The Heckler

The Heckler: down with the actor-commentariat!

Why do actors now take centre-stage in all the serious debates of the day? And more importantly, why do we listen to them?

4 April 2015

9:00 AM

4 April 2015

9:00 AM

I’ve never been terribly keen on actors. I prefer hairdressers and accountants. And teachers and builders and lawyers. I may even prefer politicians and footballers to actors. It’s a modesty thing. No profession demands more attention. And no attention is less warranted. Everywhere you look, there they are pouting and grimacing on billboards and TV screens, like oversized teenagers. How have we come to this? These people dress up and pretend to be other people — for a living!

It wouldn’t be quite so bad if that were all they did. But these days actors are taking over our public space in a way that is unsettling and impossible to ignore. Actors now take centre-stage in all the serious debates of the day — from sexual equality and national security to education and wealth distribution. A squeak from James McAvoy on social mobility or a belch from Russell Brand on pretty much anything at all seems enough to send us into an ideological swoon.

I’m not taking issue one way or the other with the opinions of Brand and McAvoy and Cumberbatch and Sean Penn and Julianne Moore and all the other members of the actor-commentariat. And to be clear, I’m all for these people voicing as many of their ‘serious’ opinions as it takes to get them their next ‘serious’ acting part. My issue is with the unmerited power that we seem to have given them. We treat them like divinities. We debate their pronouncements like medieval scholars squabbling over holy texts.

OK, I’m exaggerating. But only a little. Look at the moral panic over Benedict Cumberbatch’s splutterings about diversity, or the frenzy over Greg Wise’s resolution not to pay any more tax until the ‘evil bastards’ in the HSBC scandal are all banged up. (How’s that going by the way, Greg?) What about the clarion calls of Julianne Moore and Patricia Arquette at the Oscars, or Michael Sheen’s recent battle cry for the NHS? These are perfectly legitimate views and actors are of course entitled to express them. But can you think of any voice today that sounds more loudly than an actor’s?

Then there are the ludicrously aggrandizing titles and honours. Did you know, for example, that Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Douglas, Edward Norton and Charlize Theron are all ‘Messengers for Peace’ for the United Nations?

Let’s be clear. Actors today aren’t just vocal spectators. They’re political participants. They’re at the table. The current President of the United States has described George Clooney as ‘a good man and a good friend’. Ben Affleck has appeared before a US Senate committee as an Africa expert. European politicians have drunk the Kool-Aid too. Remember William Hague and Angelina Jolie? (Actually, it’s ‘Dame’ Angelina to you and me.) Even Madonna is elbowing her way into the political fray. She’s invited Marine Le Pen to join her to talk politics over a drink. Madge is worried that France is becoming nasty and she wants to do some straight talking with Marine while there’s still time to save France.

Whence comes this quasi-Messianic status for these purveyors of low-brow entertainment? Clearly, it has something to do with all those ‘political’ films that keep coming out of Hollywood. But the main problem is us. We make too many allowances for actors. We acquiesce in their absurd elevation. We drink the Kool-Aid. Many moons ago, actors were so lowly they were deemed unworthy of Christian burial and were thus condemned for ever. I wouldn’t advocate anything quite so drastic, but isn’t it time we took them down a peg or two?

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Show comments
  • Dan O’Connor

    They are one big mutual admiration society of pseudo expert, quarter educated , Philosopher King, global compassion peddling fraudsters.

    The politically correct progressives who achieve the remarkable feat of engaging in mindless conformity, while considering themselves to be some kind of avant-garde elite , who fancy themselves as smart and enlightened while pursuing political and cultural fads
    Liberal are the new stodgy and status-quo new conservatives that are pathologically obsessed with the enforcement of group-think. They see themselves as being
    ” anti Establishment “. They ARE the Establishment .
    They have never had an original thought in their lives . They are the sock puppets of the tribal subversives who run the massive White guilt propaganda industry they work for

  • agdpa

    Remember the ghastly Vanessa Redgrave and the Socialist Workers Party? After that riot outside the US Embassy I avoided seeing anything she was in. Now ditto for poor little Martin Freeman.

    • Callipygian

      Why Timothy Dalton put up with her for so long is a mystery.

    • Chamber Pot

      WRP you mean.

    • Verbatim

      And Hanoi Jane; don’t forget Hanoi Jane. She really is a vile woman.

      • Terry Field

        And that bitch did more to scupper the development of nuclear power than anyone else on the planet. Her effect is malign, ignorant and plain bloody evil.

    • Terry Field

      Redgrave. The lunatic is a beacon signing the way to the purposeless idiocy of actors haveing a professed view on anything other than how to parrot lines.

  • Patently E(uropean)

    Quite predictable why successful actors (& other celebrities) buy into left-winged politics so wholeheartedly. When they are starting out in their career, they rely on patronage by someone powerful. By chance if they become successful, they earn a disproportionate amount of wealth compared to their peers who still rely on patronage to get by. They have the same view of the rest of the society believing that success is purely due to luck and that the successful are disproportionate & undeservedly wealthy.

  • LittleRedRidingHood

    It is because they are pseudo people. So shallow you could paddle in them.

  • PetaJ

    It’s the relentless rise of the ghastly ‘celebrity’ culture.

  • CommonSense Matters

    actors can become successful when they are good at conveying the humanity of a character – even if they are just ordinary to look at as is the case with Martin. Freeman. Ordinary looking but talented bloke with much humanity. Got somethings wrong before. Also genuinely wanting better for us all and willing to say so. Jolly good I say.

  • WTF

    Its like a past time to fill in the time between making movies just to make themselves feel good. Students from UNI quite often spend a gap year actually going out to a third world country to live among the people and see first hand whats going on and how they can help. Not so leftie actors like Afflect or Penn who sit in their Hollywood mansions, appear on a talk show just to make sure people are reminded who they are and then make pretentious claims about the worlds ills.

    • Like You

      Penn isn’t a great example here as he has actually been to help in places like New Orleans and Haiti in the midst of crises, as well as being a spokesperson for things like gay marriage. Affleck admits he’s more a mouthpiece for the democratic party.

  • Sheriff

    Oh yeah, I forgot it’s the actors that are the problem in this world, with their tv shows that you watch, and their films that you take your date to, and their opinions that they have now and then. And here I was thinking that the issue was with those who made policy. Thanks for putting me straight, Attila Bland (is that a stage name?)

  • Callipygian

    Not only do they pretend to be other people for a living, but they do so speaking words that other men and women have written for them.

    I’ve known actors and directors, I’ve worked on film sets, etc. And the actor I knew best (my quasi-stepfather) confessed that sometimes it didn’t feel like a grown-up way to earn a living, even if kissing the leading lady was very nice. Perhaps that’s why he was more concerned with script-writing and, in the later years before his death, in writing mystery novels.

  • davidofkent

    The luvvies carry out an important public service. You can be sure that the best course of action is the precise opposite of anything a luvvie says. Thus, finding the true path is made easy.

    • Verbatim


  • Chamber Pot

    Well it’s only marginally worse than listening to that twit Gary Lineker.

  • mrsjosephinehydehartley

    They say acting is the oldest profession in the world..thus since time immemorial one has been able get off some hook ( or even on it) by saying ” I’m only playing at it”. Perhaps acting can be seen as the oldest part of professionalism, too.

    Bring back the true amateurs, I say, who do everything for real and not for money.

  • Axel Biehl

    Simple solution: every public utterance should be judged on its merits rather than on who said it.

  • Verbatim

    Actors, many of them, are unpaid politicians and, of course, exhibitionists. They think the minute they open their gobs and make some pronouncement or other that we’ll all listen. Stop listening is my advice; after all, these same people ‘star’ in the kinds of films most of us would prefer to avoid like poison. There’s a clue in itself! And they live such a precious and sheltered life they just wouldn’t have the tiniest idea about how the world really works. I guess they’re just busy trying to impress their equally naive and increasingly incestuous peers.

  • MikeF

    They sometimes act – quite liteally – on Shakespeare’s line that All the World’s a Stage and when they do they tend to go in for the melodramatic and exhibitionistic. It really isn’t all that new a phenomenon – remember Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth was an actor.

  • Suzy61

    They are surrounded by sycophants hanging on to their every word that they eventually come to believe we do too.

  • EasyStreet

    Anytime I hear an actor pontificating on politics I think about “Team America”:

    at which point I usually snigger and wonder how they can still be so shameless!

  • Arthur Thistlewood

    Look through any newspaper (including the ‘serious’ ones) and estimate the column inches given one way or another to the concerns, views and appearance of actors, sportspeople and celebrities. The space given to them represents the dominance of the non-rational in our society. It’s all about being Nice and being Passionate.

  • Terry Field

    They have a ‘view’ because they are, in the main, dissociated egomaniacs with narcissistic tendencies; and as an adjunct to being parrots of other peoples lines, often not the sharpest knives in the block.

  • Like You

    A curious article. The author spends most of it defending said actors rights to express their views; leading one to the conclusion that it isn’t actors speaking about political issues that’s the problem for the author, but what they say.

    And the comment about acting being a profession that lacks modesty? Does the author honestly believe that modesty is the hallmark of the professions referenced in that opening paragraph?! Footballers don’t have egos? Lawyers don’t have egos? Modern politicians don’t have egos? Be honest: the problem is that the actors who make sense are a little too left-leaning in most cases.

    You’ll all remember that most famous of right-wing actors who dabbled in politics – Ronald Reagan. Strange that he doesn’t come up in the article, or in the comments below. Probably because that would disprove that a) this a *new* thing; unqualified celebs / public figures speaking publicly about issues outside of their expertise, and b) that they’re not always “lefties” (Charlton Heston springs immediately to mind as another example of a conservative actor throwing his star quality around for political ends).

  • von

    Lol. I take it this is not meant to be taken completely seriously? Because while good points are being made, I can’t help but laugh at the self-righteousness and hypocrisy of this not-so-well written article.

    But if it’s meant to be a tongue-in-cheek sort of thing, then this works and I applaud the person who came up with this.