Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Celebrity Pundits

In the United States, we pretty much have the patent on the 'celebrity-turned-politician.'

Clint Eastwood, Fred Thompson and, most famously, Arnold Schwarzenegger are all examples of Hollywood hotshots who later became mayors, congressmen and governors.

The three on the right are real politicians - the one on the left only thinks he is.

Some people argue that these career-switching celebrities make a mockery of the political system (as if it needed any help being made a mockery of.) But at least these celebrities aren't just playing politician: They did genuinely stand for election, they won the popular support and sat in office, doing the job for real.

This is a the complete opposite of the situation in Great Britain, in which celebrities only rarely venture into real politics - Sebastian Coe and Martin Bell are the only two I can think of that met with any legitimate success.

What we have instead is something far more insidious - the celebrity turned pundit.

This election in particular has seen the British media pander to a pantheon of politically-inclined stars and celebs; demanding their opinion on the upcoming election without any regard as to whether or not they have the slightest clue what they're talking about.

Now, don't get me wrong - we're all entitled to our opinions. After all, I'm sitting here pontificating about the election on my blog and all I've got to 'qualify' me is an A-Level in Government and Politics. I don't resent celebrities having opinions about politics - I just resent them being the lion's share of the punditry presented by the British media.

Armando Iannucci, the so-called 'hardman of political satire', demonstrated this trend in a recent editorial for The Independent. He recounts being called to the BBC 'election barge' to take part in political debate, only to find himself "greeted with the site of a hundred celebrities and swanky public figures" and the unsettling realisation that he was "regarded as one of them."
I'd been promised proper debate, but instead stood next to Joan Collins while the thrice-divorced star of "The Stud" and "The Bitch" praised Cameron's family values.
Brits can be an awfully snobby lot, and often like to look across the Pond to the United States and scoff about what a backwards lot they are. When it comes to politics, though, I argue that average Americans are generally a much more politically savvy lot.

Take this trend towards celebrity punditry, for example. When yanks try it - like verbose Hollywood veterans Alec Baldwin and Kevin Spacey, they're almost universally dismissed as the know-nothing blowhards they arguably are.

But in Britain, it's self-important luvvies who actually headline supposedly 'political' shows, even on state-funded institutions like the venerable BBC.

Perhaps that's indicative of just how shallow and inconsequential British politics has become.


One Salient Oversight said...

I think it's great that famous people get a chance to express their opinions. It helps us understand what's going on - and what's not going on - in their mind.

Roland Hulme said...

Ha ha! That made me snort coffee out of my nose. Brilliant.

Lloydie said...

As usual, a wonderful read from a fellow A-level Government and Politics bod.

Maybe I was consuming my coverage in a different way, but by and large I felt the celebs were more ignored in this election in the UK than they have been in previous ones (especially compared with the "cool Britania" phase of Blair politics).

The Armando Iannucci comment is interesting as he was on an actual boat of celebrities on the Thames on election night, but they rarely went to the "Celeb Boat" in the BBC coverage. The lion's share of coverage went to the likes of serious pundits like Peter Kelner who is quite exceptional.

That said, I agree with your assertion that we show much more deference to celebrity political opinions in the UK that happens in the US. I've no idea why as it doesn't seem a very "British" thing to do. We're a funny lot.

Love your bloggings!

Roland Hulme said...

Hi Lloydie! As always, thanks for your comment - as a G&P a-level student (who no doubt got a better mark than I did) AND a politically savvy party member, I actually think of you as one of the few celebs who actually DOES know what they're talking about (but ironically, OFCOM rules meant you couldn't talk about it!)

I actually respect Iannucci's opinion, so thought it was pretty self-deprecating to include himself in what he wrote. I especially liked this bit, which kind of summed up my opinion of the election barge:

"We [weren't even] being broadcast, anathema to any self-respecting celebrity."

I do think Brits have a really weird attitude towards celebrities and politics. In America, Sean Penn, Kevin Spacey and Alex Baldwin are always pontificating, but even the liberal left dismiss them as blowhards (I love, love, love Alex Baldwin as a performer and artist, but he does talk a lot of crap sometimes.)

I think we need some of that attitude in ol' blighty!

Lloydie said...

I won't reveal my grade - well, unless we reach a power sharing agreement to reveal our combined grades that is.

You're right, though. It's very odd that we don't dismiss celebs more in this country when they spout nonsense. I did notice, however, that Heather Mills came out in favour of the Lib Dems in the campaign and the Lib Dems didn't mention it once. Strange that!!

Andy said...

OSO has been nyukin' up the internet the last few days. He has made me snort twice today, myself.

Roland, I'm the odd-man-out here, not really understanding British politics at all. But, the observation you made about the difference in celebs-turned pols v. celebs-turned pundits is very interesting.

As much as I dislike the politics of guys like Franken...he did throw his hat in the ring. He did actually wage a campaign. And, he now sits in the US Senate.

So did Reagan. He waged the political war...didn't just stand on the sideline. Others...Gandy, Bono, etc.

Good food for thought, Roland. Very good.