Celebrities Need to Understand Their Own Country

Rich Tucker

10/25/2010 9:49:39 AM - Rich Tucker

Perhaps the easiest way to generate positive publicity for your cause is to draft a megastar as its spokesman.

For example, when Bono accompanied then-Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill on a tour of Africa some years ago, reporters were happy to go along and write glowing dispatches from exotic locales. Have these places shown much progress since? Who knows? Bono went back on tour with U2, O’Neill retired to write books criticizing President Bush and, in Africa, life went on as usual.

But maybe all the continent needs is bigger stars. Instead of Bono, how about George Clooney?

He recently returned from a trip to Sudan, and popped by the White House to brief President Obama on the situation there. Now, it’s wonderful that Americans such as Clooney want to help others. But this raises a question: How well do these Hollywood stars understand their own country?

Now well.

Consider Clooney’s most recent film, aptly named “The American.” What, exactly, is an American? Well, in this case, Clooney’s an international hit man. Ah. A killer. Just like the typical American boy next door.

In The Atlantic, reviewer Christopher Orr writes that, “Clooney is less Everyman than every man’s idealized self: stoic yet not unfeeling, bruised but unfaltering.” And he kills people for a living.

It’s not the first time Clooney’s portrayed an American overseas. In Syriana (he was also executive producer), Clooney starred as hard working CIA operative Bob Barnes. He’s sent to the Middle East to assassinate a regional prince who seems to favor forcing American troops to leave his country.

In a way, it’s nice to think of our CIA as an omnipotent organization, coolly gathering and breaking down information about America’s enemies. In Syriana, as in the Bourne series, “The Company” is everywhere and all-powerful. Sadly, the reality is much different.

“The CIA’s ability to produce human source intelligence is dismal. It has become a bureaucratic creature loyal only to itself, with almost unlimited funds and no accountability,” writes former CIA agent Ishmael Jones in his book "The Human Factor."

American intelligence services missed the clues leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks. The famous briefing paper from August 2001 (made public by the 9/11 Commission) warned President Bush: “bin Laden Determined To Strike in US.”

Well, of course. Anyone who’d read a newspaper at the time knew that. Where? When? How? Those are the questions for an intelligence service. The memo also wars that al Qaeda may be conducting “surveillance of federal buildings in New York” and warns that a source had reported “a group of bin Laden supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives.”

Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum recently criticized this sort of vague intelligence warning. After the State Department cautioned on Oct. 3 that “Terrorists may elect to use a variety of means and weapons and target both official and private interests,” Applebaum wrote that Americans abroad hear these alerts and “do nothing because if the language is that vague, then nobody is really sure why the warning has been issued in the first place.” Exactly.

It would be nice if Hollywood in general and Clooney in particular painted a more accurate domestic picture. But they fail on the home front as well.

Clooney’s played essentially the same character twice in recent years. In 2007 he portrayed stoic lawyer Michael Clayton, the “fixer” for a major law firm. Clayton’s loyal only to the bottom line. “I’m not the guy you kill. I’m the guy you buy,” he announces at one point, after a major corporation has attempted to bump him off. So that’s what corporations do? Kill people?

Or at least fire them.

In 2009’s “Up in the Air,” Clooney plays a corporate hitman of sorts. He makes his living flying around the country downsizing people. Some take it well. Some kill themselves. Clooney is above it all, focusing only on his goal of piling up ten million frequent flyer miles. Everywhere he goes there are empty offices; it’s amazing he has anyone left to fire.

This must be what most of the country looks like to Hollywood: A bunch of unhappy people being fired or killed every day by American corporations. No wonder they’d rather fly over it than live in it.