Celebrity chefs

By Evan Coyne Maloney evan@brain-terminal.com

Next time you're dining in a fine restaurant, imagine how you'd feel if the chef interrupted your meal to call you a racist, blood-thirsty, imperialist war-monger. And that, while he's happy to accept your money, he nevertheless considers it blood money stained by the suffering of exploited third-world peasants.

Would you be angry for having to pay someone who puts you down? Probably. And, for forcing his unsought opinions on a total stranger, you might consider the chef presumptuous. You might think he's confused for not seeing the difference between a desire to eat his food and a desire to hear his thoughts on politics. You may even feel a little sorry for the guy, knowing that his treatment of customers could lead to his eventual ruin.

Likewise, when you pay for a concert ticket, you probably don't want the people taking your money to turn around and tell you how much they hate your beliefs. If going to a concert requires you to hear your opinions ridiculed, you may begin to think twice about subjecting yourself to the long lines, the overflowing bathrooms, and the concession stands that sell flat, lukewarm beer at extortionary prices. On the next tour, you might skip the cattle-pen crowd control tactics that make leaving the arena take longer than the concert itself. Maybe you'll spend your money where you're treated with a little more respect.

Open That Wallet

There's nothing wrong with singers speaking their minds, but shouldn't they at least consider their audience? A concert is not a political event; people pay to hear music, not get berated and browbeaten. Is it any surprise, then, that people get turned off when celebrities harangue them with condescending, insult-laden diatribes that dismiss differing views as ignorant, idiotic or evil? Are we consumers expected to endure any indignity and still open our wallets just as enthusiastically? Apparently, we are, because any drop-off in album sales or box-office receipts is heralded as evidence of a new McCarthyism.

Perhaps entertainers should try to see our perspective: when we buy tickets or CDs, when we rent movies or tune in, we are paying people to entertain us. Effectively, audiences are employers--and we're quite forgiving employers at that. When an entertainer speaks out on the job, the worst-case result is suffering a momentary dip in sales and an interview with Barbara Walters. But if any of us routinely interrupted business meetings to announce our latest political stances, we'd get fired. Would Tim Robbins consider that censorship?

For better or worse, nobody I know thinks entertainers are any more informed than, say, cab drivers, accountants, or cashiers. Nor do I know anybody who thinks that the mastery of one craft grants an exalted status to a person's views on entirely unrelated subjects. In fact, most people seem to recognize that the words of outspoken celebrities are of very little political consequence. That's why boycotting the liberal lecturers of la-la land seems extreme to me.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'll admit to having an ulterior motive for not boycotting the entertainment industry: I like to be entertained. If I avoided the work of every artist who disagreed with me, I'd be left with very little art in my life. Who would that hurt most?

Forgive the Flaws

Like the rest of us, artists tend to be flawed. Sometimes, greater talent brings larger flaws. But if a great writer's drinking problem doesn't prevent us from enjoying his novels, then a great actor's opinions shouldn't prevent us from enjoying his films. So, I'll grit my teeth and grudgingly sit through a few minutes of ranting from someone whose work has otherwise given me many hours of enjoyment. I'd rather not have to, of course; it would be nice if celebrities stopped trying to turn every public appearance into a political rally. But if they insist on doing so, then at least I can take solace in knowing that their words are not bringing about any real political change (except, perhaps, the opposite of what they intended).

Just as friends who disagree often show their respect for each other by avoiding political talk, entertainers should extend the same courtesy to their audiences. If they remain unwilling, here's something you can do to help change their minds: Become a waiter at a four-star restaurant in New York or Los Angeles. Whenever some Dixie Chick comes in, politely interrupt her as she lifts her fork. Let her know where you stand on the issues of the day. Do this repeatedly. After a while, she'll begin to see how distasteful her behavior is.

Or, if you don't have time for that, forgive the artists for their foibles. Focus on the fruits of their creativity; pay no mind to their sour grapes ideology. It's not worth the energy.

And, to the celebrities who see us as little more than wallets waiting to be depleted, please remember that we audience-commoners also have opinions. Often, they're different from yours. So, if you're not going to respect that, don't be surprised when some of these wallets stop opening.

Copyright 2003, Evan Coyne Maloney. More of Evan's world views can be found at http://www.brain-terminal.com