Marie-Antoinette didn’t actually say “Let them eat cake!” In fact, she actually worked pretty hard to feed the poor. The legend comes from Rousseau’s Confessions, where he wrote that a “Great princess” had declared “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” while the people were starving. Unfortunately “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” doesn’t mean “Let them eat cake!” either. It means, more or less, “Let them eat [expensive] buns.” And, it should be pointed out, Confessions was written in 1768, two years before Marie-Antoinette moved to France. Assuming Rousseau didn’t just make it up, he was probably referring to Queen Marie-Therese.
And, in any event, this was not the aloof and snobby statement people think it is. France had the bakery equivalent of the Northeast Dairy Compact at the time (and still does), which required bakers to sell expensive loaves of bread at the same price as the cheap ones if they ran out of the cheap bread (itself sold at an artificially low price). This crazy law, along with others of its kind, was essentially a liberal social reform designed to combat the profiteering habits of what Paul Begala would have called “Big Bread,” a la “Big Tobacco,” “Big Oil,” “Big This,” and even from time to time, “Big That.” When Marie-Therese declared “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche,” she was demanding that the “profiteering” bakers should follow the law and feed the people the more expensive bread, or buns — even though the ultimate result would have been to crush the bakeries financially, and hence make starvation even worse.
In short, she was trying to get government to turn the screws on the bakeries, even though such regulations had helped create food shortages in the first place. What did Marie care about the effect regulation had on the market? She got her own bread when and how she wanted it, and, economics be damned, the poor people should have it thus too.
So, while “Let them eat cake” has come to symbolize how rich liberals think rich conservatives see the world, it actually signifies how rich liberals screw things up by creating “compassionate” schemes that only make things worse for the poor. It even holds true to the modern tendency of liberals to distort, spin, and most of all blame the heartlessness of conservatives for all of the poor’s problems. So what was actually an example of well-intentioned liberal gitchy-gooeyness on the part of Marie-Therese became, in Carvillian fashion, a slander against Marie-Antoinette as a heartless and cruel conservative. Despite the fact that Antoinette was a kind and generous woman, the French Revolutionaries dubbed her the “Austrian Whore” and “Madame Deficit” for all time, because it was good for the cause.
I got to thinking about all of this when I stumbled on an article explaining that Jennifer Lopez won’t allow anyone to photograph her elbows.
Stick with me.
I’ve long been of the opinion that celebrities, specifically movie stars, behave and, more importantly, think like old European royalty. Before I get into that, some tidbits.
The article detailed some of the typical demands that Hollywood “Divas” make on their staffs and producers. The phenomenon was hardly new to me, but this piece offers some nice additions for my file. Mariah Carey has an assistant whose only job is to hand her towels. Also, wherever Mariah goes, her courtesans must first remove posters of rival “divas,” lest they offend her delicate sensibilities: Thou shalt have no divas before me!
Incidentally, if you read your supermarket tabloids you’d know that Carey is now in some sort of psychiatric rehab clinic — the modern equivalent of a fainting couch or royal baths, I suppose.
It goes on: Kim Basinger is “allergic” to the sun and requires an assistant to carry an umbrella to protect her on the off chance she might be exposed to dangerous solar radiation. John Travolta has a staff of 12 assistants, including a personal chef. Sylvester Stallone once refused to continue with an interview until his hotel room was painted a more “likable” peach. Mike Myers (whom I like) almost quit the filming of Wayne’s World because he didn’t have any margarine for his bagel. Sean Penn made an assistant swim the dangerous and polluted currents of New York’s East River just to bring him a cigarette.
And then there is the increasingly commonplace demand from numerous stars that no one be allowed to look them in the eye uninvited. For example, only members of Jennifer Lopez’s “double-digit entourage” are permitted to gaze into the windows of her soul. Sylvester Stallone, Tom Cruise, and of course Barbra Streisand are just a handful of the folks who think they’re on the same plateau as Japanese Emperors, Turkish Pashas, and Medieval Kings.
There’s also all the stuff in my files about people like Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, and countless others who require full time aromatherapists, masseuses, acupuncturists, etc., etc. Or people like Alec Baldwin, who demands scripts be written out fö-net-tick-ally bee-kauz hee’z 2 stoopid 2 reed wurds that R speld fun-nee. Okay, I’m making that last one up, but it’s a reasonable assumption.
Now, it goes without saying that the overwhelming majority of such people are dyed-in-the-wool Democrats. I would also venture to say that many of them are as ill-informed about economics (and politics and history and pretty much anything not on the room service menu) as Marie-Therese was. Oh, let’s just say it: Some of them are too dumb to breathe without a cue card.
But, while stupidity rarely gets in the way of anyone being a prominent liberal, it’s hardly a requirement. No, what makes these people committed lefties has nothing to do with their needing to be reminded it doesn’t matter which end of the straw is “up.” I think it goes directly to the fact that they live the lives they do.
Their cultural liberalism is derived largely from the fact that they can afford their bad habits. If they want to ditch their wives or husbands, they can afford to pay them off. When Catharine Zeta-Jones married Michael Douglas, her lawyers demanded and got a $5 million dollar “straying fee” in the highly probable circumstance that he, as a “recovering sex addict,” might get the Jones for someone else’s Zeta (for more on this see my article “Just like Ozzie and Harriet“). Or take Madonna. It’s an understatement to say Madonna was a champion of cultural libertinism. Early in her career, she taught 12-year-old girls to embrace their “sexuality,” and to throw off all those bourgeois hang-ups about sex, marriage, heterosexuality, whatever. Basically, she was a peripatetic evangelist of sluttiness. But when it came time to settle down and have a husband and kids, she could, quite simply, afford to. The question is what happened to the lower-middle-class girls from Jersey City who took her advice?
Sure, it’s easy for Madonna to ridicule the Catholic Church and tutor girls about getting kinky-dirty with complete strangers. Currently on tour, Madonna has a 400-person entourage. She recently explained to the Sunday Mirror, “I don’t have any problems with [diapers], because I have never changed one.” Tell that to the thirty-year-old single mom who works as a hairdresser, and who had great fun one night as a teenager following Madonna’s example.
I don’t mean to get all judgy here, and besides, that’s not a word. But if there’s a single factor which best explains why Hollywood stars loved Clinton, endorse sexual licentiousness, and denounce religious conservatism, it is that they can afford, socially and economically, to live like moral reprobates. They have the money to pay for the inconveniences, and they have the glamour (and the peers) that makes it impossible for them to be shunned.
Anyway, let’s get back to “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” for a moment — if any of you have stuck it out this far. Movie stars are the only self-made rich people who, as a group, can be relied upon to endorse socialist economics. “You can do both [capitalism and socialism] and I think Cuba might prove that,” Chevy Chase declared a year or two ago.
There are a lot of factors to explain this. Unlike businessmen or inventors, actors value their emotions above all things. So if you “feel” that poor people should have more, it must be so. If you “feel” that conservatives are Nazis, it must be so. And, since most stars must know, at some fundamental level, that they don’t deserve the money they earn, all the usual guilt complexes of liberalism must be especially acute.
But the most relevant factor, I think, is the arrogance of simple ignorance. Barbra Streisand said to Larry King in 1995, “[D]oes it make sense to you . . . the things that they’re proposing, to give tax cuts to the rich, to give tax cuts to me? I don’t need them.” Perhaps — but Barbra Streisand can also auction her soiled bathroom linens for more than a thousand dollars (as she did at an auction a few years ago). The economic realities for a Hollywood star are so distorted as to be as unrecognizable as those of Monarchist France. Can you imagine a CEO halting a merger because there’s no margarine for his bagel? The outraged stockholders would make the French mob look like a bunch of toddlers with Nerf bats. So it’s no surprise that people like Alec Baldwin and Barbra Streisand think “fixing” the country’s policies is simply a matter of demanding they be fixed. When Melanie Griffith was asked, by the thankfully defunct George Magazine, what she would do if she were president, she responded that the first thing she’d do is pass a law saying “no one should make more than $1 billion a year.” See, it’s just that easy.
Then there are the renowned bleeding hearts — like Streisand, Michael Moore, and Rosie O’Donnell — who care about poor and working people, so long as they aren’t working for them. Famed for being nasty, demanding, and often vicious bosses, these liberals find an emotional connection with abstract people like “the poor” or “the blacks.” They argue that life should be easy, better, and even sexually adventurous for these abstractions, precisely because they can imagine themselves walking in their shoes. But when it’s real people — people with real problems, people with names, hell, people who swim the East River for their cigarettes, or look at their feet when the boss enters the room — they change their tune. Suddenly, it’s not Barbra’s problem. Sure, let them eat cake, but I’ll be damned if I pay for it out of my own pocket.
When Sharon Stone attended a “policy conference” with Bill Clinton a few years ago, Barbra Streisand was reportedly scandalized: “What does Sharon Stone know about policy?” shrieked the jealous and infatuated diva. This raises a better question: What does Ms. Streisand — perhaps the most famous “great princess” in Hollywood today — know about policy? My guess is, probably as much as Marie-Therese did. But that won’t stop Babs from declaring, “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche,” whenever she gets the chance.