Rick Astley was a pop star in the 1980s. At the height of his fame, someone asked Mr. Astley his position on a political question, and he endeared himself by replying:
“What are you asking me for? Im a singer. What I think about politics doesnt matter.
I thought of Mr. Astley today when reading of the appearance of Bono, Sharon Stone, Richard Gere, and Angelina Jolie at the World Economic Forum.
I dont mean to be exclusionary, but theres a strong argument against movie and music celebrities giving us political advice.
I do not intend to develop this argument here, but I let me offer ethnographic evidence collected while I was working as a Hollywood chauffeur. We, the “staff, had been assembled at the home to be occupied Julie Christie and Warren Beatty for the duration of the filming of McCabe and Mrs. Miller.
There was, all of a sudden, a terrible explosion of epithets and exclamations. The cook, the butler, and I raced to see what the matter was. We found an executive producer shouting with unhappiness. The occasion of his misery: some of the flowers in the hallway were not quite fresh enough.
“What, I remember wondering to myself, “must it be like to live in a world where your every wish is anticipated, often invisibly. Really you cant have any idea what any of the real worlds are like. You might as well be a European monarch from the 17th century. You cant really have a clue.
But Bono, Stone, Gere, and Jolie were all at Davos. Not just present, but audible. Not just audible, but influential.
“You see celebrities walking through here, and you see CEO heads spinning like Linda Blair in The Exorcist (Sanford Climan, Entertainment Ventures, WSJ, Friedman)
So whats the problem? If Bono uses a little of his celebrity to shine a light on the poverty or sickness of the third world, what could it hurt? Heres how it hurts. This is a high altitude piece of identity politics. The publicity is now as much about Bono as the poverty in question. At the moment we have been invited to think about hunger, we are obliged to ‘tithe to Bono, surrendering admiration for what a big hearted, socially minded, heroic guy he is. I feel pretty much about Bono the way I do about Jesse Jackson working on world peace. Spare us the grandstanding and get out of the way.
These issues will take good minds working in the best American tradition of problem solving: well briefed, unsentimental, utterly pragmatic individuals who would not hestitate to “kill a few baby seals to get the job done. Because its not about them, its about the hunger, poverty, illiteracy, disease. With Bono, its always about Bono. It may well be that the most intractable aspects of these problems is that they have been taken captive of the liberal agenda. Could we not appoint some real problem solvers to get on with this? A little less beating of the breast and a little more ruthless efficiency. I would take a single Harvard Business School grad for the lot of them.
Mind you, according to Bret Stephens, there are other reasons, besides addled adoration, to wonder if Davos is really up to the challenge it claims for itself.
[W]hen it comes to politics, the Forum reflects a “Davos Consensusthat is, the clichés, nostrums, banalities, elisions, evasions, upstanding sentiments and lowest common denominators generated when people of differing views are at their most polite. Everyone gets along splendidly at Davos, but platitude is frequently the glue that holds them together.
What do these people think they are doing at Davos? Networking? If there is a trace of sincerity to the Davos mission statement, surely participants are obliged to get beyond making “nice with one another. If Davos means to solve problems, instead of posturing about them, our advice is clear: stow the chumminess, get over yourselves, and get on with it. Its not about you.
Friedman, Alan. 2005. Hollywood Goes to Davos: Celebrities Attend World Economic Forum and, in Some Cases, Steal the Show. Wall Street Journal. January 31, 2005, p. 2.
Stephens, Bret. 2005. A Jolie Good Time at Davos. Wall Street Journal. January 31, 2005, p. A19.