Appalling celebrity behavior or beliefs
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Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watching Saturday Night Live and UHF veteran Victoria Jackson publicly melt down on election night with a series of histrionic tweets (“I can’t stop crying. America died.” “Thanks a lot Christians, for not showing up. You disgust me.”) got us talking about other celebrity explosions that took us by surprise or just disgusted us. When have you been most taken aback by finding out about a famous person’s behavior or expressed beliefs?
There’s no reason I should think of Kids In The Hall’s Scott Thompson as mature, enlightened, and knowledgeable about women. But even so, I’ve been pretty shocked listening to his podcast, in which he doesn’t hesitate to say whatever he thinks, particularly about sex, and extra-particularly about penises. All of which is funny, not horrifying. But it was odd to hear someone I think of in a positive light make such sweeping, dismissive generalizations about women—for instance, claiming they’re all basically from a different planet than men, and that unlike men—unlike him—they don’t need physical attraction or any kind of chemistry in their relationships. There’s no particular malice in his thoughts on woman, just a Todd Akin-like profound ignorance, and a willingness to generalize in extraordinarily broad terms. But those things combine poorly with a willingness to say whatever’s on your mind. (Side note: This AVQ&A was assembled before the Kevin Clash story hit the news, and wasn’t inspired by that; we have an entirely different Clash-inspired AVQ&A coming up the week after Thanksgiving.)
Since I became aware of Mel Gibson when I was a lad, my feelings toward him hovered around “indifferent to favorable,” the sort of default setting the non-famous have for incredibly famous celebrities: I thought he was fine, even good at times, but I would never say “I’m a Mel Gibson fan!” Like everyone else, I was surprised by his drunk-driving escapade that revealed his thoughts on Jews, their wars, and the sugar content of women’s breasts, but I didn’t think much of it. Hollywood types have these episodes with dependable regularity, and I figured it wouldn’t go beyond the usual celebrity indiscretion that fuels the late-night monologue industry. Then came the recordings of phone calls and more ranting, and it became increasingly difficult to grant the man some measure of humanity. The American public loves a redemption story, so maybe he could stage a comeback, but that well is pretty poisoned for me.
Well, since we’re on the subject of UHF stars: Victoria Jackson’s election-night meltdown, while bizarre, is hardly that surprising for her, seeing as how she’s been a fundamentalist nutjob for many, many years now. It was a lot more shocking when her one-time cast-mate Michael Richards went on his well-publicized rampage onstage at LA’s Laugh Factory in 2006. Richards isn’t known as well from his role as UHF’s idiot savant, Stanley Spadowski, as he is from his long turn as Seinfeld’s Cosmo Kramer. But he’s always played the endearing, oddball doofus—which made his racist rant in ’06 feel as though I just found out my favorite, quirky uncle was a birther or something.
I have almost no aptitude for science, although my mother was a microbiologist and father is a practicing physician. What little biology knowledge I’ve picked up, I largely remember because of what my parents used to talk about at the dinner table. What I remember most, more than how to compute Punnett squares or how nerve blocks work, is my father railing against moronic rejections of modern medicine. Case in point: Jenny McCarthy’s assertions that infant vaccines lead to autism. I cannot be vehement enough about the idiocy of her public campaign against vaccinations. She even roped Jim Carrey into the fold on this, and without any credible scientific backing. The misinformation she spreads is far more dangerous than her erroneous mistrust of vaccines. I’m sorry, there’s just no way I’m going to believe the former eye candy on Singled Out over a doctor with 30 years of experience backed up by the entire medical community.
I’d never really listened to Chris Brown’s music or paid attention to him as an entertainer when I saw the surprise Yuletide smash This Christmas, but I was thoroughly won over by his baby-faced charm and impeccable falsetto. Comparisons to Michael Jackson did not seem out of order. My opinion morphed instantly once news of the vicious beating he gave Rihanna broke. I now despise Brown with a passion and ferocity I never imagined possible. With each new callous gesture and grotesquely insensitive move, I’ve come to hate Brown more. The fresh-faced kid from This Christmas revealed himself to be such a detestable human being that I have hard time imagining how seemingly sane, responsible artists can collaborate with him (and Brown seems to collaborate with everybody these days, include the woman he is on record as having beaten) and live with themselves in light of his history and his appalling lack of remorse.
Although most artists tend to be left of the political center, it’s important not to assume that just become someone makes movies or plays in a band that they’re godless liberals like myself, but it was nonetheless shocking—or, more accurately, disappointing—when Velvet Underground drummer Moe Tucker turned up in news footage of a Tea Party rally decrying the country’s alleged slide toward socialism. In the decades after the Velvets’ breakup and before their rediscovery, Tucker raised a family and got a job at Walmart, an experience she chronicled in “Spam Again,” from her great solo album Life In Exile After Abdication. It’s one of very few songs to describe the life of the working poor without sentimentalizing or mythologizing it. (Amy Rigby, whose album Diary Of A Mod Housewife did for office temps what Tucker did for wage slaves, covered the song in tribute.) So it was hard to fathom how she could end up endorsing a political movement dedicated to helping the rich continue to enrich themselves and leaving poor people to fend for themselves. Of course, in the years following “Spam Again,” the Velvet Underground royalty checks started rolling in; perhaps Tucker’s disdain for the rich couldn’t survive the windfall.
I don’t know why I pay attention to the reports of Chevy Chase acting like a jerk on and off the set of Community. Chevy’s been acting like a jerk for almost 40 years, and he hasn’t mellowed with age. But as with the proverbial car accident, it’s very hard to avert your gaze (and your ears) from his rants, mainly because they’re so entertaining. One of my recent favorites was one he gave to my former colleague Maggie Furlong over at the Huffington Post: “I have creative issues with this show. I always have. With my character, with how far you can take [Joel McHale’s] character… just to give him a long speech about the world at the end of every episode is so reminiscent. It’s like being relegated to hell and watching Howdy Doody for the rest of your life.” Why do I like this rant better than the ones he gave Dan Harmon? Because he said it to a reporter who was visiting the set, trying to get him to say something nice about the show. But Chevy just didn’t give a shit. It’s the type of candor that entertainment journalists rarely hear, but are thrilled to find coming out of an interviewee’s mouth.
Although Lost Highway was inspired by the O.J. Simpson trials, I’ve never thought of David Lynch as someone particularly engaged with current events, politics, or the concrete day-to-day world on any level. Though his recent pro-Obama/anti-Mitt Romney endorsements have tweaked that a little, I was less than amused when, in 2006, Lynch went on Dutch TV to state that he had some Very Important Questions about 9/11, prompted by Dylan Avery’s truther documentary series Loose Change. Everyone’s entitled to think what they want, and Lynch isn’t as stridently annoying on the topic as, say, Marion Cotillard, but it’s still annoying to see one of your artistic heroes plunge down one of the bigger conspiracy intellectual sinkholes out there.
A recent New York Times profile of Jennifer Lawrence framed her as outspoken and unabashed, rare among would-be young stars in her willingness to talk about anything. I already knew and admired this about Lawrence, who just last week righteously attacked the industry’s obsession with weight (“I’m considered a fat actress. I’m Val Kilmer in that one picture at the beach.”), and who has been such a consistently entertaining and self-deprecating guest that YouTube compilations have been made of her late-night talk show appearances. So it was with a heavy sigh that I learned, in the third paragraph, that Lawrence is a self-described “redneck” who shops Walmart for Rob Schneider comedies and is quoted as saying, “I like making movies, but that doesn’t mean I want to watch a black-and-white, freaking boring [expletive] silent movie.” On one hand, my disappointment is more on me than on Lawrence, who’s still just a 22-year-old from Kentucky and will surely learn, over the course of a long career making movies, that black-and-white silent movies aren’t as boring as she assumes. But the impulse to assert your “realness” by trumpeting your ignorance and incuriosity is a dumb one, and I hope she grows out of it.
I used to be an Orson Scott Card fan. I thought Ender’s Game was great, and while I’ve read at least one extremely effective takedown of the book since I first read it, I’d still argue that it holds up as a brutally effective science-fiction thriller, the sort of novel you start and can’t stop reading until it’s over. The Ender sequels never held my interest as much; I liked the Alvin The Maker books I read, although I never bothered to seek out the rest of the series; and I thought Lost Boys was overly long, with an effective rug-pulling ending. So Card wasn’t my favorite novelist, but I thought he was solid, and always kept an eye out for new work. Then I started hearing about his views on gay marriage (not a fan!) and gayness in general (though he has plenty of gay friends!), and his unpleasant obsession with sexual abuse, and my appreciation quickly soured. I’ve read (and reviewed) a couple of Card books since these discoveries, and the magic was gone. Writing which before seemed rich with empathy now came off as shallow, hacky, and repetitive, and while I still find some enjoyment in his older books, I don’t plan on reading anything else by him anytime soon.
I try to avoid hating on celebrities for anything except substandard work. I’m especially reluctant to join in whenever people start referring to some show-business personality as “crazy.” I mean, an outsized personality and an eccentric streak can mean the difference between a star and some charisma-deprived dullard, right? This made it that much more painful for me when I realized that Randy Quaid, one of my favorite actors, who I’ve never met but have I’ve admired for many years, has, so far as an outsider without a medical degree can judge such things, become mentally ill. And neither treatment nor continued employment seem to await him in the immediate future. One of the first trouble signs came in 2008, when he got in trouble with Actors’ Equity over behavior that helped scuttle a production of a musical during its out-of-town tryout, behavior that reportedly included annoying the cast and crew by constantly “showing off his enormous codpiece.” I was writing for a film blog for a different site, and I wrote the story up under the headline “Randy Quaid’s Codpiece Deemed Too Enormous For The American Stage.” At the time, I thought I was being clever.
I’ve had remarkably good luck when it comes to celebrity interviews, experiencing very few occasions where meeting people changed my opinion of them, so I feel like Ving Rhames deserves a shout-out here. I don’t even need all of my fingers to count the number of interviews I’ve done with actors where I hadn’t had the opportunity to screen the project they were promoting, but on the rare occasions when that’s been the case, I’ve generally found that honesty is the best policy. Not so with Ving Rhames, who decided to make himself available for interviews in conjunction with the direct-to-DVD Death Race 2, but offering his window of availability so far in advance of the film’s street date that they hadn’t actually pressed screener DVDs yet. The first few minutes of our conversation were pleasant enough—he admitted that it was nice that they filmed in South Africa, because he could visit friends and pull a paycheck at the same time—but when I asked about the set, casually mentioning that I hadn’t seen the film yet in the mistaken belief that he knew the screener situation, he went off on me, quoting Stanislavsky (“If you do not take your work seriously, I will refuse to work with you”) and actively questioning my professionalism. Even after I explained that there were no screeners available, he snapped, “Well, now, you know what you have to do? You have to pay your $15 and go see the film. But don’t ask me any questions about what the film is about.” Maintaining my politeness, I restrained myself from informing him that the film wasn’t getting a theatrical release, and instead tried to move onto safer ground, but within a few minutes (and a full 10 minutes before the scheduled conclusion of our conversation), he suddenly said, ““Hey, look, y’know, I got to go, other people to talk to,” and hung up. I don’t blame the guy for being annoyed that I wasn’t able to watch the film before talking to him, but in 20-plus years of pop-culture journalism, I’ve never been more flabbergasted by an actor’s actions.