Stardumb: Whoopie Goldberg
The center square of comedy doesn't like it when people make jokes about lefty entertainers--it's unconstitutional. Also, a Coldplay update and Chrissy Hynde's literal anti-Americanism.
11:00 PM, Mar 12, 2003 • By DAVID SKINNER
BLACKLIST. Censorship. The Constitution. Free Speech. This is what the Stardumb phenomenon is all about: The guaranteed right of every entertainer to make an ass of himself as he rushes to the public square with his fresh-from-the-mouth-of-Bill-Maher pronouncements on the issue of war.
And, thus, by ridiculing such statements, the American people are attempting to subvert the Constitution and take us all back to some dark, repressive era in the nation's mythically terrible past. Thus sayeth many, most prominently the Screen Actors Guild in an official statement last week.
Stardumb Hypothesis Number 5: Having made an idiot of himself, the Stardumb celebrity proceeds to defend his right to do so. This right, however, remains completely unchallenged: It's as safe and well-preserved as a worthless trinket locked in kryptonite, guarded by adrenaline-drunk Marines, 200 feet under the sea floor, at an undisclosed location somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.
For example, no one is messing with Martin Sheen's right to be Martin Sheen (who some say is the reason for the SAG statement). Whether NBC executives have reason to be worried about his astonishingly dumb pronouncements (exceptional even by Hollywood standards) is another matter. Clearly the only one endangering Martin Sheen's "right to work," as the SAG statement puts it, is Martin Sheen. Furthermore, the plunging audience numbers for the once-heralded "West Wing" have nothing to do with Sheen's "I play a president on TV" antiwar spiel.
Stardumb Hypothesis Number 6: While he is busy defending his right to make an ass of himself, the stardummy's asinine activity has been brought into full public view for the pleasant diversion of all. How does it happen? His vanity, having long ago won a final victory over his self-reproach, keeps the stardummy from recognizing his own foolishness.
Hosting the David Letterman show the other night (Letterman was out sick), Whoopi Goldberg interviewed Jessica Lange. The discussion was moving along nicely, uninterrupted by applause, when the question arose of why stardummies like Goldberg and Lange are treated so harshly. Because people only know her as an actress, explained the beautiful Lange, they can't imagine her as a political being. She called the negative response an attempt to deny this part of her self and blamed it on a failure of the public's imagination.
Whoopi's take was that people had misread the Constitution, making her today's featured Stardummy.
A few lessons emerge. For starters, Whoopi Goldberg wouldn't recognize the Constitution--or, more to her point, the Bill of Rights--if her house were wallpapered with it. Second (and this is so obvious I hesitate to mention it), entertainers are more entertaining when not discussing politics. The next guest after Lange was the hilarious comedian Dave Chapelle, who has his own show on Comedy Central. You have a lot of opinions, Whoopi said, what's your take on this? Sure he had a lot of opinions, but the first one he offered was that Jessica Lange looked HOT! Then he called the 53-year-old actress "the white Tina Turner." The studio audience roared. As it did when Lange herself made a sly joke about how cold it was in the Ed Sullivan theater (the temperature is kept low to keep the place from boiling over with body heat). Hardly the stuff of an HBO comedy special, but the audience lapped it up.
A major failing of Whoopi and other entertainers is they don't recognize that turnabout is fair play. In her opening monologue, Goldberg joked that the world was much safer when the president was getting laid--meaning when Clinton was in the Oval Office. (Now, this was clearly beyond the pale of acceptable taste. And is this the Clinton legacy, by the way, making it "okay" to publicly insult the marriages of other presidents?) Goldberg also joked that Condoleezza Rice sounded like the name of a disease. A childish line, of course, but it would be held against Rice, a public figure, were she to cry about it. Yet, there goes Whoopi, also a public figure, rubbing wounds with actress Jessica Lange about how unfair it is that people make fun of them.
But it's not only entertainers who seem confused about the basic rules of praise and ridicule as they operate in the public square. When the subject of celebrity activists and possible boycotts was broached on "Fox News Watch" over the weekend, columnist Cal Thomas was quick to say he opposed censorship as a response to celebrity big-mouthery. The Screen Actors Guild also needs enlightenment here. Censorship is not the same as boycotting, which is not the same as simply losing one's taste for a specific entertainer after being exposed to his obnoxious views.