By FRANK BRUNI
Published: October 22, 2011
WHAT enormous comfort it must give the Occupy Wall Street protesters to know that celebrities feel their pain.
Roseanne Barr, for example. The comedian bleeds for them. Or, rather, would have others bleed; inspired by the protests, she recommended the guillotine for the greediest bankers.
Such a subtle creature, she, and so oppressed to boot! Back in the 1990s, for the final seasons of her sitcom “Roseanne,” she made at least $20 million a year.
She was not the 99 percent.
The rap mogul Russell Simmons and the rapper Kanye West meandered over to Occupy Wall Street’s cradle, Zuccotti Park. By all accounts West was wearing more bling, though Simmons has bigger bucks: his net worth has been estimated as being between $100 million and $340 million. West’s is below that, and he made only $16 million or so last year.
They are not even the 99.5 percent.
And while that doesn’t disqualify them or Barr or other entertainers from sympathizing with Occupy Wall Street, it does give their public gestures of solidarity a discordant, sometimes specious ring. It also confuses the identity of a protest movement that already has challenges aplenty in the coherence department.
The movement’s “we are the 99 percent” motto expresses ire over not only the unaccountability of huge financial institutions but also income inequality in America and the concentration of so much wealth and privilege in so few hands. Every time a wealthy messenger gloms on, that aspect of the message gets muddled and possibly compromised.
And the glomming has begun. With a slowly growing number of actors and musicians paying well-chronicled visits to Zuccotti Park, the movement is in danger of becoming a sticky fly strip for entertainers who like to flaunt their self-styled populism: a gadfly strip.
Susan Sarandon has been. Michael Moore has been. While both may have been propelled there by genuine anger, they have so much of it, are so famous for it and spread it so widely that their appearances can do the opposite of elevating a demonstration, making it seem merely fashionable and giving naysayers an easier way to roll their eyes.
Entertainers are members of the well-connected economic elite against which Occupy Wall Street ostensibly rages, whether or not they want to see themselves that way. True, they’re not bundling mortgages, and they often have their extravagantly beating hearts in the right place. Many donate generously to charity. Many do remarkable good.
But they nonetheless make oodles of money for themselves and for major corporations with lavishly compensated executives: the corporations that bankroll and distribute their television shows, movies, record albums and concert tours; the corporations that peddle the clothing, electronics and ever-so-important cosmetics and styling products that entertainers are paid so handsomely to model and endorse.
In some cases entertainers even make money for the banking industry itself. This issue came up last week when Alec Baldwin dropped by Zuccotti Park.
Critics noted that he appears in television commercials for Capital One, a banking behemoth. While he responded that he gives his fee away, he’s still promoting the company, and there remain other facets of his work and life that render him, like other stars, a very odd fit for a movement concerned with the sway of big companies and the distribution of wealth.
He has homes in both the Hamptons and Manhattan, a fact widely noted in news reports about a New York City tax inquiry into which is his primary residence. He claims the Hamptons.
His television show, “30 Rock,” is shown on NBC, which is part of NBC Universal, whose president and chief executive officer, Steve Burke, had a total compensation package worth $34.7 million last year, according to a recent survey of executive salaries in The Hollywood Reporter.
That same survey put the compensation of Brian Roberts, the chief executive officer of Comcast, which owns a controlling stake in NBC Universal, at $31.1 million. Philippe Dauman, the chief executive officer of Viacom, which owns Paramount Pictures, outpaced both of them. According to the company’s filing with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, he had a compensation package last year that totaled nearly $85 million, more than double his 2009 amount. Like Wall Street bankers, entertainment industry executives haven’t exactly suffered in this economy.
Celebrities help line those executives’ pockets, even if that’s not their goal, and then take the extra step of supporting other affluent corporations as pitchmen and pitchwomen. Some of them are seemingly aware enough of how mercenary this can seem that they favor endorsements outside American markets, especially in Asia, where their primary fan base won’t notice. At least Sarandon is doing her most recent endorsement work, for the clothing retailer Uniqlo, right here, on billboards in Manhattan and in a full-page ad in last week’s New Yorker magazine. I’m betting she chose Uniqlo, admirably, because it’s not Prada and its magazine ads push something other than glamour. The merino sweater she models in one ad costs $39.90.
But Uniqlo is part of a multibillion-dollar Japanese corporation, and the vast majority of its clothing is made in China. How does that serve the jobs-hungry young Americans in Occupy Wall Street’s fold?
There are many mixed signals in the celebrity assist to Occupy Wall Street, along with a reminder that we too seldom hold stars to account for their own greed.
SOME have reportedly accepted payments in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to show up and even perform at the private parties of superrich despots. The musicians Mariah Carey, Nelly Furtado, Usher and Beyoncé (a pitchwoman over time for L’Oréal, Armani, Nintendo, Pepsi) sang for members of the Qaddafi family. Will they be warbling at the funeral? Hilary Swank and Jean-Claude Van Damme attended the 35th-birthday bash for the Chechen tyrant Ramzan Kadyrov. This was not the outgrowth of a long, deep friendship.
Let’s hope these entertainers steer clear of Zuccotti Park, but you never know. Performers do love their political pronouncements, even though they view the world from a vantage point as skewed and cloistered in its way as a Fortune 500 chief executive’s. There are many causes that want for notice and can benefit mightily from celebrity interventions.
Occupy Wall Street isn’t one of them, at least not at this point. It’s running strong, with ample news media attention. Entertainers who raise its banner may get some self-promotion and ego inflation from the effort, but they do the protest questionable good. And protesters would be wise to keep all that glitters — including the gold chain that was on Kanye West’s neck — at arm’s length.
I will be very surprised if Hollywood does not strongly support Wall Street occupation movement which is going international. Hollywood is all about entertainment with the good winning over the evil. This is a real life movie and Hollywood just can not step aside and let this movie collapse or see the audience leaving their seats and going home. The script goes like this: instead of Wall Street lead an honest economy that help all of us invest make money and invest for our pensions and our senility they misled us and lost our investment and the government rewarded them by giving them our money again. The script will not end of tell us what is wrong but how to get it right. I purposed before that moral capitalism is the answer you can see the article in my website somewhere I already talked about it for long time and people did not listen. It looks to me that after the world collapse people will try to find me and see how can I help.