This article contains mildly explicit language.
Just about a week ago CNN ran a breathless article about the latest Hollywood celebrity to assume the brave mantle of social justice champion. The piece, titled, “How Jimmy Kimmel Became America’s Conscience,” lauded the talk show host for bravely flying in the face of American conservatives on health care and gun control. Like Lena Dunham, Meryl Streep, Robert DeNiro, and countless other unsung celebrity heroes, he was ready to speak truth to power!
Consider: “[Kimmel] told people, including me, that he expected heavy blowback from conservative and pro-Trump voices.” Nevertheless, he persisted. Kimmel will stand strong. He will not be silenced.
Then the Harvey Weinstein story hit. Arguably the most important player in Hollywood had at best harassed, at worst assaulted or raped, young women for decades. Surely this was a moment for Kimmel to stand with women and deliver another one of his impassioned monologues. Instead, according to a recent interview, he said: “that story came out like I think moments before we went to tape on Thursday and we didn’t have a show on Friday.”
Kimmel can’t be expected to react to the news of the day. He apparently needs several hours to work up his consternation at people who abuse women. What’s more, he rebukes the idea that he has any responsibility to do so. Counter to CNN’s claims about him being the conscience of America, he said, “They’re saying that I’m calling myself the moral conscience of America, which I most certainly never did and most certainly never would.” Well, at least we can all agree with Kimmel on that.
Yet on Sunday, Kimmel said on CBS that three years ago he was liked equally by Republican and Democrat viewers, but now his Republican numbers are down by a third. He has no regrets: “as a talk show host, that’s not ideal, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
Enter Slim Shady
No sooner had Kimmel abandoned his role as arbiter of all that is right and just than another celebrity jumped in to take his place. In a profanity-laden, supposedly improvised rap number, Eminem took up the mantle of America’s conscience. His inchoate, somewhat rhyming cypher included the allegation that the president has no testicles. This led to a good-natured exchange between myself and J.K. Rowling about the relative value of Slim Shady’s rambling.
These are dark times for liberals. We take comfort where we can. pic.twitter.com/avGUYMyE9h
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) October 11, 2017
This is a telling admission. In the absence of any competent leadership from the Left, we are left with misogynistic rap stars taking the place of Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. Dark times, indeed. But was the childish attack on the president from the token white rap star rebuked by the celebrity Left? Oh no.
On his late-night show, Seth Meyers doubled down. Eminem had bravely flipped the bird to any of his fans who might support Trump. Badass Meyers flipped the bird, too. On national TV! Can you believe it? Such defiance, such courage. Washington at Valley Forge would have been proud.
Lost in the parade of celebrities so present in the battle against Trump and so absent in condemning Weinstein is that Americans at large are America’s conscience. Our moral center isn’t a late-night host like Kimmel who used to stuff things in his pants and have attractive young women grope and guess what it is. Our sense of right and wrong isn’t tied to a rapper who rhapsodizes about killing the mother of his children. We really can do better.
Kimmel’s relative silence regarding Weinstein shouldn’t be a surprise. The whole Weinstein affair shouldn’t be a surprise. The same people who rightfully were shocked and alarmed at Trump’s “grab the pussy” comments knew full well this was de rigeur for men in power. Bill Clinton’s cigar plumbing the depths of an intern who maybe was up for it seems a fitting coda for a twentieth century that abandoned all moral norms. We got what we wanted. That is a failure for all of us.
Mind Your House Before You Criticize Mine
It may sound like nostalgia, but there was a time not long ago when serious thinkers, historians, theologians—dare I say columnists—set the standard of serious discourse. This discourse was careful and circumspect; it rejected emotional appeals in favor of reasoned arguments. When I was coming up in the early 1990s, emotional appeals were suspect, as they should be. This is long gone. Kimmel’s kid needed surgery and he howled about how his child got treatment others might be denied.
My own son needed surgery at six months old because his skull was fused where it shouldn’t have been. My wife and I spent seven hours waiting as doctors at Montefiore Medical Center removed his front skull plates, reformed them, then put them back. He has a scar that runs from ear to ear; we call it his superhero scar. This was in 2010, before Obamacare existed. I worked as a mover and freelance writer, and my wife had a job as a bookkeeper. Our insurance worked. We weren’t wealthy celebrities. Under Obamacare, people like us, with jobs that didn’t make us rich but just paid the bills, are less secure.
We face great problems, and we always will. We have to make choices. Mitt Romney brought the health insurance mandate to Massachusetts, where it made sense, and suffered a political price for doing so. There are no simple solutions. Kimmel and Eminem garner praise and publicity for pretending there are. When they get challenged on the specifics, they back off and say, I’m not America’s conscience. Okay, fair enough. But let’s all stop pretending that they are.
What makes America great—and it is great, I don’t care what anyone says—is that we control our destiny. No Vox explainer or New York Times news analysis can convince us of what we need and want. Kimmel’s silence about Weinstein foisting his fat belly on hot Italian models should give us pause when they and Kimmel pontificate about the vast right-wing conspiracy. It’s not a conspiracy. It’s decent, working Americans who aren’t going to take moral lectures from lecherous multi-millionaires groping young women.
Alas, the late-night comedians, the great arbiters of how we ought to live, they get quiet about Harvey. He grabbed a t-t. But he gave millions to Planned Parenthood, and hates the NRA. Kimmel and Eminem and Meyer and all the rest are complicit. I’d say shame on them, but they bask in shame. It is the water in which Hollywood celebrity swims.
It’s time to ignore celebrities. Its time to take a serious account of what we want from our government. There will be disagreements, but that’s democracy.