Topic: Sports & Entertainment
Whoopi and the Fat Republicans
Sir Elton John gets a pass. He’s a smart guy, but he is British, after all, and his forays into American Constitutional analysis are likely to be a little bit awkward. Thus when he recently went on a tirade comparing the momentary shunning of the Dixie Chicks for their anti-President Bush statements to “McCarthyism,” his views on the First Amendment were just vaguely embarrassing, but no big deal, just a reminder of why he made his millions as a singer-songwriter and not as a rival to Alan Dershowitz. But Whoopi Goldberg should know better: she’s American, she’s even smarter than John, and as a fearless political comic with a rapier tongue, she has good reason to know her Bill of Rights backwards and forwards. And as a celebrity, her comments about the rights of Americans conceivably might do some good by helping her fans understand all that stuff they blew off in high school civics.
Thus it is disappointing that Whoopi’s response to her sacking as the national Slim-Fast spokesperson was to muddle the Constitutional waters some more. Whoopi ruffled a lot of feathers ( a triumph, as she is a professional feather-ruffler) at a Radio City Music Hall fundraiser for the Kerry-Edwards ticket by using crude anatomical terms to excoriate the President. Many of the President’s supporters thought her comments were below-the-belt (they were, but necessarily not in that way), and some called for a consumer boycott of the diet aid. Slim-Fast decided that it could do with a less controversial spokesperson, and before you could say, “I’ll take the center square to block,” Whoopi was out of a job. And she was not happy about it.
“While I can appreciate what the Slim-Fast people need to do in order to protect their business, I must also do what I need to do as an artist, as a writer and as an American — not to mention as a comic,” Goldberg said. “It’s unfortunate that, in this country, the two cannot mesh.” She then went on to describe her misfortune as yet another Republican trampling of First Amendment rights.
Never mind that the head of Slim-Fast, S. Daniel Abraham, is a Kerry supporter who has donated large sums to the Democratic Party. Never mind that Slim-Fast is owned by Unilever, a Dutch company, and the Dutch don’t like George any more than she does. These facts all should have dissuaded the comedienne from taking yet another cheap shot and perpetrating an annoyingly popular misconception about the First Amendment. But she couldn’t resist. “This country,” punishes artists who speak their mind.
Of course, the First Amendment has never shielded artists, writers, politicians or anyone else from the consequences of their words and opinions, nor was it meant to. It just says the government can’t threaten them or make speech or ideas illegal. There are lots of fat Republican out there, and Slim-Fast hired Whoopi to sell diets to them too. For her to be able to do that, they can’t have the impulse to throw a brick at the TV screen every time she shows up holding her baggy slacks. There is nothing unfair, unethical, illegal, unconstitutional or un-American about a company deciding that a celebrity can no longer do her job because too many people don’t like her. Does Whoopi understand why Michael Moore hasn’t been asked to pitch Slim-Fast (I mean, other than for the obvious reason)? Does she get why O.J. Simpson (an innocent man, after all, according to the American Justice system) isn’t working for Avis any more? When too many potential consumers don’t like you because of their opinion of what you say or do, your image is no longer an effective enticement for them to use a product or service that you endorse.
It has nothing to do with the First Amendment. It has everything to do with human nature, commerce, and celebrity.
As I said, Whoopi is smart. She knows all this. She could have taken a high road, and given her fans a much needed Lesson in the Bill of Rights in the bargain, by saying that she is sorry if she lost Slim-Fast any business, but that as an artist her first priority would always be skewering the powerful, even if it cost her endorsements. She could have said that she is proud to live in a nation where a black female comic can attack its elected leader during war time, no less and know that she will not wake up in a cell the next morning, because of the first Amendment. But Whoopie Goldberg decided that it was better to knowingly misrepresent the Constitution in order to get in a little extra unjustified and unfunny Bush-bashing.
How do we know this? Because Whoopi was not out there defending Trent Lott’s moronic tribute to the values of Strom Thurmond’s Dixiecrats when it lost him his job as Senate Majority Leader We didn’t hear from her when Major League Baseball told the late Marge Schott that proclaiming her admiration for Hitler disqualified her from owning a team in The National Pastime. She didn’t stand up for Michael Savage when his on-air hate-filled vitriol against gays lost him a talk show on MS-NBC. She knew that they all had it coming; she knew the First Amendment doesn’t guarantee you a job when you make millions of people angry. She knew it then, and she knows it now.
Whoopi is smart. But adding to popular confusion about the meaning of the Bill of Rights just to keep up a partisan attack isn’t smart. It’s wrong.