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Actors Are Riff-Raff

The Hollywood sign in Los Angeles, Calif. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Once upon a time, actors, musicians, and other entertainers were considered riff-raff, something like what a contemporary American snob might sneer at as carnies.

That was, in that respect at least, a more civilized time.

In our time, we have made demigods of entertainers. Human beings are very status-driven creatures (this is almost certainly an evolved trait rather than a learned behavior), and so it is probably inevitable that celebrity has become the weird mutant thing it has become in our time. There are many people in the audience, but only a few on stage.

The problem with making gods of actors and the like is that while Americans may be idolators, we are still, at heart, Puritans. That means that we bring heavy moral expectations into our worship of the famous and the beautiful. “Leda and the Swan” is problematic — we only play at being pagans.

That perverted Puritanism is why it seems so terribly important to some Americans that actors, comedians, athletes, etc., be cast into the outer dark for moral transgressions. For progressives, a moral transgression consists in holding a view at odds with the progressive consensus arrived at five minutes ago, or having a lifestyle that violates their sense of etiquette and propriety of however immature vintage.

So, of course, Gina Carano must be professionally ruined and ritually denounced.

Growing up in the 1980s, I had no desire for Mötley Crüe to comport themselves like Osmonds (the nice Mormon singers, I mean, not the charming monster from The Portrait of a Lady) nor was I worried too much about Ice Cube’s ugly racial politics. I still don’t. Call me a reactionary, but I liked it better when we just simply assumed that rock stars and Hollywood types were sex-mad dope fiends, criminals, and scoundrels of various kinds. I prefer them that way rather than as the divine persons we have made of them.

The old savage Hollywood is gone, of course, replaced by a hot-yoga-cold-pressed-wheatgrass-shot-organic-lifestyle aristocracy of people who have Daniel Ortega’s politics but Mitt Romney’s bedtime. They’ll live longer, but something has been lost. If we had a Charles Bukowski or a Hubert Selby in our time, we’d drive them into exile.

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