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At the Vortex of Politics and Show Biz

In our desperation to find something to read and write about other than that awful presidential race we even looked in on the latest celebrity news the other day, but of course we could find no respite there.
The Los Angeles Times covers Hollywood with the same avid interest that The Detroit Free Press covers the automotive trade and The Wichita Eagle covers the general aviation biz, so its internet front page featured a pleasantly diverting take on the disappointing opening weekend box office take for the latest big-budget “Ben Hur,” which the writer reported was the latest summer dud “in a glut of reboots, sequels, and remakes that audiences don’t want.” That only reminded us that the next four years will be either a sequel to the scandalous Clinton mini-series or a re-boot of “Celebrity Apprentice,” however, and we couldn’t help clicking on another front page headline blaring that “Donald Trump delivers his biggest insult yet, demeaning celebrities for their not-hotness.”
After Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton took in a huge fund-raising haul on her trip to Hollywood, Republican nominee Trump told a presumably less star-studded crowd in Tampa, Florida, that “The only enthusiastic supporters of her campaign are Hollywood celebrities, in many cases celebrities that aren’t very hot anymore.” With the same company town enthusiasm that The Detroit Free Press celebrated the auto bail-outs, and The Wichita Eagle protested President Barack Obama’s rhetoric against “corporate jets,” The Los Angeles Times stood up for its hometown workers by noting that that Clinton’s contributors included such familiar names as Justin Timberlake, Jennifer Anniston, Cher, Jamie Foxx, Kanye West, and George Clooney, while noting that Scott “Chachi” Baio of “Happy Days” fame was “the closest thing to an A-list celebrity at the Republican National Convention Last Month.”
At that point we were just a click away from the paper’s “Celebrity endorsement tracker,” and of course there was no resisting that vortex of show biz and politics. We’ll assume that The Los Angeles Times’ tracking of celebrity endorsements is definitive, and we’re not at all surprised that it shows the usual Democratic advantage. You’ll have to scroll down nearly halfway before you run out of mug shots of Clinton’s big name and big bucks supporters, and then more than halfway down to get through the ones who were supporting self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders back in the day back when that crazy idea seems possible. Both lists include several other people so darned famous that even we’ve heard of them, even if we’ve never seen any of their movies or heard any of their songs, as well as some folks such as Dick Van Dyke and Tony Bennett who aren’t that hot anymore but we well remember from their glory days, along with the same old lineup of usual suspects that we’ve never heard of all and some others that we are only vaguely and unpleasantly aware of.
By now the gold-plated Trump brand has more universal name recognition than any of those actors or rappers or singers or hoofers or leaked-sex-tape stars, however, and even The Los Angeles Times is obliged to report that he has also has some well-known supporters. Along with the aforementioned Baio there’s Gary Busey, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his title role performance in “The Buddy Holly Story” some decades back and is otherwise best known as that crazy guy on “Celebrity Apprentice,” and Jon Voight, who brilliantly played Joe Buck in “Midnight Cowboy” and the guy with the “pretty mouth” who climbed that cliff in “Deliverance” among other great roles, but is now best known as the father of that Angelina Jolie woman, and Kid Rock, whose strange combination of inner-city rap and trailer-park country and past collaboration with a midget were sort of endearing to us. He’s also got the support of such sports figures as former heavyweight champion of the world and convicted rapist and admitted wife-beater and ear-biting thug “Iron” Mike Tyson, Dennis “The Worm” Rodman, the cross-dressing basketball power forward from the ’90s and more recently a good friend of the North Korean dictatorship and contestant on “Celebrity Apprentice,” and basketball coach Bobby Knight, who was fired from Indiana University despite a Hall of Fame-calber career for being an abrasive and insulting and temperamental jerk. The professional wrestling star Hulk Hogan, who recently put the Gawker website out of business by suing them for releasing a leaked sex tape of him and somebody else whose name we should probably know, is also on board with his fellow former World Wrestling Entertainment headliner, as is heavy metal guitarist Ted “Motor City Madman” Nugent, who we have to admit laid down a hell of a guitar solo on “Baby Please Don’t Go” way back in The Amboy Dukes days.
The Los Angeles Times has been keeping track of this long enough to note that Republican runner-up Texas Sen. Cruz’ only endorsement was from one of those long-bearded guys on that “Duck Dynasty” show, which we’ve never seen and are not sure is still on the air, and that third-place finisher Ohio Gov. John Kasich never racked up a single celebrity endorsement. This seems to suggest that celebrity endorsements have some worrisome effect, but at this point have no idea what it will be. We care not a whit what any of these celebrities think, the nominees and non-nominees alike, even the ones whose careers we have enjoyed and whose personalities we have found pleasant enough presences on our popular culture, and we can’t discount that possibility that even the worst of them might by happenstance be right about whose more awful in this horrible presidential race.
Lately our tastes in entertainment and culture have run more to the “alternative” offerings, and we’ll also wind up casting a meaningless vote in that direction. Except for the exceptional case of Ronald Reagan we haven’t paid any attention to an actor’s political opinions since John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart died, and we’re not about to start now. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Noam Chomsky is said to be a brilliant linguist, but his political opinions are pure idiocy, and the Nobel Prize-winning William Shockley was undeniably sharp about physics but as clearly batty about his white supremacism, and we don’t see how a proficiency for acting or singing or rapping or rebounding, or even such a square jaw as George Clooney posses, is a better indicator of political wisdom.
There used to be something of value to be found in America’s popular culture, back in the days where we mostly seek our alternatives, but that was in the late 19th Century when Lew Wallace had a best-seller of a novel in “Ben Hur: A Story of the Christ,” and then again in the roaring ’20s when Ramon Naverro starred in a state-of-the-silent-movie-art  version, and as recently as the year of our birth, when Charlton Heston had the title role in a remake that had sound and widescreen technicolor and thirty years of other rapid technological advances going for it. Since then all these computer generated images and other high-tech gizmos don’t seem to have improved on story-telling movie-making, and we don’t expect that “Story of the Christ” subtitle has much box-appeal these days, and the celebrities aren’t nearly so intriguing as they used to be back when they mostly kept their political opinions to themselves. That the two most recognized celebrities of the moment are pitching a Clinton mini-series sequel or a “Celebrity Apprentice” reboot suggests that by now pretty much everything is just reboots and sequels and remakes that audiences don’t want.

— Bud Norman

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Hacking Hollywood

Hollywood holds little interest for us these days, to the point that we hardly know whose sex lives we’re ignoring, but we can’t resist reading about the information that was recently stolen from the Sony Corporation’s computers. None of it is at all surprising, and so far as we can tell there aren’t any of the nude “selfies” of movie starlets that the last big Hollywood computer heist revealed, but it is entertainingly embarrassing.
There’s really nothing embarrassing about being “hacked” these days, as all the big industries and even the White House have been victims of the newfangled crime, but one might have expected more of Hollywood. We had thought that all the top-notch computer talent was currently employed generating images for the latest “Star Wars” installment or Marvel Comics adaptation, and that surely such a tech-savvy company as Sony would be able to stave off the best efforts of the cyber-criminals, so it does prompt a satisfied chuckle that they’re not any better at keeping their memos out of sight than any other sorts of office workers. They haven’t yet programmed a computer that can come up with an original idea, either, and we are relieved to note that there are still some limits to all this technological progress.
The most gleefully reported of the purloined e-mails are those that show studio executives as every bit as the studio executive characters in the movies. Time Magazine was particularly outrage by an exchange between two backlot big-wigs, shortly after the president had delivered a lavishly complimentary speech to the movie on the occasion of yet another big-money fundraiser, jokingly speculating about Obama’s favorite movies. The gag was they mentioned only releases marketed to black audiences, and although they didn’t mention “Superfly” or “Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Song” or any of the “Dolemite” flicks of the blaxploitation era, which we think would have been funnier, Time found it all distastefully racist. Another e-mail revealed some executive’s opinion that Leonardo DiCaprio is “despicable” for backing out of a role in an upcoming movie, which does not offend us. DiCaprio is so famous that we’ve heard of him, and a we’ve even seen him in a few movies that we kind of liked but not well enough to remember the title, and his acting wasn’t horrible even if it did leave us wondering whatever happened to the days when there were real movie stars, but we also know him as a jet-setting “global warming” activist and a celebrity guest at the Occupy sit-ins and other fashionable events, so we figure the executive is entitled to his opinion. Yet another e-mail has an executive gossiping that George Clooney has his feelings hurt by negative reviews, but we would likely be untroubled by that even if we cared much about George Clooney. Clooney was very good in “O Brother, Where Art Thou” and “Intolerable Cruelty,” both of which we enjoyed, and it gives us a hopeful feeling that a gray-haired man of a certain age can be still regarded as a sex symbol, but he’s enough of a Hollywood know-it-all liberal that we’re pleased to learn of his insecurities.
Creative properties were apparently stolen, as well, including the script for the next James Bond movie. This horrified the Fleet Stteet fellows at The Telegraph, who noted that the publicity had already revealed the title as well as the latest Bond girl and Bond car, but we figure that once you know the title and girl and car of the latest Bond the plot is hardly worth hacking. One wonders why the hackers, who go by the peculiar nom de cyber of Guardians of Peace, went after such stale material when they could have gone after a more scandalous industry such as journalism.
Largely ignored by the mainstream, but duly noted by the keen eyes over at Powerline, were the memos that revealed the publicity department’s eagerness to downplay any patriotic sentiment that might have seeped into a couple of new releases. One was “Captain Phillips,” a Tom Hanks vehicle about the U.S. Navy’s fight against Somali pirates, and another was “White House Down,” a thriller set in the titular residence, so one can well understand the department’s stated goal to “avoid American themes.” There’s a lot to dislike about Hollywood, and the fact that everyone there seems to dislike everyone doesn’t make our top ten list.

— Bud Norman