I was watching a film clip of A Streetcar Named Desire that featured Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski, Tennessee Williams’ enigma. What intrigued me was not only the writing but Brando’s performance. Effortless is the best word I can think of…simply effortless.
I’d seen others perform Stanley, namely one Alec Baldwin, who, despite his recent escapades is quite a capable actor. The difference, however, between Baldwin, Treat Williams (whose version was actually quite good) is night and day not only in approach but delivery. Baldwin was acting, while Brando was being. Brando was Stanley, Baldwin was playingStanley.
My critic’s eye aside, I kept asking myself while watching the various scenes why we put people like Brando, Marilyn Monroe, or even the “stars” of today, whomever they may be (admittedly, I don’t know many of them these days) on a pedestal far above anyone else in our society. For that matter, why do we place anyone in the entertainment business on such a lofty perch?
We listen to their semi-informed opinions, follow their every move, and lap at their feet like some attention starved puppy. All of this is fed by paparazzi not allowing them any privacy as though the person working to make a living needs to know how celebrities change their socks or who their last bed partner was.
Maybe the reason is because so many desire to escape their mundane lives if only for a moment. Maybe it’s because we are inundated with these people constantly. Maybe it’s a mixture of both. For my part, I’m quite happy with mundane, but, admittedly, I might be the exception.
The difference today is that those actors and actresses are now catapulted by the media into beings infused not only with the ability to act, but somehow also imbued with supernatural intellectual capabilities. They, the public is led to believe, have superior intellect, superior insight, and know more about us than we do ourselves.
George Clooney? Really?
Well, we did have an actor as president once.
George Carlin was widely held as a genius social observer. His career, born in the 60’s as the hippy-dippy weatherman somehow transformed into an all-knowing prodigy of the human condition both temporal and spiritual. Never mind his political stances being decidedly one-sided; he told us who we are, what we are, and minced no words on the denigration or the hypocrisy of American society although rarely extolling it’s virtues.
Ironically, it was those same virtues that allowed such denigration to take place without fear of spending time in a gulag.
No, Carlin was no genius—he just said what so many were thinking, having the onions to say it on a stage in front of thousands of people in a creative way rather than the recesses of his own mind as so many of us do.
Even our politics, a subject I’m loathe to write about these days as the defecation continues to hit the oscillator, has fallen victim to this hero worship. No longer are we electing statesmen, but rather, celebrities, our news media part and parcel in deciding who will inundate our airwaves in the attempt to “make them”.
Those politicians buy into it as well, grandstanding at “hearings” or getting “arrested” all for attention and little else.
I suppose it’s always been that way but ask yourself—would a Lincoln or Roosevelt get elected today? A Polk? Grant? Coolidge? My guess is no. None were entertainers or particularly entertaining. They were, to some degree, anonymous statesmen with Roosevelt coming as close to celebrity as could be then. I wonder if we would ever consider such men or women again; the quiet statesmen? Something tells me we would not.
We, in our self-induced haze go along with it all, more often than not electing the person who has name recognition rather than true substance. We are blinded by our political affiliation or what we feel rather than using cold logic supported by historical example to guide our choices.
Even if someone on “the other side” was right, they’d be branded wrong, tarred and feathered; such is the state of our political mindset these days on both sides of the aisle.
Politicians know this—they all know this—which is why campaign finance is the overriding concern for candidates; name recognition rather than policy. It is why they spend more time fund raising than actually governing. We’re no different as voters, craving name recognition or retreating to our political “side” in its absence, a sad fact that calls into question the very notion of elections themselves.
Maybe that’s why, over time, even democracies fall into some form of authoritarianism—it’s easier that way.
Logic tells us putting those who pretend for a living in the C Suite while the rest of us sit in the cheap seats is, well, illogical. It simply doesn’t make sense, yet, humans often do things that make little sense, hero worship of actors not the least of it.
For those in the public eye, that attention is their elixir, they can’t do without it. It’s a symbiotic relationship, as the worm is to the mud, or the parasite is to the host. We can’t do without them nor they us.
The problem is that when we give away that power, we can never get it back, and that’s where we are today—powerless—reminded of that powerlessness each day as we crave what content creators produce.
It wasn’t that way once, but as the industry grew with such captivating people as Mary Pickford, Clark Gable, and the ever young Marilyn Monroe, our desires, both sexual and imaginative grew beyond our ability to control them.
There is no blame, other than for those who are the puppet masters of this relationship. They are the ones who sit quietly on the sidelines, or above even the lofty perch, laughing as they manipulate the strings or strum the the lute that lulls us into compliance; taking our money and our will along with them.
No one is immune from this influence unless they choose to sit in the silence of their abode, doors locked, windows covered with books their only recourse. Even then, there is a hero worship of sorts, the authors of said books taking the place of the screen hero. Flaubert, Hemmingway, Dickens, Dostoyevsky…flawed all, yet occupying their own special place among the firmament.
So, the best we can do is understand our destructive hero worship. Understand it and fight the urge to the best of our ability, even though we will never quite rid ourselves of it.
It’s the best we can do.