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Stardumb: Professional Sports v. Hollywood and Music

Also: Tiger Woods v. Michael Moore and Anna Quindlen v. common sense.

7:00 AM, Apr 17, 2003 • By DAVID SKINNER
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PERHAPS because of the mixed and novel aims of the war in Iraq, no single argument against the war ever came to define the antiwar movement. Rather, the pro- and antiwar camps roughly divided into people who believe in the moral potential of American might and those who don't. The latter have been even more disbelieving as a result of their collective contempt for our president, a hatred that more than any ideal or policy aim distinguishes the hard-core left today. Indeed, few who opposed the war seriously addressed the crimes of Saddam Hussein, preferring to focus on the supposed crimes of George W. Bush instead. This jaundiced view made it perfectly rational, predictable, and pretty much inevitable that the term "anti-American" would become the most commonly used adjective for the antiwar crowd.

But such macrodivisions did not give the public debate its unique flavor; instead it was the microdivisions that changed what might have been a serious controversy into a B-flick drama. The street urchins with their hastily scribbled signs and slapdash habits of dress made one think they didn't actually want or expect to be taken seriously. Indiscriminate slogans and reckless accusations: As political theater, the movement lacked dramatic focus and narrative power. More parade than parable.

But while the streets showed us the undisciplined mentality of a mob, television, print, and especially the Internet ushered in a large and gorgeous cast of stars from the music and entertainment industry to protest the war. These "ordinary citizens," as a few hilariously called themselves, were no more learned on the subject of war than their traffic-blocking brethren, nor at all seasoned in the customs of political debate, but they took seriously the attempt to give the antiwar movement an attractive public face.

But not all celebrities came out in protest. In an unusual wrinkle among the footnotes of who did and did not support the American-led war against Saddam's regime, a remarkable group of great athletes stood behind the president and the American cause in Iraq. Thus athletes came to represent--albeit very quietly, which seems appropriate--not only the pro-war opinion, but mainstream America. And Hollywood and music celebrities came to represent an oppositionist culture fueled by anti-Bush venom and peopled by the anti-American fringe. The same week that Michael Moore accused the president of the United States of fabricating a grievance with Saddam on stage at the Oscars (before a huge international television audience), Tiger Woods without any to-do posted a statement of support for the president on his website. The two men were more or less opposing archetypes of the American celebrity in wartime. The content of their politics were as different as their style.

Moore, known for his open contempt of American culture and corporations, and loose command of facts, could barely contain his rage as he characterized the war and the president as illegitimate--or to use his word "fictional." Woods, not known at all for his politics, except insofar as he has declined to use his fame to indulge the identity agendas of the left, delivered the verbal equivalent of raising a flag on his front lawn. But it's not just Woods and Moore who differ with each other. Their professions and their fans disagree with each other.

Another example of this clash of milieus can be seen in the Baseball Hall of Fame's decision to cancel its 15th anniversary celebration of "Bull Durham," arguably one of the best baseball movies ever. The Hall's reason for nixing the festivities was the possibility that two of the movie's stars--antiwar activists/actors/domestic partners Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon--would "use the Hall as a backdrop" for "highly charged political expression." For Sarandon, this was the second such "disinvite" in the last few weeks after the United Way told her to forget about speaking at a training session in Tampa.

There is, of course, nothing illegal or even dishonorable about chucking a celebrity like this, though in her Newsweek column, Anna Quindlen claims it "suggests that national interest is more important than free speech." Notice that weakling verb, "suggests," as it puffs up its chest to make these disputes among private parties sound like federal issues. Quindlen goes on to say it's "deeply ironic" that we should call Sarandon/Robbins "unpatriotic," while we as a nation praise America's Founders: "Children learn of the greatness of those who spoke out against the policies of George III, then hear vilified those who do not agree with George W. How confusing."