Washington and Hollywood have long had a kind of love-hate relationship. Both are communities with big egos, boldface names and hyper-ambition. They’re both gossipy and back-biting--except when their members are giving each other awards. One was created from a swamp; the other from a desert. And stars in each community like to pretend they can navigate the other with ease.
That, we are often reminded, is not really the case. If Washington, indeed, is “Hollywood for ugly people,” then arguably, the pretty people of the entertainment world should consider the possibility that politics is not skin-deep. And maybe they should stick to their well-groomed turf.
There’s Beyonce (the lack of the use of a last name should be an indicator, here), who recently announced she was turning over to charity the $1 million she received for performing for family members of Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi. Other celebs have also done private performances for the tyrant’s team, including Usher, Mariah Carey, 50 Cent (apparently more expensive than he sounds), Lionel Ritchie and Nelly Furtado (who also has donated her take, according to the Hollywood Reporter). When news of the private performances first surfaced, stars professed ignorance: they were shocked, shocked that the entertainees were associated with such a nefarious element. Who else do they think could pay for such a pricey, one-night performance? The prom committee at an exclusive private high school?
At least they were strictly musical performances. One can’t imagine what possessed German model Claudia Schiffer and French actor Gerard Depardieu to appear at campaign events in the late 1990s with Vladimir Meciar, the autocratic former Slovakian prime minister who was isolated by the West for corruption and trampling on the nation’s young democracy. Actually, according to the European media at the time, the motive was cash, which makes the public support for Meciar even more offensive. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the Middle East protests.]
And understandably, if someone offers you $1 million for a night’s musical performance, it’s hard to turn down. But shouldn’t such an offer raise a few suspicions?
Congress is not helpless here. Sure, they can’t stop someone from singing for dictators and their friends. But they certainly can stop asking glamorous performers to testify as experts at Capitol Hill hearings. While some of the Hollywood crowd indeed have a demonstrated commitment to worthy causes abroad (Angelina Jolie spends a lot of effort on refugee matters and George Clooney deserves some hellhole street cred for contracting malaria in the Sudan), they are not experts. At least, they are not as expert as the admittedly less good-looking scientists and policy people who dedicate their careers to such issues. One hopes that performers will take more care before accepting a too-good-to-be-true engagement. In the meantime, many of them should stay away from the witness table.