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Entertainers and Politics

By RD Heldenfels Published: January 3, 2007

As I mentioned, I am reading ''Hello Americans,'' the second volume of Simon Callow's biography of Orson Welles. And last night I came across some words that may be of interest to Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, the Dixie Chicks and other entertainers who take public stands on politics.

It was 1944. Welles was active in politics, and Time magazine ''mocked one of his speeches,'' Callow wrote. Welles sent a telegram in reply:

We filmmakers realize our community is a gorgeous subject for satire. We grant, or anyway most of us do, that we are the world's funniest people. You can write more jokes about us than you can about plumbers, undertakers or Fuller brush salesmen. Hollywood is guilty of deliberate withdrawal from the world. ... But let Time magazine view with alarm or point with pride but not laugh off Hollywood's growing recognition that every movie expresses or at least affects political opinion. Moviegoers live all over the world, come from all classes, and add up to the biggest section of human beings ever addressed by any means of communication. [This was, of course, before the rise of television.] The politics of filmmakers therefore is just exactly what isn't funny about Hollywood. Time mentions room temperature burgundy and chopped chicken liver as though those luxuries invalidate political opinion. Time, whose editors eat chopped chicken liver and whose publishers drink room temperature burgundy, knows better.

While Welles was speaking of his movie work, the same could be said of all artists and entertainers. (Welles, for that matter, had just finished a radio show that he had hoped to use for political commentary as well as amusement.) If they choose to keep their politics to themselves, that's fine. But they are still entitled to opinions, in their work and in their lives; an entertainment career doesn't exclude you from the national debate, however much your fans may want out of that debate. And entertainers' opinions should be judged based on their validity, not the career of the person expressing them.

I know I'm stating the obvious here. At least, it should be obvious. But the how dare they? tone that often greets performers' politicking suggests that obviousness can get shoved aside.   

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