were roped into the conspiracy for window-dressing when the real damage was always going to be done by planted explosives? Terrorists can learn to implode a building as easily, if not more so, than they can learn to steer airliners into skyscrapers. But it's not nearly as good cinematically, even if it reduces the complexity (and risk) of the plotting by about 99 percent.

Maybe that's why it's become time to call on Hollywood's second-generation morons to concoct the explanation for them, some combination of evil corporate executives and fascist warlords who went into business for themselves after James Bond finally dismantled S.P.E.C.T.R.E. Sound good? Maybe we could get John Williams to write the score.

And if Charlie Sheen isn't enough of an authority to convince all us peasants, perhaps they'll dig up some second generation Hollywood duchess to persuade us by holding a topless press conference catered by George Soros and CAIR. That ought to do the trick. We just love being lectured to by naked noblewomen. As long as we can see the press conference on high-def TV.

Thank God for Democrats. They're so damned silly it takes your breath away.

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