Friday, September 12, 2008

The Talented Mr. Damon

People pay more attention to celebrities than to politicians. It’s a shame, but hey, what are you gonna do? A Nobel-prize winning scientist could hold a press conference explaining how he built a time machine and I’ll guarantee you that he wouldn’t even make the front page of The Washington Post or five lousy minutes on the 6 o’clock evening news if Brad announced he was leaving Angelina to go back to Jen. There’s always lots of people willing to drink the Kool-Aid to join the Cult of Personality.

But, if you’re not careful, it’s very easy to become mesmerized by their charisma. Don’t forget, it’s their job, and they’re good at it. There’s a scene in The Rocketeer, a fun but dumb adventure flick set during WWII, that points this out. Jennifer Connelly discovers that her idol, Timothy Dalton (happily twirling his mustache), is a Nazi spy. “You lied,“ Jennifer gasps in horror. “You lied to me about everything.“ Sneering at her, Timothy replies, “No, I was acting.“ The bottom line is, movie stars are just a better-looking species of used car salesmen, and they’re trying damned hard to sell you something.

Of course, if you like what they do, then it’s a fair trade. But politics is the snake in the garden that changes everything. There’s a big difference between acting in a TV sitcom that makes people forget about their rotten jobs for an evening and being a spokesman for some ugly propaganda that’s packaged as entertainment. Fame will compel people to give you the benefit of the doubt, even when they should know better.Think of the late Charlton Heston at a NRA meeting with a rifle over his head yelling, “You can have this when you take it from my cold, dead fingers!” It’s easier to sell this garbage if you know how to read a script. Ask Ah-nold the Governator who got elected simply by recycling old quotes from his past movies. Why do you think the Republicans miss Ronnie so much?

Thankfully, there’s more than a few celebrities who know how to use their fame responsibly. Matt Damon is one of them.

Matt always comes across as the smartest guy in the room, but he doesn’t brag about it. Because he’s a ridiculously handsome guy, Matt is often dismissed as a slow-witted blond lummox. I’ve seen some unwary interviewers make this mistake. By the time they find out how wrong they were, it’s too late and Matt is kicking their sorry asses the same way he stomped that arrogant, college-educated punk in Good Will Hunting.

Watch Matt do the same thing to Sarah Palin, the Not Ready For Prime Time Hockey Mom. If I was a journalist who still had pride in my profession, I'd be taking notes.