Volume 96, Issue 92
Tuesday, March 25, 2003

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The value of celebrity talk

The Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, "Where we are free to act, we are also free not to act."

Controversial director Michael Moore's acceptance speech at Sunday night's Academy Awards proved that he is a celebrity who won't back down from an opportunity to voice his opinion. With fellow nominees by his side, Moore voiced his dislike for American President George W. Bush and the war against Iraq when his film Bowling for Columbine won an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.

"We live in fictitious times. We live in a time with fictitious election results that elect fictitious presidents. We live in a time when we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons," Moore said to a mixture of applause and boos.

Moore is not the first public figure to speak out against war in Iraq, nor is he the first to have faced negative feedback for his opinions. Even before the war started, Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines made anti-Bush statements that resulted in the boycott of the band's music from radio airwaves.

Last Saturday night, hockey icon Don Cherry voiced his pro-American views when he ranted about the Montreal Canadiens' fans, who booed the American national anthem earlier in the week, and engaged in a long debate with his Coach's Corner co-host, Ron McLean. Since then, the station has stated the discussion had no place on Hockey Night In Canada.

Regardless of their political views, one question remains: do celebrities have an obligation to speak out?

The answer is found in Aristotle's wise words, but it should emphasize that, regardless of fame, these people can also reserve the right to not speak.

While a famous person has the same right to freedom of speech as anyone else, the fact is their voices are louder than those of common citizens. Fame can be a great stage to voice opinions, as Moore, Maines and other entertainers have demonstrated, but it is important to acknowledge there is no obligation to speak. Afterall, many celebrities neither clapped nor booed Moore's anti-Bush sentiments.

Bands like the Beastie Boys and Rage Against the Machine have a reputation for going against the mainstream grain and play the role of spokespersons for the alternative. These entertainers, like Moore, are expected to stand up and say something, but when somebody like Maines, a member of a very campy, non-political group, voices her opinion, careers get threatened.

Why should a Dixie Chick be condemned for her opinions – especially if this war's goal is to "free" people?

Celebrities just have the inherent advantage of having their views reach a large audience. No matter what is said or who agrees, a celebrity expressing a political view creates discourse and that is a key ingredient to a democratic society.




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