Hollywood and Obama.
Obama is in trouble. Hollywood’s liberal (and very wealthy) community is angry and frustrated.
The actual number of people taking part in the Occupy Wall Street movement is very low.
Last week I visited the camp outside Los Angeles City Hall and found about two hundred stoned students waving upside down placards.
But OWS has gained a lot of media attention by attracting famous friends.
In recent days, the demonstrations have been joined by Tim Robbins, Michael Moore, Kanye West and Alec Baldwin. Roseanne Barr, who is officially running for president, told the crowd in New York that we should guillotine bankers.
Why the sudden interest from celebrities? And what does it say about politics in the real world? In an indirect way, it says Obama is in trouble.
Hollywood’s liberal community is angry and frustrated.
For starters, it doesn’t feel appreciated by the President. They helped hype Obama as a candidate and raised a big sum of money. One single Hollywood fundraiser in September 2008 (attended by Will Ferrell, Jodie Foster, Leonardo DiCaprio and Steven Spielberg) donated $9 million towards Obama’s victory.
Yet the constant complaint at Malibu dinner parties is that the President hasn’t made a single personal call to say thank you.
Many of his most generous donors are sitting out the 2012 election because they feel slighted.
One might argue that it’s refreshing to have a President who doesn’t suck up to rich celebrities. Nevertheless, it explains why the guest list at his 2012 fundraisers lacks its former lustre.
Hollywood could forgive Obama’s rudeness were he more liberal. But the feeling in the studios is that what few progressive things he has done have been dragged out of him, and the bigger story is what he has willfully failed to do.
From Guantanamo Bay to the health care compromise, Obama has pursued an agenda that is far too moderate for the radicals of Malibu.
But there’s nowhere else to go: Obama will be unchallenged in the primaries and no one in the GOP race even comes close to the Hollywood ideal (although Vince Vaughn has been seen on stage with Ron Paul).
That explains this sudden explosion of celebrity activism and outrage.
The Tea Party has given the stars a villain to rally against, although their understanding of it is predictably one-dimensional.
Morgan Freeman said it was motivated by racism and Sean Penn dubbed it “the get the N-word out of the White House party”. Obviously neither has heard of Herman Cain and they seem to think that outside California people still ride around on segregated buses.
But the fantasy threat of millions of low paid, ugly conservatives taking over the country and outlawing atheism in public places has undoubtedly energised them.
What must be frustrating to the White House is that this energy isn’t being directed into re-electing the President. Instead it’s being spent – and wasted – on publicising the occupation of Wall Street.
The fascinating paradox of celebrity activism – which is at once honest and exploitative – is embodied by Susan Sarandon.
Sarandon has visited the New York demo several times and attended a union protest outside Sotheby’s last week. She told the crowd, “I’m just here to be educated and offer my support. There’s a lot of different kinds of people here who want to shift the paradigm to something that’s addressing the huge gap between the rich and the poor.”
But what of Sarandon’s own millions? And what of the exclusive ping-pong themed bar that she owns in Manhattan? And what of the fact that she has just signed up to be one of the faces of Uniqlo, a fashion label aimed at the very age group protesting in Zuccotti Park?
“I like the simplicity and quality of the clothing,” she said at the opening of Uniqlo’s Fifth Avenue Store, “and the colours and the prices.”
Perhaps OWS is seen as a branding exercise, but aside from that, Sarandon and her friends clearly see it as a more legitimate cause than the President’s re-election. It’s an indictment of the disappointment he has generated and suggests that he’ll struggle to motivate his base in November 2012.
Hollywood is about the fusing of ideals and capital. That nexus has moved from mainstream politics to the streets of New York, where a new generation of kids are looking for ideas to turn them on and products associated with “simplicity and quality” to buy.
That’s where the future is, and that’s where Hollywood will invest its time and money.
Dr Tim Stanley is a research fellow in American History at Oxford University. His latest book, a biography of Pat Buchanan, will be available from February 2012. Visit his personal website at www.timothystanley.co.uk and follow him on Twitter at @timothy_stanley.
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