Celebrity is a form of power and a kind of currency, a means of exchange. We need to remember this whenever we observe a film star on the way up, or a boxer on the way down, endorsing some cause with a high fashion quotient and potential for media attention.
The media use celebrities to sell units, but it also gives back to the celebrity a kind of credit for cooperation with its agendas. To exploit celebrity ideologically is, for the star, a form of saving, enabling him or her to store up credits for a rainy day. That is why celebrities line up to support things like abortion and gay marriage: by doing so they can prolong their years of exposure to public attention.
Celebrity is therefore an enormous responsibility, like possessing excessive physical strength or driving an extra-powerful car. It has the potential to pose danger for others. It is not something weightless or costless.
And this is why I have felt so disgusted at the parade of celebrities – domestic and international – lining up on the Repeal side of the Irish referendum campaign. Repeal means “abort”, which means “kill”. Yet to watch these people cavorting around in the course of photo opportunities – grinning inanely and making faces for the camera – you would think they were participating in a fundraiser for their local children’s home. Instead, they add the weight of their fame and influence to an already over-subscribed initiative to destroy the rights of children at their most vulnerable stage of existence. This is shameful beyond words.
And there is nothing brave about it. On the contrary, it is groupthink incarnate: weak people ganging up to make each other look good, at the expense of the weakest of all.
Three weeks ago, a clutch of minor male celebrities – pretty much all domestic to Ireland – came out under the banner Men4Yes. There were rugby players and pundits, television presenters, a lightweight boxer, an unfunny comedian. The following week, the heavy-hitters came out in support of Amnesty’s pro-Repeal campaign: U2, Liam Neeson, Saoirse Ronan etc.
Liam Neeson wrote an article in the Sunday Independent in which he delivered himself of various disingenuous pieties. The referendum was a time to “stand up and be counted”. He elaborated: “Yes, gone are the days when our country used to drop our pregnant women and girls off at the gates of institutions that hid them behind high walls.
“Yet still we drop our girlfriends, wives, daughters, sisters and mothers to the departure gates at Dublin Airport, forcing them to travel to other countries to access basic healthcare services and denying them necessary aftercare upon their return.”
There was not a word in the article about the babies who stood to be killed if the Eighth Amendment is repealed on May 25. The deliberate killing of a human being is not a “basic healthcare service”: it is a basic act of evildoing. If a man from Mars were to read the article, he might be forgiven for assuming that Neeson was talking about women going to England for the treatment of ingrown toenails.
The U2 intervention was the crassest contribution I have ever seen to such a discussion, adequately captured by recalling guitarist Edge’s assertion that repealing the Eighth Amendment was “the smart thing to do”, as if he were offering us a tip on a horse.
We the people have power too: the power to decide not to support the work of those who misuse their celebrity status by endorsing dubious issues in an ignorant or indifferent or trivialising way. We have a choice and the right to make it.
To the extent that we can help it, we must put an end to these obscenities by refusing to hand over our money to such people for the products they purvey; we must stop extending to them the power they use to attack the most defenceless.
This is what the “liberal” establishment does to those who dare to challenge its agendas: it puts pressure on employers, sponsors and advertisers until the dissenter is rendered unemployable.
It’s time to fight fire, to say to these narcissists: will you please leave us in peace to run our civilisations in accordance with our own values, and stop using your celebrity muscle to bully us into viewpoints that you haven’t first bothered to investigate?
John Waters is an author and columnist
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