Episode 41: I Fake Responsibility

In the forty-first episode of The Latest, we explore the bacteria that forms live a celebrity culture. Former PGA club professional Sean Sciba joins the program for this week’s O.J. Simpson Twitter Update.

The Latest with Greg Ott
The Latest with Greg Ott
Episode 41: I Fake Responsibility
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Transcript

Those voices are discussing celebrities, the stars of stage and screen whose delicate portrayal of the human condition might just convince you to lease a Lincoln MKZ

As the United States wrestles with massive social and structural changes unseen in generations, citizens across the country are paying attention, taking action, and pondering to themselves, “I wonder what Tom Arnold thinks about all this.”

This week’s manufactured viral video, which had the efficacy of a placebo, featured Sarah Paulson, Mark Duplass, and a handful of other straight-to-Netflix stars combating systemic racism by earnestly declaring, “I take responsibility”, with the same level of gravitas they usually reserve for revealing this year’s nominees for Best Sound Editing.

Aaron Paul clasps his hands, Julianne Moore pauses dramatically, and Stanley Tucci reads his lines off of cue cards with the subtlety of Larry “Bud” Melman.

The two minute YouTube video, comments curiously disabled, was as breathlessly tone-deaf as Gal Gadot’s “Imagine” video, which featured the likes of Kristen Wiig and Mark Ruffalo pining for world peace after struggling to suffer through six horrifying days of self-quarantine from the confines of their multimillion-dollar estates.

For a group of individuals so well-versed in filmmaking, it’s hard to tell if they’re aware that the cell phones they’re speaking into are also capturing video. 

Celebrity activism is nothing new — after all, if it wasn’t for Ben Affleck, we never would have taken down Joseph Kony — but we’re living in an age in which famous faces can’t resist the urge to insert themselves into any and every conversation, like that acquaintance who never misses an opportunity to remind you that they attended Wellesley. 

What bothers me about stunts like these is that when these household names apply their self-important Snapchat filter to their self-taped callback, they end up distracting from the actual point they’re trying to make. 

Nobody ends up talking about the organization’s actual purpose — ITakeResponsibility seems like a good group advocating of behalf anti-racism, police accountability, and voting rights, but when I see Jesse Pinkman acting his ass off in black and white, all it makes me wonder is, why didn’t he try doing that during the last season of Westworld?

Many of these celebrities seem well-intentioned, but it’s important to remember that we’re also living in an age of careful brand management and social media curation with lots of money on the line. 

Gweneth Paltrow doesn’t just want you to buy her movies; she wants you to buy into her “conversation changing” lifestyle brand — and after you shove an egg into your genitals while watching The Avengers, you’ll definitely have something to talk about. 

Or take something like Some Good News with John Krasinski, which seemed like a fun, genuine, and uplifting quarantine byproduct, until it was sold as a hot property to CBSViacom in order to free up time for its busy former host to find a third Quiet Place to stash his paycheck.

Now, don’t get me wrong — Oprah Winfrey, Rob Reiner, Chance the Rapper, Barbara Streisand, John Legend, LeBron James — there are countless examples of celebrities using their power, wealth, and influence for good.

George Clooney funnels the money he makes from Nespresso commercials into satellites to monitor Sudanese human rights violations, whereas I can barely be bothered to recycle my capsules

But dramatically inserting oneself into a trending topic doesn’t make one come across as an authentic advocate for a cause — it makes one feel like an opportunist. 

And I know I’m getting worked up over a stupid video, but the commander-in-chief of the USA is the star of The Celebrity Apprentice, who some people take seriously despite the fact that he possesses no apparent expertise in anything other than generating attention in the media and clogging the toilets of Air Force One with the Colonel’s Secret Blend of eleven herbs and spices.

This country is addicted to celebrities, just as it’s addicted to beef, iPhones, and automatic weapons, and it’d be nice to start trying to cut some of that stuff out of our diet. 

Lots of TV shows and movies are “inspired by true events,” and guess what? A lot of those true events are a hell of a lot more interesting in real life.

And even when know that’s true, we still turn Robert Mueller into a candle or Dr. Fauci into a t-shirt because we want them to be famous for simply doing their jobs with competence. 

If we stopped placing so much weight on what The Real Housewives of Orange County have to say and started talking more to our family, our friends, our neighbors, and our colleagues, we wouldn’t have to rely on the star of The Lego Ninjago Movie to remind us that Black Lives Matter.