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March 5, 2003-Star Wars
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Selected portions of original article reprinted here.
Original content from the Toronto Star.



March 5, 2003 
At a Feb.15 Hollywood protest, he was just plain Martin Sheen. But playing the president makes Sheen a potent spokesperson.
New Star Wars as celebrities face backlash
Hollywood starts protest campaign


He's just doing what the president of the United States should: Speaking openly, passionately and very publicly on his vision for the nation. And the message, conveyed both at boisterous public rallies and through Internet campaigns, is clear: No war on Iraq.

Wait, now. Not that president. George W. Bush is pretty keen on the whole war idea, as we well know.

The other president, Josiah "Jed" Bartlett, of the extraordinarily popular television drama The West Wing also known, though perhaps not as well, as actor Martin Sheen.

Sheen, a lifelong activist, is just one of hundreds of the famous and not-so-famous who are using their star status as a stump from which to expound their own views on the pending war.

Conservatives, in return, have mounted their own campaign to vilify the celebrity anti-war effort as traitorous, anti-American or, at best, na´ve.

In between them sits a public whose sentiments waver between two sides of the issue the right of the vastly famous to free speech, versus their dubious qualifications for the role of public opinion leader.

For a culture that descended long ago into celebrity obsession, the anti-war movement growing within the Hollywood elite is simply the crystallization of a fact.

"It's like Hollywood and Washington have become one," said John Orman, a professor of politics at Fairfield University in Connecticut.

Orman, with Brown University professor Darrell West, wrote the just-released book Celebrity Politics, which describes how the cult of celebrity has hijacked political discourse.

"The press pays so much attention to them, they end up sucking all the oxygen out of the political debate," he says of celebrity activists.

"They're systematically taking advantage of their position in society to monopolize public space."

They have not done so, however, without searing criticism from some quarters.

Aside from the predictable chidings of figures like Rush Limbaugh (he attacked Crow's "hypocrisy" for entertaining troops in Bosnia in 1990), it appears that star power may not be making much of a dent in Bush's approval ratings.

Fox News Channel released a poll last week that said two-thirds of respondents wanted celebrities to stay out of political issues.

A poll released by USA Today, CNN and Gallup found that 87 per cent of respondents said a celebrity lobby would not change their view on Iraq.

Conservative accusations of anti-Americanism may hit stars where it hurts most in the ratings, at the box office or at the record store.

"Boycott movie stars who are anti-war," was a highly popular message thread on an AOL chat board recently.

This week, Sheen speculated that his anti-war stance had created anxiety among executives at NBC, which airs The West Wing. The fear is that Sheen's criticism of the real president might sour some viewers.

Outspoken stars have faced a torrent of hate mail from members of the public who take a different view.

As ego-damaging as the anti-celebrity backlash may be for a star accustomed to adulation, there is something positive to be extracted from it, Orman said.

"If you have to rely on your favourite celebrity to get your viewpoint on Iraq, our system is in much more trouble than we thought it was," Orman said.

"If (the government's) Number One opponent is Martin Sheen, they've got it made."      


Next Page:  March 9, 2003-A Little Help from a Friend


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