Hollywood to the rescue

Posted: Sep 07, 2005 12:01 AM

The downpour of Hurricane Katrina brought with it a scourge of sickness, homelessness, injury and death. But the aftermath of Katrina has wrought its own special plague—a celebrity hurricane of opportunism and bad taste.

While most of America is embracing New Orleans’ tragedy as a chance to pull together and demonstrate a still-strong Christian character of caring for the least of these, Hollywood is embracing it as an opportunity to display their foolishness, egotism and utter lack of sensitivity.

Hip-hop half-wit Kanye West currently leads the pack with his outburst during the “Concert for Hurricane Relief.” On live television the rap superstar said, “George Bush doesn't care about black people.” He further suggested that Bush granted national guardsmen permission to randomly shoot African-Americans. Not to be overlooked in the ensuing controversy, Matt Damon gave props to West for his groundless tirade, telling Access Hollywood, "I'm not a fan of [President Bush], so I let out a big cheer."

The ladies are getting in on the act as well. Singer Celine Dion expressed anger at authorities for arresting gun-toting looters, and then criticized the Bush administration for taking so long to get federal rescuers into the area. Acknowledging that there may have been legitimate reasons for the 72-hour delay, Dion then declined to inform herself further, stating, “I don’t want to hear those reasons.”

Similarly, Angelina Jolie told the press she has written letters to The White House and Congress informing them that they must improve their response time in providing Katrina aid. "It is wonderful to hear of the relief efforts that are finally coming into New Orleans…but as we all know, it is simply not enough," she said.

As expected, none of the press members present asked Jolie how she could be so sure that the federal government hadn’t done everything it could as quickly as it could. No one queried her as to how she knew it was FEMA – and not local government officials – that dropped the ball in New Orleans. This isn’t surprising considering that celebrity outbursts are so frequently reported as hard news that some newspapers must have A-listers’ publicists on speed-dial.

I like Jolie as an actress and I understand that many men hold her in high regard as a, um, public figure. But who is Angelina Jolie (or any actor for that matter) to “urge” the Bush administration to adopt a policy regarding Katrina relief or anything else? Is she a historian with some special insight into how past generations responded to natural disasters? Is she a journalist who has research or sources that provide credible evidence the government withheld aid? No. She is an actress.

Once, Jane Fonda’s involvement in Vietnam stood out to Americans as a shameful anomaly. Today, there is no national event, whether tragic or triumphant, into which a horde of entertainers do not see fit to insert themselves.

Colin Farrell, the foul-mouthed Irish party boy who, by the way, has only resided in the U.S. since 1999, saw fit to offer this evaluation, “"If this had been a bunch of white people on the roofs of their houses I don't have any f***ing doubt there would have been every single helicopter, plane and means that the government has trying to help." His countryman Pierce Brosnan submitted yet another unsubstantiated judgment. “This man called President Bush has a lot to answer for,” he fumed, blaming the president’s environmental policies for the natural disaster.

Just what we need in our moment of crisis – foreign actors telling us what’s wrong with our government.

It would be one thing if actors and musicians would show up with a bit of humility and pass out water, food, and clothing – not to mention some funds from their ample bank accounts – to needy citizens. If they did this (and a few do) Americans would welcome them in the spirit of brotherly love and patriotic pride. Instead, most of them show up with camera crews (as Sean Penn did in his failed “rescue” trip to New Orleans) and attitudes of privilege. Their hubris is revolting.

In the past, Americans haven’t had the energy to be outraged by such celebrity exploits. So instead we laughed, knowing that the only people taking the spoiled stars seriously as they ranted and raved were themselves.

But in the midst of a tragedy like Katrina, most of us will stop finding these scavenging celebrity cabals funny. And we will no longer excuse their faux outrage and indignant self-promotion. Maybe then their box office numbers will fall so far they will have no choice but to give up politics and press conferences and dedicate themselves to making quality entertainment.

Now that sweet silence would be worthy of a Hollywood ending.