Leonardo DiCaprio has starred in some of the best movies of the last twenty years, proving his chops again and again in features like The Wolf of Wall Street, The Departed, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, and The Aviator. However, as Ben Stein asks so compellingly in one of his recent columns, how does his acting ability, looks, or fame qualify him to speak on issues of climate change?
It’s a problem that is epidemic in Hollywood – liberal actors using their celebrity to affect public opinion on major issues facing the country. These people, by and large, are not studied in said issues. They are joining the fray because it’s a trend. They pledge allegiance to liberal politics because they know that to do otherwise is to fight against the current. And when you’re at that level of competition, you can’t afford to not take advantage of every edge you can get.
There are exceptions, of course. Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis, Jon Voight, and many others have successfully carried the flag for conservatism amongst the Hollywood elite. Though we find their cases refreshing, do they have any more clue what’s going on than their liberal counterparts? More to the point, are they better informed than the average small business owner? The average doctor? The average housewife?
Considering the amount of effort and single-minded focus it takes to succeed at that level – in any endeavor – the answer can be assumed to be no. And that’s why – regardless of their politics – celebrities should stop talking about politics.
“Oh, but what about their freedom of speech? They have as much right to share their opinions as anyone else, you big meany.” Well, sure they do. No one’s suggesting that Congress pass a First Amendment clause that infringes on an actor’s right to speak out on an issue of their choosing. Their compliance with my recommendation – to keep their mouths shut – is purely voluntary. If they don’t – and of course they won’t – then the American people should at least be aware of the consequences.
Celebrities don’t have a magical grasp of higher truth. We may adore them in the cinema and many may go further, following their personal lives with greater interest than they take in their own, but that doesn’t make their opinions take on any greater weight than anyone else’s. They didn’t achieve their fame on the backs of their political insights.
And that’s the problem. Because they are famous, their opinions are much more widely disseminated. You may roll your eyes when your neighborhood barber starts talking about the crooks in the GOP, but only a handful of people have to hear his rants. Even on some of the largest political websites, only a hundred thousand or so people may be influenced by a single writer. When you’re a Hollywood star, though, you can reach millions. No matter how you look at it, that’s not a level playing field.
We’re endeared to these celebrities through their talents, giving them a disproportional platform from which to spread their propaganda. And while you’d probably have to dig around quite a bit to find anyone who admits to having their opinions influenced by a George Clooney or a Matt Damon or a Leo DiCaprio, don’t kid yourself. The majority of Americans also claim to be immune to television advertising, a claim that has been proven dead wrong by study after study.
There is room for celebrities to do good with their giant-sized soapboxes. When it comes to drawing attention to world hunger, inspiring donations after a major tragedy, or raising awareness for a disease, let them have the floor. But when it comes to contentious issues like global warming, presidential politics, or gun rights, these celebrities should take a cue from their local library – silence is golden.