Barry Levinson on the “Unholy Alliance of Politics, Celebrity, and Media”

The Daily Beast is reporting on Barry Levinson’s new documentary about the good and bad of celebrity political involvement, something most of us have probably been long of two minds about.

While I automatically dismiss the right wingers like Tom Selleck, Bo Derek and Pat Sajak, even the lefties often give me the heebie jeebies. I still get nauseous when I remember Susan Dey on some talk show in the 80s stage-weeping while talking about “looking into the eyes of the homeless.” Puh-leez. Just another stage for their never-ending need for attention, their belief in their own press reports and the conviction that they hadn’t really needed the educations they never got before heading to Hollywood. Still, it’s undeniable that celebrity helps, even more so when it’s a celebrity of substance, like Susan Sarandon or Oprah. If only there were more of them. Here’s a good nugget supporting this point:


At the Democratic convention in Denver, he asked pollster Frank Luntz to run a seminar advising Creative Coalition members how to convey their support for issues such as arts education more effectively. When Luntz mildly suggests that the actors tone down any in-your-face rhetoric, perhaps use language to sway opponents not antagonize them, actor Josh Lucas turns as red-faced as a kid whose toy has been taken away on the playground; he’s indignant at being told what to say. Actress Gloria Reuben actually compares Luntz’s advice to stomping on her First Amendment rights. Huh? This from people who make a living creating images…

Levinson, who grew up with television and worked in TV in his early years, says he thinks the medium is responsible for the country’s polarization and inability to engage in real discussion. “Every great invention has a downside,” he told The Daily Beast. “It’s easy to say the automobile is a great invention, but it also pollutes, it can kill people. Television is more subtle, and the changes that have taken place have forced everybody into an entertainment mode,” which means that news programs thrive on heated right-left battles, and the country also takes sides.

On screen, Levinson is an effective guide because he doesn’t sound like a curmudgeon, just a clear-eyed analyst as he describes a tangle of insidious forces: Celebrities need the media to spotlight their causes, the media need celebrities to get ratings, and politicians need both. “Everyone is selling something,” Levinson says matter-of-factly onscreen. “And that’s the democracy we have today.”

This from a man who lives and breathes Hollywood.

OK. Depressed now.