Words of wisdom from popular culture in the wake of Boston tragedy
Nothing seems to rile people up more than a celebrity offering commentary on current events.
It’s been on my mind in the aftermath of the bombings at the Boston Marathon this week, especially given that comedian and actor Jay Mohr ignited a mini-firestorm by opining via Twitter that doing away with the Second Amendment might be an answer to such a tragedy: “2nd Amendment must go. Violence has 2 stop.”
Now, were Jay Mohr just another arch-liberal hanging out down at The Rabbit Hole or Vienna Coffeeshop with little name recognition beyond a certain circle of friends, his Tweet would not have made headlines. But because most celebrities skew liberal when it comes to their politics, and because he has more than 230,000 people who follow him on the social media site, Mohr’s words are immediately regarded as fascist and inflammatory by conservatives across the country. Because he is famous, and because he’s espoused such an extremely liberal opinion, then it’s assumed many others must feel as he does, and that therefore the Second Amendment is under attack.
It is not; if anything, Jay Mohr’s Tweet and the uproar that followed says more about our love/hate relationship with celebrities than it does anything about Boston or violence or even guns, for that matter.
Let’s face it: We love celebrities. We love the films and television shows and albums they make. Were we to spot them changing planes at McGhee Tyson Airport, we would gawk and text our closest friends (and possibly run up to them shrieking and begging for an autograph, depending on the level of fame the celebrity has attained). We love them because when we listen to a record that speaks to our hearts or walk out of a movie with our minds reeling or scream in shock at our TV when a surprise ending to our favorite program throws us for a loop, they are no longer the celebrities we read about in the tabloids.
They are characters — imaginary people we’re either quite fond of or loathe more than anything else on the planet. When we see their faces on the news or in a magazine, we don’t think of them as the very real people they are; we immediately associate them with the roles they’ve played that are closest to our hearts.
For example, I adore “The Walking Dead.” The lead actor, Andrew Lincoln, he’s a British national who trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and rose to fame as a character named Egg on the BBC drama “This Life.” But were I to encounter him at Walmart, I would immediately begin addressing him as if he were Rick Grimes, the former Georgia-sheriff-turned-zombie-killer on “The Walking Dead.” I would ask him about Daryl Dixon — another fictional character — and express concern for his fictional hallucinations, and I would have no interest whatsoever in anything outside the realm of that show.
And if he were to interrupt and say something like, “Thanks, but hey, what do you think about the bombings in Boston? I think our culture of violence probably contributed to them, and I’m thinking about quitting ‘The Walking Dead’ so as not to be a part of that culture any more,” I would probably instantly dislike Andrew Lincoln the person, and quite possibly slap him.
This same reaction, I believe, is what turns us against the very celebrities we love as fictional characters whenever they speak out about national and world affairs. So many of us don’t want Bruce Springsteen to champion a political candidate; we want him to always be the sweaty, ferocious guy leading an awesome band through an encore of “Thunder Road” while we hug the necks of our buddies and sing along in fawning, teary-eyed bliss. We don’t want Alec Baldwin to give a smarmy speech about the dangers of firearms; we want him to be smarmy with Liz Lemon and abuse poor Kenneth.
It would be wise, I believe, it celebrities kept their opinions to themselves, but that’s both impossible and unfair, given that they’re entitled to their opinions just as we are, and they’re asked about everything from their favorite foods on set to their thoughts on the effectiveness of the Kellogg-Briand Peace Pact. With Twitter, they’re just as likely as Jimmy down at the Gas-n-Go to blurt out the first thing that crosses their minds in the wake of a nationwide calamity like what happened in Boston.
And sometimes, those thoughts turn out to be brilliant, beautiful things. Such was the case this week when comedian Patton Oswalt took to Facebook to share his thoughts. He remarked on the number of unsung heroes, regular men and women, who raced toward the blast to help those injured; he expressed gratitude that such people outnumber those responsible for the bombing; and he reminded us all: “This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago. So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, ‘The good outnumber you, and we always will.’”
After what happened earlier this week, we need to hear that. And in saying it, perhaps Patton Oswalt has done exactly what we expect famous people to do: To elevate our own existence into a place where all things are possible, a place we all want to visit for a while as we sit in a darkened theater, a place we leave feeling better for having gone there.
Only this place isn’t fictional, and for that, Oswalt should be hailed as a guy who went above and beyond what’s expected from our media-obsessed, reality-show driven culture. And that’s something to which you can’t assign a dollar value.
Steve Wildsmith is the Weekend editor for The Daily Times. Contact him at (firstname.lastname@example.org) or at 981-1144.