Dear Alec Baldwin,
I can tell that you’re having a hard week, so I’ll start on a generous note. I fully believe that you’re not a homophobe (or even a “homophobe”). In fact, I’ll go further. The charge is perfectly ridiculous. You’ve been living for years in a culture that puts heteronormativity on par with Nazism. If you were even slightly inclined to view the gay rights movement as anything less than a magnificent triumph of human love over the forces of evil, the thought police would have ferreted that out a long time ago.
This should be obvious to anyone who has been within 50 yards of a computer or television within the last decade. So the fact that your fellow celebrities now want to reject you as a bigot is somewhat interesting. I confess to being mildly curious as to whether it is entirely a ruse, or whether “homophobia” has become so completely synonymous with evil in your set that people can really believe it of others who, for whatever reason, they happen to dislike.
From your perspective it doesn’t much matter. You’re on the outs. Obviously you know that, which is why you vented your frustration to Vulture.com in a lengthy apologia, which included, among other things, a declaration of your intention to leave public life and flee to… Los Angeles.
Good call on saving that bit for the end of the essay. I definitely would not have read it if the piece had been entitled “Goodbye New York, I’m Going To LA To Find Myself Through More Acting.”
Nevertheless, I’m not just writing to mock you. That genre is pretty well covered already, but out here in flyover country we’re a little more sympathetic. We understand that you entertainer-types are somewhat provincial; your work keeps you all cooped up in those drab little studios and you never get a chance to see the world. Occasional inspirational stories notwithstanding, there aren’t too many who escape that cycle of (attention) dependency. And I’d like to believe that I live in an America where anyone, no matter how privileged his background, can ultimately live a fulfilled life.
That’s why I’m going to offer some advice. As a trained moral philosopher, I guess you could say this is my area of expertise. (Oddly enough, there doesn’t seem to be a huge market for private consultations in moral philosophy, but undergraduate students pay their university thousands for these gems of age-old wisdom, and I hope you appreciate your good fortune in getting my professional opinion at no charge. No need to thank me, though. Just pay it forward.)
For a person who has zero interest in the tawdry minutiae of celebrity culture, your composition was somewhat heavy sledding. I couldn’t care less about entertainment-industry spats, and I already knew that the morning news is boring and insipid. (I don’t have any insider friends there, but I did watch it once.) I soldiered through anyhow because I was curious to know whether you were serious about walking away from it all. It’s common enough for actors to be miserable and self-destructive, but rare for them actually to find a way out. I was looking to be inspired by an exceptional case.
Of course, I was disappointed in the end. Your title was a bit of a tease. Still, I reflected in the end that, even though you don’t seem like an especially pleasant person, you might still have a chance. You have a discernible hunger for something genuinely substantive and meaningful. That’s a good place to start, and it’s entirely possible to find it in a world that is literally bursting with goodness and beauty and meaningful work to be done. But you have to start by realizing where your current problems really lie.
You think your problem is the press. That seems plausible on its face because there are plenty of vile people in it, and truthfully, we should all be a little ashamed of the fact that our society has a whole class of people whose primary occupation is to photograph celebrities doing compromising things.
There’s something fundamental, however, that you need to appreciate. You are angered because the press acts like they own you. They do. So long as you require public acclaim to be satisfied with your life, you will be utterly at the mercy of those same media jackals who have made your life so miserable.
On some level I think you know this, but nothing about your farewell salvo indicates to me that you’re really ready to wean yourself from that intoxicating limelight. (It’s hard to put my finger on what, precisely, tipped me off to that. Perhaps some combination of your eagerness to settle scores, and the plaintive sense of entitlement with which you lament your lost would-be mayoral campaign. See, most people wouldn’t present that sort of private ambition as though they expect the world to be weeping over what might have been.)
If you really want your life back, you’ll need to take a much bigger step, physically and morally. The truth you need to grasp is encapsulated in something philosophers call the “paradox of happiness.” Here’s the basic idea. In order to be happy, you must pursue something beyond personal happiness. Get over yourself, and in the end you may find yourself.
It seems strange in our goal-oriented times, but the truth is that naked happiness-seekers tend to find themselves alone and miserable. To live a life of meaning and integrity, you must build it around something that it is bigger than yourself.
Celebrities have a hard time with this, because the world makes them feel like giants. How do you find something bigger than yourself when you think you’re fifty feet tall? Religious people have the best chance of avoiding this overweening narcissism, because they believe in God, who is very big indeed. But most celebrities can bump along rather happily for awhile as the superstars of their own (and several other people’s) lives, realizing too late that they’re less like God and more like Goliath, just waiting for a David to come along.
The good news is that it’s never too late to make a better life for yourself and your family. I won’t even instruct you to come to Jesus (though I’m sure that wouldn’t hurt). For a provincially cosmopolitan man such as yourself it will surely be easier to start with this-worldly goods. In that spirit, my prescription is threefold:
First, move your family somewhere that’s not New York or California. Scratch Washington, D.C., off the list too. These cities are the breeding grounds for megalomaniacs, and so long as you live in them there will be no rest from the media feeding frenzy. Happily, they represent only the tiniest part of our beautiful world. Just go somewhere else. If it were me I might buy a gorgeous villa somewhere in the hills of Tuscany, but to each his own.
Being Alec Baldwin, you might have to go pretty far afield to find a place where nobody has heard of you. But it’s very possible to find a place where people will happily treat you like a normal human once it’s clear that you intend to act like one. How long do you think the tabloids will be titillated by “Alec Baldwin Drops Daughter Off At Pre-School” photos? The ultimate revenge on the paparazzi is to live the kind of life that strangers don’t care to photograph. Fortunately, that can also be a very wonderful kind of life.
Second, give yourself a break from your “creative ambitions.” It needn’t necessarily be lifelong. Read good books, enjoy great music and appreciate nature. Really the sky is the limit here, but the main thing is to appreciate good things for their own sake without feeling any need to comment, imitate or underwrite.
Third, and most important, make someone happy. And I really do mean someone, not ten thousand people. Keep well away from wide-eyed orphans, unless you’re planning to adopt them and personally tend to all their bodily needs for the next several years. Avoid political causes like the plague.
I know you have a wife and daughter. That’s a wonderful place to start. Loving individual humans is hard because you don’t exercise much control over the process, and you don’t get much applause. Once you get going, just about everything you like about your life is potentially on the chopping block, and that’s a pretty heavy burden. But it’s also the blessing.
Your baby girl couldn’t care less how many movies you’ve starred in, or whether you’re a creative genius. She doesn’t even care whether or not you’re a homophobe. To her you’re just the guy she most wants to hold her and sing to her. Also the guy who’s supposed to wait on her hand and foot.
Be that guy. And every time you start to think in frustration that you could be making more of your valuable time, remind yourself of three things. First of all, every parent thinks that at some time or other. Second, for all you know, she may be more of a creative genius than you. Third, this is the kind of work that people almost never regret having done in the twilight of their lives. It supplies meaning in a way that a thousand ribbon-cutting ceremonies could never do.
Take these three pieces of advice, and call me in the morning. I’m sure you’ll be feeling better. Best of luck!
Your new reactionary friend,
Rachel Lu teaches philosophy at the University of St. Thomas. Follow her on Twitter.