Published on Tuesday, February 11, 2003 by the St Paul Pioneer Press
Stars' Views Shouldn't Be So Easily Written Off
by Laura Billings
Jessica Lange is against it. So is Susan Sarandon.
Bonnie Raitt's not in favor of bombing Baghdad. Neither are Michael Stipe, Madonna and Martin Sheen, who plays a president on television but thinks the real one is a "moron.''
When it comes to the impending war on Iraq, a phalanx of famous faces is speaking out against it. Which means that everything they say is being blasted by pro-war pundits, who believe celebrities should confine their opinions to the Zone diet and stay out of demilitarized zones.
Take for instance the shellacking that singer Sheryl Crow recently got after appearing at the American Music Awards in a T-shirt sequined with the message "War is not the answer.'' As she told reporters, "I think war is based in greed and there are huge karmic retributions that will follow. I think war is never the answer to solving any problems. The best way to solve problems is to not have enemies."
Though Jesus Christ, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. all expressed similar thoughts, they didn't have the misfortune of living in a world with FOX News. Conservative critics were worse to her than music critics, referring to her as a "noted geopolitical strategist" who "probably thinks Saddam Hussein is a New York City cabdriver.''
It's true, she might not have been especially eloquent on the subject, but neither is our own president. Just a few days after the Crow flap, Bush was quoted saying the United States had to go to war against Iraq because of Saddam Hussein's "willingness to terrorize himself.'' It's a safe bet no one on FOX News made fun of him.
Sean Penn, who seems to have replaced Barbra Streisand as the most hated liberal on talk radio, was in for worse ridicule after the actor placed an anti-war ad in the Washington Post in October. "Bombing answered by bombing, mutilation by mutilation, killing by killing, is a pattern that only a great country like ours can stop,'' Penn wrote in an open letter to the president. He followed up in December with a trip to Baghdad, an attempt to educate himself about the real causes and consequences of a war in that region.
For his troubles his earnest intention of finding a peaceful solution, rather than a war that will surely lead to the deaths of thousands of innocent Iraqis he has been called a "traitor." No doubt his ex-wife, Madonna, can expect the same treatment when she releases a new single this week with a strong anti-war message.
The conservative "Drudge Report" says the video shows her dressed in fatigues and throwing grenades in a landscape of limbless men and women.
The question I have is, why do we so easily dismiss the opinions of famous people, as if they're nothing but "limousine liberals"? (Itself a laughable epithet, as if conservatives are all driving around in Corollas, or being ridiculously rich discounts your opinion on political issues.)
Streisand is continually derided for mixing up Iran and Iraq, and yet no one complains when the president says Iraq was responsible for 9/11. Does anyone remember al-Qaida?
Though there is a strong anti-war movement in this country, it is also strangely muted. And no wonder.
The way the administration has framed the argument, as good against evil, simply asking why (Why us? Why now? Why them? Why not North Korea?) casts the questioner on the wrong side.
Standing up against this march to war takes a big voice, a big ego and maybe even big box office. No wonder Hollywood seems perfect for this casting call.
After getting a lifetime achievement award in London, actor Dustin Hoffman said, "I believe though I may be wrong because I am no expert that this war is about what most wars are about: hegemony, money, power and oil.
"I believe that administration has taken the events of 9/11 and has manipulated the grief of the country and I think that's reprehensible.''
Critics say a guy like him has no right to weigh in on the issues of the day; as he says, he's "no expert.''
But when it comes to understanding the spin doctoring and cynical manipulations that go on in D.C., Hoffman may have more expert standing than he lets on.
Did you ever see him in "Wag the Dog"?
Copyright 2003 St Paul Pioneer Press