Hollywood’s New Identity Crisis
by Kirsten Andersen


Poor Hollywood.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, people are calling Hollywood the worst thing its residents could imagine -- "irrelevant."

Hollywood is not irrelevant. To the contrary, today Hollywood has its biggest chance to shine in the last fifty years. Instead of producing more of the kind of world-weary, cynical fare moviegoers have been subjected to the past few decades, Hollywood can and should take a cue from its past -- specifically, World War II.

During World War II, Hollywood spent its time and money making pro-American, morale-boosting war films that reminded the public why we were at war -- and why we were going to win. These movies were not abstract, intellectual explorations of the morality of the war. They didn’t try to make Americans see the war from the enemy’s perspective. Those movies came later. During the war, as ever, the role of Hollywood was to entertain, not persuade.

Movies that vindicated the war effort were just the beginning of Hollywood’s support during World War II. Many actors and performers traveled great distances and put themselves in harm’s way to entertain our troops personally with the United Services Organization (USO). Such performers were volunteers, as the USO does not pay any fee for entertainers’ work. USO performances were high points in an otherwise frightening life for many of our brave young soldiers.

Speaking of soldiers, in World War II they counted Academy Award-winning actors among their ranks. In 1941, actor Jimmy Stewart (It’s a Wonderful Life) joined the Army Air Corps. And at the 1943 Oscars (which were modified as to not call undue attention to the stars), soldiers/actors Alan Ladd and Tyrone Power waved a banner honoring Hollywood’s service men and women.

In an interview with CNN earlier this week, Ladd’s son David said of his father: "He felt it was his duty to go to war. Especially for kind of macho stars, it was embarrassing to be kind of living in the lap of luxury in Hollywood while other men were out dying." Such embarrassment is rare or nonexistent among young stars today.

And therein lies the rub -- Hollywood is not irrelevant, it is the stars themselves who are irrelevant. In our celebrity-obsessed culture, mere actors and actresses have allowed their egos to inflate to the point where they seem not to know if they are god or man. Divine or no, celebrities know one thing well -- they are VIPs, Very Important People. Very Important People do not risk their lives to go to war, for if they died, the world would have no one left to revolve around. Very Important People instead sit in their multi-million dollar mansions thinking of ways to make the war All About Them.

It was reported recently that actor Alec Baldwin went to Ground Zero in New York, surveyed the scene, and commented that this is a great time to be in New York. He went onto say that if another attack happened, he wanted to be there, because just being present for something like that makes one more important than if one was somewhere else when an attack occurred.

The celebrity quest for self-importance has recently delved into the absurd as Hollywood moguls, feeling ‘left-out,’ have started popping pricey Cipro pills in the absence of anything even resembling anthrax. Rob Long of National Review Online recently opined that Hollywood power players are "suddenly not on the ‘A’ list of people to poison." He continues: "This is hard for us to swallow -- I mean, if we were going after the really important people, we’d certainly hit us."

I suspect Mr. Long was writing a bit tongue-in-cheek, but the sentiment in Hollywood is not a joke. These are people with serious superiority complexes. That they would not be the first and foremost targets of international terrorism is unbelievable and ego-shattering.

I, of course, have a list of New Yorkers and Washingtonians (including, lately, myself) who would be happy to trade places with worried celebrities. It’s a good trade -- they get to stay important, and we finally get a little peace.

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