Invasion of the Celebrities

Oprah Winfrey is reportedly considering running for president in 2020, which is the sort of celebrity gossip we used to happily ignore but now have to take seriously in the age of President Donald Trump. She’s a more popular television personality than Trump was before launching his political career, has just as much government experience, and would no doubt get the same lavish media attention Trump received in a presidential race. Her penchant for leaving gifts under the seats would play well with many voters, too, and her warmer and fuzzier public persona might prove all the more appealing after four years of Trump.
There’s also talk of running the musicians Kid Rock or Ted “Motor City Madman” Nugent as Republican candidates for a Michigan Senate seat, billionaire sports owner and reality television star Mark Cuban is apparently starting to wonder why he couldn’t be president, rapper and Trump pal Kanye West has been making threats of a run for years, and former sitcom star Roseanne Barr already has a sixth-place finish in a presidential race and next time around all her crackpot conspiracy theories might not sound so crazy. Celebrities have leaped into high office before, including Sonny Bono and that guy who played the doctor on “Love Boat” to the House of Representatives, a former Saturday Night Live wag to the Senate, and professional wrestler Jesse “The Body” Ventura and professional body builder Arnold Schwarzenegger to the governorships of populous states.
The country had also elected a former Hollywood actor to the presidency, but only after he’d been president of a national labor union and served two terms as governor of the most populous state and many more years as an elder statesman of conservatism, and none of the current crop of celebrity contenders can boast such credentials. Kid Rock’s heavy-metal-rap-country stage show used to include a sidekick midget, so he can credibly claim to stand by the little man, and Nugent’s guitar solo on The Amboy Duke’s “Baby Please Don’t Go” still sounds better than that Elton John and Rolling Stones stuff Trump always plays at his rallies for some reason or another, but that’s not what we’re looking for in a candidate to what’s supposed to be the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body. Cuban strikes us as hipster version of Trump, and he traded Steve Nash from the Dallas Mavericks just before his Most Valuable Player Seasons, and unless he’s darned good on that reality show we’re not that impressed. Kanye West is kookier than Rosanne Barr, too, and the past track record of celebrity apprentices is not promising. Sonny Bono and the Love Boat guy were mediocrities in the House, that Saturday Night Live guy is as much an embarrassment to Minnesota as the pro wrestler was, and Schwarzenegger was far better in “Conan the Barbarian” than he was in the role of Governor of California.
Still, celebrities start with certain advantages if they decide to make a career change to politics. They start with bigger fan bases than mere politicians, for one, because everyone hates politicians. That popularity also derives from a certain image that can be easily carried into the ring, too, such as Trump’s blunt-spoken take-charge businessman shtick, or the sensitive and caring sincerity that Winfrey so effortlessly fakes, and we assume that even the likes of Rock and Nugent and West and Barr have some qualities people find so admirable that they’ve become rich and famous. There’s all that lavish attention the media pay to them, too, while the only time a mere public servant ever gets in the papers is when he’s raising taxes or cutting spending or letting budgets go in the red, because the reality of the real world is that those are really the only things anybody in office can do.
Even the most blunt-talking celebrities aren’t quite so frank as those limited choices and make a case for what they consider the least worst of them, so they peddle the notion that they overcome such dreary realities such as they’ve seemingly done in their own real lives. Celebrity is a lucrative industry into itself because it sells something people will always want, a vicarious experience of a life unconstrained by carpooling the kids to school and hearing rumors of lay-offs around the water cooler and coming home to a spouse who’s not aging as well as hoped and sitting on the couch to watch whatever’s on the tube, and the profit margins are high because you don’t have to produce anything real. Politics is a pretty lucrative business, too, especially if you have the same ethics as the average celebrity, but its results are always all too tangible.
People used to be fond of saying that “politics is the art of the possible,” but at this point in our popular culture, when one can be any race or sex or species of their choosing, and the conspiracies about a cabal of shape-shifting reptilian Jesuits and Jews and Masons and future presidential nominee Lady Gaga are part of an Illumnati that’s running everything are gaining wide currency, the idea that some things just aren’t possible is hopelessly out of fashion. Celebrity reality will likely prevail for a while, be it the tough Trump style or the softer Winfrey variety, or heaven help us even the West and Rock kind, but real reality always wins n the end.
They’d also say “politics is show biz for ugly people,” back in the day. We used to think that amusing and apt, but it’s no longer so funny and is also hopelessly out of date. These days politics is becoming show biz for people who haven’t aged so well despite their magical shape-shifting powers and are now too ugly or old-fashioned for show biz.

— Bud Norman

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

Our Least Favorite TV Show

Donald Trump’s new reality show is even more annoying than the last one, which you could at least turn off. This time around he’s on all the channels, all the time, and even if you turn off the television altogether and try to escape into the serious news on the internet he’s all over all that as well.
The show is apparently quite popular, judging by the record-setting audience for a way-too-early Republican presidential debate and Trump’s sizable plurality in this silly season of political polling, and it’s not all surprising. Trump’s campaign has all the elements of a hit reality show, with a rude and insulting and self-absorbed main character, plenty of gaudy bling to be vicariously enjoyed, and of course constant conflict. Just like those “Real Housewives” of various places and that “Snooky” person from “Jersey Shore” or the assorted Kardashians and their transgendered celebrity neighbors and the well-toned deviants trying to be the “Survivor” in some hellish jungle or remote island, the more outrageously Trump behaves the greater his popularity becomes. Even his latest celebrity tiff, with Fox News’ appropriately pretty journalist Megyn Kelly, provoked by her tough-but-fair questions during the debates, and followed in the next day’s episode by Trump telling some friendlier journalist that “she had blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever,” seems to have helped his ratings.
This would be just another mildly depressing example of America’s cultural decline, but Trump’s new act is presidential politics, and what makes for a hit reality show is not what is needed to properly govern a great nation. Trump’s most avid admirers believe otherwise, and argue that confrontational trash-talking and a certain boorish forcefulness and nihilistic disregard for any and all conventions will get all those Wall Street conspirators and head-chopping Islamists and job-stealing Chinese and Mexicans in line the same way that all those other reality show stars imposed their will on their weaker co-stars. They’re unable to name any successful leader of a great nation who has acted according to this theory, while we’re able to reel off a number of leaders of failed states who did so, but at this point people are enjoying the show to much to pause for such considerations.
One fellow we know who’s reasonable enough that he’ll eventually make that pause, but in the meantime he’s saying how much he likes that Trump is willing to bluntly express his opinions. We noted that Trump is now bluntly stating many opinions are very different than the ones he was bluntly stating just a year or so, and would likely be bluntly stating a whole new set of opinions should he ever find himself in a position that forced him to confront reality, but the fellow still seemed to relish the bluntness. Another friend already isn’t likely to support Trump, but insists that a record audience for a Republican debate and the rest of the media attention can only help the party. We argue that having so many people cheering for a reality show star’s gratuitous insults and preening braggadocio and utter lack of real solutions to America’s many dire problems, and seeing the very distinguished lot of successful Governors and distinguished Senators who make up the rest of the field being reduced to co-star status, is not likely to enhance the GOP’s image. All of Trump’s apologists mention his willingness to “fight” the media and the party’s leadership, as if sending out schoolyard taunts via “Tweets” and growling like one of those professional wrestlers were akin to actual fighting, but if they were to take stock of the rest of Trump’s co-stars they’d notice that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker took on the public sector unions, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has repeatedly defied his party leadership in a quixotic battle against Obamacare and deficit spending, and pretty much all of them are also pushing back against media bias without resorting to vulgarity.
We take some hope in the fact that it’s still way too early for presidential politics and this is the silly season of polling, and thus far most reality show stars have eventually returned to a well-earned obscurity, but we very eager for Trump to be cancelled.

— Bud Norman