Stars play lead role in peace movement
AOL news wire
(Feb. 26) - Sheryl Crow was ridiculed for wearing a "War is not the answer" T-shirt to an awards show, Sean Penn was castigated for visiting Baghdad and Martin Sheen was slammed for exploiting his TV role as a fictional U.S. president by fronting an anti-war ad promoting today's ``virtual march'' on Washington.
Millions around the world have marched in protest against any war with Iraq, Nobel peace laureates have spoken out, and popes and poets have urged restraint.
But when Hollywood -- or some of it -- started using its media muscle to further the anti-war rhetoric, it prompted a storm of controversy that reflects America's love-hate relationship toward its pervasive celebrity culture.
"The media created us, puts us on the air, and then says 'How dare you use your rights as a celebrity?'," said television producer Robert Greenwald, founder of the fledgling Artists United to Win Without War.
"I have been surprised at the vehemence. We got a whole bunch of hate mail after our news conferences. Some of these talk radio shows go for days trying to viciously demean and demonize and marginalize these very eloquent and committed patriots among our group," Greenwald told Reuters.
Celebrity organizers of the ``virtual march'' are calling on supporters to call, fax or e-mail their two U.S. senators and the White House during business hours today.
The group has been running a television ad featuring Sheen, who plays the fictional President Josiah Bartlet on NBC's ``The West Wing.''
``Our message to Washington will be clear,'' Sheen says in the ad. ``Don't invade Iraq. We can contain Saddam Hussein without killing innocent people, diverting us from the war on terrorism and putting us all at risk.''
Participants who register for the call-in campaign at the group's Web site are directed to make their phone calls at specific times, said Tom Andrews, national director of the Win Without War coalition of nonprofit, religious and civil activist groups.
``We're hoping there will be thousands and thousands of phone calls,'' said Andrews, a Democratic who represented Main in the U.S. House from Maine from 1990 to 1994.
Andrews said the goal was to have the phones in the offices of the president and every member of the Senate ringing every minute of the day with a call from someone opposed to the war. Free fax services are also offered on the Web site (www.moveon.org), Andrews said.
"My fondest hope is that President Bush will answer his telephone and look out his window ... and that he will have an epiphany and a change of heart and this war will not take place," said actor James Cromwell, who was nominated for an Oscar for his role in "Babe."
WHAT DOES HOLLYWOOD KNOW?
Derided as "limousine liberals," or for being unpatriotic, the actors and musicians who have spoken out are now forced to spend as much time defending their free speech rights as detailing their opposition to a war.
"We are not experts. What we are is citizens in a democracy. We are using our patriotic rights and our ability to get the attention of the media," Greenwald said.
Yet many Americans seem more comfortable, or more accustomed, to hearing their stars gushing about gowns on the red carpet than expressing political opinions with a passion not seen since Jane Fonda visited Hanoi during the Vietnam War.
A CNN talk show this week called "Star Wars" carried the tag "What does Hollywood know about politics?" and "Are their views anti-American." A columnist in Utah's conservative Deseret News asked if it was wise "to take advice from people who generally don't begin to grow up until their late 40s or early 50s."
Actress and comedian Janeane Garofalo, one of the leading lights of Artists United to Win Without War, says the word celebrity "makes my skin crawl."
"Regrettably, the majority does not hold the opinions of actors in high esteem. I don't know why it persists. Then there is this perceived wealth issue -- the 'limousine liberals'. I don't see any reason why there should be a salary cap of $30,000 a year before you wade in on a political issue," Garofalo said.
Artists United was launched in December with a simple statement urging President Bush to let United Nations weapons inspections work and not to rush to war against Iraq.
The group counts some 130 supporters -- only a tiny proportion of Hollywood's elite -- including Kim Basinger, Robin Williams, Gillian Anderson, Matt Damon, Susan Sarandon, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kirsten Dunst. It is part of an anti-war coalition of some 30 groups that includes Greenpeace, the National Council of Churches and Oxfam America.
None however have enjoyed or endured the kind of publicity given the celebrities, including the likes of Dustin Hoffman, Woody Harrelson and Richard Gere whose anti-war views have made world headlines but who have not signed up to Artists United.
WILL THEY MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
Despite the furor, some Hollywood experts doubt whether the stars will have much effect on public opinion.
"On the one hand, celebrities don't know anything more about political and social life than the rest of us. On the other hand, I've never seen any reason why they shouldn't speak out. They are human beings, they are voters, they have feelings," said Time magazine movie reviewer Richard Schickel.
"My sense is that movie stars and other media figures are listened to with a considerable grain of salt by the rest of society. I think there is an instinct that says, 'These people pull their pants on one leg at a time the same as we all do, so their opinion on this matter is no more consequential than my opinion or yours,"' he said.
Sheen, asked the same question, replied; "We are not asked to be successful. We are only asked to be faithful."
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