ACADEMICALLY SPEAKING: Why listening to celebrities talk about abortion is insufferable, explained
Whenever Hollywood liberals talk about choice, they only mean some people’s choices, but are incapable of confronting that hypocrisy within themselves.
"Academically Speaking" is a series by Campus Reform Managing Editor Zachary Marschall that, drawing on his firsthand experience working with other scholars across the globe, reveals how radical ideas originating in academia impact Americans’ daily lives.
Marschall holds a PhD in Cultural Studies and is an adjunct professor at the University of Kentucky. His research investigates the intersections of democratic political systems, free market economies, and technological innovation in the production of national and cultural identities, as well as the exchange of cultural goods, services, and practices.
The Golden Globes are tonight, albeit as a "private" event. God help the people that would still want to watch it.
More and more, Hollywood award shows are plagued by conceited celebrities congratulating themselves in speeches overpopulated with lefty political rants, spoken with all the intelligence and logic of a middle-school debate team.
But politics aside, why do celebrities feel the need to talk about current events in their acceptance speeches?
In part, Hollywood celebrities apparently operate under the assumption that Americans care about their opinions. And in operating under that premise, A-list actors demonstrate that they cannot envision an audience for their speeches and public pronouncements that does not just include people like them.
The inability to envision the foreign or unfamiliar figure — which, for the Hollywood actor, is the conventional anti-woke American — speaks to a lack of imagination about people who differ from their own cohort of liberal coastal elites.
Though Hollywood celebrities are not the only liberals that possess this limitation, their popularity gives them a unique position in national political debates.
On Dec. 20, actress and singer Bette Midler blamed the precarious fate of President Biden’s Build Back Better plan on the fact that Joe Manchin – a Democrat among the majority of senators opposing the legislation – is from “illiterate and strung out” West Virginia.
What #JoeManchin, who represents a population smaller than Brooklyn, has done to the rest of America, who wants to move forward, not backward, like his state, is horrible. He sold us out. He wants us all to be just like his state, West Virginia. Poor, illiterate and strung out.
— bettemidler (@BetteMidler) December 20, 2021
Midler apologized on Twitter later that same day, a mere 48 hours before the televised Kennedy Center Honors showed a room full of liberal Hollywood elites and DC insiders celebrating the actress at the annual award show in Washington, DC.
Having such a restricted imagination about the lives of others is problematic for actors, as they are supposed to make a living by pretending to be people they are not.
It is no wonder then that the Academy Awards and the Primetime Emmy Awards achieved record-low viewership last year. Americans were still on their couches mid-COVID when the 2021 Oscars aired, and Hollywood’s captive audience still chose to ignore the event.
When celebrities speak to auditoriums and the nation during award shows, on Twitter, or through comedy, they envision an audience to which they tailor their message. But when they lack the curiosity – the imagination – to see their audience for who they are, rather than as reflections of themselves, that is when the message falls flat.
The Liberal Imagination, first published in 1950, is an important collection of essays by Lionel Trilling, an anti-Stalinist academic known for his professorship of English at Columbia University in the 1940s and 1950s.
In the book, Trilling examines critically how fictional stories and characters are conceived and portrayed by important writers at a time when liberalism was ascendant and then completely dominant in American culture and politics.
The act of constructing a novel and its characters is not so different from how celebrities construct what they believe to be reality and the people populating those worlds. It is possible, therefore, to understand the liberal public figure’s rendering of others through the same literary process and problem Trilling witnessed decades ago.
It is liberalism’s dominance in the post-World War II era that led Trilling to caution, in the book’s 1953 edition, that the lack of a counterforce in politics – the Conservative Movement was still over 20 years in the future – undermined liberals’ ability to think critically about themselves and therefore American culture at large.
“We cannot very well set about to contrive opponents who will do us the service of forcing us to become more intelligent, who will require us to keep our ideas from becoming stale, habitual, and inert. This we will have to do for ourselves,” Trilling wrote.
“[T]hen for liberalism to be aware of the weak or wrong expression of itself,” the scholar explained, “would seem to be an advantage to the tendency [that is liberalism] as a whole.”
The Conservative Movement never penetrated Hollywood and liberalism remains the dominant, if not the singular, ideology of the entertainment industry’s politics.
For that reason, celebrities and industry insiders are subject to the pitfall Trilling describes. They have no “opponents,” among their ranks, “who will do [them] the service of forcing [them] to become more intelligent.”
As a result, the entertainment industry relies on inventions – whether those are characters on screen or celebrities’ ideal versions of themselves expressed in award season rituals – to communicate the world as they incorrectly see it.
The Hollywood liberal’s un-imaginative, un-intelligent predicament is perhaps most acute on the topic of abortion.
Aside from the political arguments for and against abortion, how the topic is discussed by its famous proponents gives further insight into why liberal Hollywood lacks any relevance to everyday America, and why that disconnect is so pronounced on live national television.
At the 2020 Golden Globes, Michelle Williams won for her role in the miniseries Fossie/Verdon and stated in her acceptance speech that she would not have gotten the award had she not had an abortion earlier in life.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do this without employing a woman’s right to choose,” the actress remarked of her life and career path.
Williams’ motivations for an abortion preceded Saturday Night Live’s Nov. 6 sketch on the formerly amusing “Weekend Update” segment that featured Cecily Strong dressed as Goober the Clown, “who had an abortion when she was 23.”
The sketch was prompted by Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson, a case then before the Supreme Court challenging Texas’ post-six-week abortion ban. The Supreme Court refused to overturn the ban in its Dec. 10 decision.
“Here’s my truth,” Strong’s Goober squeaked through a helium-filled voice, “I know I wouldn’t be a clown on TV here today if it weren’t for the abortion I had the day before my 23rd birthday.”
“It ought to be safe, legal, and acceptable,” the clown concluded in a telling revision of Bill Clinton’s 1992 proposition that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.”
When liberalism asserts that wanted fetuses are indeed children and that act of wanting distinguishes that life from an unwanted clump of cells, it only imagines a free-spirited woman in the image of a Goober or Michelle Williams as the imaginary figure doing the un-wanting.
But what about the husband in India or China that tells his wife only a son will do? Over 100 million female babies have been aborted in Asian countries because at least one family member did not want a girl.
It is hard to find a liberal celebrity willing to take up the “missing girl” problem as they do abortion in America. Surely the former is different from the latter, and extreme, they argue.
Yes, sex-selective abortion is as extreme as it is evil, but it is no different than not wanting a child for any other reason, whether that be for wealth or the assumption that life with Down syndrome is not worth living.
Furthermore, restricting adults’ ability to obtain sex-selective abortion requires some outside force telling a woman what she cannot do with her body. Isn’t that restriction what pro-abortion advocates in America are fighting against?
If the fetus is deemed not worthy of life and therefore seen to not embody life in America, then that holds true worldwide. The laws of biology are not subject to national borders.
Whenever Hollywood liberals talk about choice, they only mean some people’s choices but are incapable of confronting that hypocrisy within themselves.
“As it carries out its active and positive ends,” Trilling writes about liberalism, “it unconsciously limits its view of the world to what it can deal with, and it unconsciously tends to develop theories and principles, particularly in relation to the nature of the human mind, to justify its limitation.”
Therefore, imaginings such as Goober the Clown and rewards such as Michelle Williams’ golden idol are necessary to maintain the self-deception and project liberalism’s false truth on to millions of viewers.
Hollywood enjoys thinking of itself as both the moral center of America and ahead of the curve on social issues.
At the 2015 Golden Globes, the audience recoiled in audible pearl-clutching gasps when co-hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler used their routine to make Hollywood confront Bill Cosby’s history of sexual assault.
The audience did not want to confront the truth about Cosby then because it was an open industry secret. For those A-listers, to admit the truth about Cosby would mean confronting the truth about themselves.
That is what Hollywood liberals refuse to do. They will not see what they do not want to acknowledge.
And that is why their political platitudes are as painful, out-of-touch, and unwanted as they are.