Celebrity worship isn’t confined to the US. Whenever I check out the groceries at a supermarket, the last temptation is an array of magazines with photos of female movie stars on the cover and headlines which promise to reveal just how angry and distressed they are because their partner has been caught cheating. Why any man would cheat on these impossibly beautiful and s-xy women is beyond me, but thankfully for the circulation of countless gossip magazines, they do.
In both America and Australia, when actors or actresses attempt to go beyond this level of banal publicity and leverage their visibility to promote a socially progressive cause, they are typically sneered at by a press which, contrary to the myth that it’s populated by left-liberal journalists, is controlled most emphatically by the right and far right of politics.
The accusation is made that actors are not experts in whatever it is they’re promoting, and there’s often an implied sub text they are vain, preening and stupid and can therefore be ignored.
Having worked with actors all my life I know that very few of them are stupid. They spend their professional lives putting themselves in other people’s shoes and trying to understand people and worlds that aren’t their own. They tend to be left-leaning because so much of the work they do centres on the social consequences of indifference and injustice. Any actor cast in Death of a Salesman will almost certainly feel the desperation of someone fighting for survival in an indifferent world.
Cate Blanchett is certainly not vain, preening and stupid, and she has a genuine concern for the future of the planet. So has anyone else who has bothered to read the basic science.
The heating effect of increasing carbon in the atmosphere was understood a hundred or more years ago. Despite our conservative press making strident attacks on anyone who tries to link our recent abnormal flood, drought and fire catastrophes to global warming, the probability that the science is right is accepted by a clear majority of Australians.
For a high profile artist to put the case for action on an acknowledged problem of this magnitude would be seen as laudatory in most developed nations, but not here.
Dick Smith was more realistic than Cate. He feels about the issue just as passionately but declined to appear in the ad because he knew that the Murdoch press, the world’s last repository of climate change scepticism, and gung ho worship of limitless economic growth, would crucify him.
Tony Abbott, with the blatant backing of the conservative media, is trying to sail towards power on the legitimate cost of living fears of lower and middle income people. For him to deride Cate for living in an “eco-mansion” is just another way of pressing his ludicrous message that he is the “battler’s friend”.
If a well known and respected artist is courageous enough in the political climate of contemporary Australia to stand up and be counted on an issue they understand and feel passionately about, then it’s surely cause for celebration rather than sneering. They are in effect using their visibility to do more than bolster the circulation of gossip magazines.
They are bringing to public notice a left-liberal viewpoint that has all but disappeared from Australian public discourse. Virulent conservative attacks on the ABC for its occasional left-liberal leanings have all but neutered it, so in the face of a situation where even commonsense social action is painted as dangerously radical, all power to our high profile artists, like Cate and Tim Winton, who refuse to be intimidated into silence.