The Radical Chic 2.0

Watching the Occupy movement as it is in London and looking at it in New York, I’m utterly struck by the fact that not one high-profile British celebrity has moseyed on down to St Paul’s Square and hung out with the protesters.

Unlike what appears to be happening in New York City where it’s become the place to see and be seen for various and sundry celebrities alike, most of whom would like to appropriate the movement for their own publicity.

The hero of the PragProgs, Kenny Mack, he who verbally bitch-slapped the Professional Left underminers Cenk Uygur and Dylan Ratigan tweets:-

To me, it seems as though protesters are like star-struck fans w/e someone famous visits.

This was in answer to a question from a tweeter as to how the OWS protesters are responding to “visits” by the rich and famous with egos, books and new films to sell.

Says a lot, doesn’t it?

Yes, the protest in London is largely made up of affluent, privileged white college kids, but they haven’t been graced with any appearance by any of the usual luvvie suspects. James Blount hasn’t sung, Paul McCartney’s on honeymoon and Ricky Gervais has other things to do.

On the other hand, I’m surprised the red carpet hasn’t been rolled out in New York City. I’ve heard that the fragrant Katrina vanden Heuvel, she who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing politically and who speaks of “the poor” as an abstract image, has a book about to be published – The Change I Believe In – or some such shit. She’ll be sure to glide smugly amongst the protesters, always careful to stick to the more salubrious side and avoiding at all costs, the genuinely unemployed and any people of colour. Then she’ll retreat to her mansion and have an antiseptic, but perfumed bath none too quickly.

But look at the list of fame whores celebrities who’ve casually “dropped by” to lend their “support” (by appearance) to the Movement – people like Roseanne Barr, Russell Simmons, Kanye West, those perenniel Leftwingers Susan Sarandon and Michael Moore (who has a book to sell and who refuses to use union labour on his productions and who also is a big shareholder in the likes of Boeing, Eli Lilley, Sunoco and – shock, horror! – Halliburton).

The motto of the Occupy Wall Street Movement is “We Are the 99 Per Cent.” Well, yes, they are, but the celebs who come to lend their all-important “moral” support are not; nor do they intend to change their lifestyles to accommodate their so-called sympathies to the movement. Chances are they zoomed in on a private Lear Jet and they’ll zoom out again on the same. One thing for certain: they are as much corporate whores as either of the established political parties.

Whilst I usually find his columns trite, Frank Bruni, writing in today’s New York Times hits it out of the park, with his observations:-

The movement’s “we are the 99 percent” motto expresses ire over not only the unaccountability of huge financial institutions but also income inequality in America and the concentration of so much wealth and privilege in so few hands. Every time a wealthy messenger gloms on, that aspect of the message gets muddled and possibly compromised.

And the glomming has begun. With a slowly growing number of actors and musicians paying well-chronicled visits to Zuccotti Park, the movement is in danger of becoming a sticky fly strip for entertainers who like to flaunt their self-styled populism: a gadfly strip.


Entertainers are members of the well-connected economic elite against which Occupy Wall Street ostensibly rages, whether or not they want to see themselves that way. True, they’re not bundling mortgages, and they often have their extravagantly beating hearts in the right place. Many donate generously to charity. Many do remarkable good.

But they nonetheless make oodles of money for themselves and for major corporations with lavishly compensated executives: the corporations that bankroll and distribute their television shows, movies, record albums and concert tours; the corporations that peddle the clothing, electronics and ever-so-important cosmetics and styling products that entertainers are paid so handsomely to model and endorse.

In some cases entertainers even make money for the banking industry itself. This issue came up last week when Alec Baldwin dropped by Zuccotti Park.

Critics noted that he appears in television commercials for Capital One, a banking behemoth. While he responded that he gives his fee away, he’s still promoting the company, and there remain other facets of his work and life that render him, like other stars, a very odd fit for a movement concerned with the sway of big companies and the distribution of wealth.

He has homes in both the Hamptons and Manhattan, a fact widely noted in news reports about a New York City tax inquiry into which is his primary residence. He claims the Hamptons.

His television show, “30 Rock,” is shown on NBC, which is part of NBC Universal, whose president and chief executive officer, Steve Burke, had a total compensation package worth $34.7 million last year, according to a recent survey of executive salaries in The Hollywood Reporter.

That same survey put the compensation of Brian Roberts, the chief executive officer of Comcast, which owns a controlling stake in NBC Universal, at $31.1 million. Philippe Dauman, the chief executive officer of Viacom, which owns Paramount Pictures, outpaced both of them. According to the company’s filing with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, he had a compensation package last year that totaled nearly $85 million, more than double his 2009 amount. Like Wall Street bankers, entertainment industry executives haven’t exactly suffered in this economy.

Celebrities help line those executives’ pockets, even if that’s not their goal, and then take the extra step of supporting other affluent corporations as pitchmen and pitchwomen. Some of them are seemingly aware enough of how mercenary this can seem that they favor endorsements outside American markets, especially in Asia, where their primary fan base won’t notice. At least Sarandon is doing her most recent endorsement work, for the clothing retailer Uniqlo, right here, on billboards in Manhattan and in a full-page ad in last week’s New Yorker magazine. I’m betting she chose Uniqlo, admirably, because it’s not Prada and its magazine ads push something other than glamour. The merino sweater she models in one ad costs $39.90.

But Uniqlo is part of a multibillion-dollar Japanese corporation, and the vast majority of its clothing is made in China. How does that serve the jobs-hungry young Americans in Occupy Wall Street’s fold?

There are many mixed signals in the celebrity assist to Occupy Wall Street, along with a reminder that we too seldom hold stars to account for their own greed.

Or their hypocrisy. Oh well, at least Bono hasn’t shown up to pontificate.