Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Why Are So Many Celebrities Socialists?

This is something that has grated me for quite a while and yet in recent times I’ve come to accept that if there is anyone in the public eye for whom I have an admiration – be it an actor, musician, comedian or artist – they are likely to hold left wing views. I should add for I continue that the very word celebrity is not one that I am a fan of because it tends to indicate someone of fame as opposed to someone who has actually achieved recognition via applied talent in their field. However, the term is now such an ingrained part of our language that a post like this is almost impossible to write without referring to the word. So be it, we live in a word of celebrities…I’ll sigh and get on with it…

Back to the topic at hand then. Typically, this concept has raised itself around the time of general elections, when for the past ten years or so we have experienced with growing frequency a plethora of celebrities wheeled out in support of their affiliated party, or similarly to condemn another party for their policies. Given the fact that I am at least economically inclined to vote for the Tory party in most elections and yet my entertainment tastes are often alternative, underground or at least eclectic, this means that I am faced with the uncomfortable scenario of people I like and admire telling me that I should vote for a politic party that I have little time for. I can of course turn a blind eye to this, but in more recent times, these suggestions have developed into a more aggressive form of persuasion; during the last general election there were a number of high profile cases where certain celebrities were suggesting that by voting for the Tory party I was in some way incredibly selfish, greedy and in part to blame for the misfortune of thousands of people.

Now, the purpose of this post is not really to justify my political tendencies. I have already indicated that I am economically inclined to vote Tory. That is not to say that I am a hard-line Tory or rigidly right wing. Or even always vote Tory. I often evolve my views, I am regard myself as a Libertine in many ways, and being married to a teacher means that I do have views that do not necessarily lend themselves to the core beliefs of the blue party. However, these are points that can be expanded upon at another time. The point here is that from a economic standpoint, there seems to be a predilection for many celebrities to endorse a socialist standpoint which often seems at odds with the lifestyle or wealth that they have accumulated and I find it curious as to how they can justify this juxtaposition.

The list is so exhaustive that I can cherry pick examples without too much effort, but the essence has remained for as long as time records. Go back to the sixties for instance and you’ll find actors of the caliber of Stanley Baker and Richard Burton being staunch socialists (the former being closely involved with Harold Wilson). Baker faced frequent criticism for being incredibly wealthy whilst maintaining a left-wing position on economics and sending his children to private school. He even considered moving abroad (he had a large villa in Spain) for tax avoidance but ultimately decided to remain as he would “miss Britain.” The gap between Baker’s beliefs and practice was clearly large and the same could be applied to Richard Burton, who did actually make an effort at articulating his thoughts on the matter. When it was put to him that there might be a slight contradiction in his views and the reality that he earned huge quantities of money for his roles in some of the blockbusters of the day, Burton replied, “unlike capitalists, I don’t exploit other people.” It was an interesting retort, but this comes down to the fact that he wanted a society in which everyone was equal in terms of pay unless they held a job by which they could claim not to have a hold over anyone else. And what could possibly constitute such a profession? Even the local plumber can money simply due to a lack of competition and therefore establish a monopoly with no barriers to his own pricing structure. Perhaps Burton should have spared a thought for his own profession and the fact that his vast earning power was at least in part down to the fact that people had to pay a set amount of money to see his films. I am of the view that he was a wonderfully talented actor with a supreme voice, but that it a subjective view and most people would at least consider him fortunate to have been able to succeed in a highly desirable and competitive profession (especially given his lack of professionalism and alcoholism). How dare he criticism anyone else for taking the opportunities that exist within the framework of society in order to pay the bills and provide for their children? Especially given that they are the people who are essentially paying his wages.

The frequency that these principles appear compromised and the comfort that the individuals appear to have despite this juxtaposition is the consistent factor. Of late, think Russell Brand and the fact that he quite candidly distances himself and his wealth from any conversation relating to socialism or even communism. Think Martin Freeman and his contribution to Labour Party election promotional collateral, despite the wealth his has accumulated from appearances in global movies with huge appearance fees and related image rights. Think Benedict Cumberbatch preaching to the masses from the comfort of his BBC contract at the expense of ordinary taxpayers. I could go on – the list is endless and relentless. For the most part, these are people I admire (not Brand I should clarify) in their professional capacity, but they all seem to draw a convenient line between their own comfortable and partially fortunate lifestyle bubble and the principles that they preach to those who do not have the opportunity to climb aboard their boat. That they do not even attempt to show any discomfort is perhaps indicative of the sheltered view of the world that actors have.

Of course, such hypocrisy doesn’t simply restrict itself to matters of economic principle. In the sixties and seventies Vanessa Redgrave was a member of Workers Revolutionary Party. Despite failed attempts at entering mainstream politics, she has campaigned for years on many “left-wing” issues – including that of illegal gypsy camps which have caused misery for hundreds of people caught up in their mess and anti-social lifestyles. "I'd be happy to live here with them, that's for sure," Redgrave declared, going on to describe Dale Farm as "a strong, wise, warm, gentle community." It was interesting that she perhaps wasn't talking about the homophobia, racism, sexism and misogyny that runs in the DNA of many of these communities, not to mention the violence towards those living nearby whose lives have been ruined. Also interesting to note her criticism towards the concept of housing travelers when she has put her lack of retirement down to having to pay off her huge mortgage towards an enormous house that one assumes she would not wish to be devalued by the close proximity of travelers. (Never mind, perhaps she could take a few of them in next time they're evicted.).

Almost all these examples are actors and actresses and perhaps it is the nature of their profession that dictates that they live their lives in fantasy, having gone from obscurity to wealth and fame in an instant and having bypassed the typical struggles that most of us go through in order to make economic progress in our daily lives. However, the principle is frequently observed in the fields of comedy (Eddie Izzard, John Bishop, Micky Flanagan, David Schneider, Stewart Lee, and so on and so forth) and music (almost every talented artist in the western world). Though a generalisation, it does seem to be a trend that reasonably bland, unadventurous, conservative or less quality comedians and musicians are the ones who either abstain from the debate entirely or perhaps even show a predilection for the alternative view; that perhaps capitalism is okay and people should carry on about their business without the need for an economic revolution. It is difficult to understand the link here, other than the fact that perhaps as part of their quest for taking a risk in the process of creating art, the left-wingers are more inclined to champion an alternative view, whereas those that play it safe are more likely to endorse what is seen as the status quo. That makes sense. What does not make sense is their inability to fathom how they can oversee the hypocrisy that ultimately discredits their own argument and ensures that people simply sigh and turn the channel over every time they appear during the general Election telling us to vote for Corbyn or the Green Party or whoever else might capture the hearts of the left-wing elite.

Perhaps a change of direction, a small tweak to the approach could be all it would take to actually embrace the stark realities of their economic prosperity and find a way to connect with the ordinary man on the street. However, even when this happens, it still ends up in a mess. Take Chris Evans recent statement that the top earners at the BBC have caused a funding issue. “It’s simple,” he stated. “It doesn’t take much to work out that you should pay people like me less.” Hmm, would a lower salary have convinced him to sign a deal to present Top Gear? Would he be prepared to ignore the pleas of his agent in the negotiation process? Did he actually offer to take the job for less money? No. Once again, the words ring hollow.

And so we return to my dilemma; art and politics. They forever remain two separate streams with one exception. This is why I am a fan of Jeremy Clarkson…

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