Free To Pose The Question

Are celebrities different from the rest of us?

Well, in some ways of course they aren’t. They’re just people, living their lives as best they can. Sports stars, actors, and those famous for being famous are as human as the rest of us; cut them and they bleed red.

In another and very real sense, they are definitely not. They are the public faces of entertainment corporations, skilled at their jobs and little more. When they adopt causes (which they so often do) it isn’t through expertise but rather exposure to charismatic activists; due to their isolated condition, those activists are usually the fashionable type sponsored by corporate investors. When they get involved in politics, it isn’t generally through their profound grasp of economic theory and social policy.

But that’s celebrities, not the rest of us. When someone like Gina Carano gets cancelled for posing a difficult and potentially offensive sociopolitical and moral question on social media, it’s because everything she says and does reflects on her employer — in this case, Disney — which has every right to fire her. In general, it’s usually safe to assume that celebrities aren’t experts in the finer points of history, and that when they use their fame to promote their views rather than those held by the mainstream, they do so at their own risk. (Note: I don’t know Gina, so I don’t know whether this applies to her.)

Curiously, the day before she got herself in trouble, a Polish court ruled that two of Poland’s top experts on the Holocaust must apologize for falsely vilifying a man long dead over actions during the war. They described in print a witness’s allegations that a prominent civilian contributed to the deaths of eighteen Jews hiding in a forest. The historians, Engelking and Grabowski, plan to appeal; they believe that the case was brought in an effort to suppress the truth about the Holocaust. Since it’s being funded by the Polish League Against Defamation, which regularly tries to whitewash history, that position is not unreasonable.

It is no more than simple fact to say, as both Carano and these experts did, that “Jews were beaten in the streets, not by Nazi soldiers but by their neighbors…. even by children.” This, as her re-post (for these weren’t her words, merely something she copied and pasted) goes on to say, follows “Because history is edited, most people today don’t realize that to get to the point where Nazi soldiers could easily round up thousands of Jews, the government first made their own neighbors hate them simply for being Jews.”

The post, which has been circulating for several days, and the quotes, which have been around many times as long, is accompanied by a very disturbing period photograph of a middle-aged woman, half-dressed and sporting a bloody nose, running in the street, weeping, being pelted with stones by children. (I’m fairly certain it’s partially out of context, being that of a former “collaborator” after the Germans retreated. It’s similar to other photographs of that well-documented phenomenon. More on that later. -Editor)

None of this so far is disputed, and were that all that Carano posted — or rather, re-posted; it’s a meme — it wouldn’t have gotten her fired. However, the post closes with this question: “How is that any different from hating someone for their political views?”

The meme poses the question rhetorically, which is in error. Taking this in a scholarly fashion, this is a question with both a simple and a complex answer.

The simple truth is, it’s the difference between how you’re born and what you do. Someone’s political views are expressions of their opinions, doubtless formed over a lifetime of experience and (let’s face it) indoctrination. Being Jewish in the Third Reich was a matter of heritage, of race; it’s something that can’t be chosen. So of course there’s no question; the two are very different, and to suggest otherwise indicates at the very least a profound ignorance.

And yet, in another sense, the mindless hatred of the mob, deliberately manipulated and directed by Hitler’s propagandists, was used to destroy people. The mechanism was to make them seem less than human, other-than and apart-from, and to use our innate fear of the not-us to transform self-righteousness into hate, intolerance, and finally complicity in acts of utter inhumanity. The difference is only that the Nazis used their views on racial purity to draw that distinction.

A note above refers to the persecution of Nazi collaborators after the armies retreated. In France, Belgium, and Holland, during the occupation many women were forced (in one sense or another) into prostitution, and they rendered aid and comfort to the occupiers — as, of course, did every farmer, carter, restaurateur, and barman. But it was the sex workers who were driven through the streets, beaten bloody, and often killed by the townsfolk as the Allies marched in.

In our own nation, while it’s hardly the Holocaust and there are no gas chambers, we too have vast camps of detained migrants, people whose crime is that they entered the country without the proper paperwork. They are often treated inhumanely (though less often than three, five, or ten years ago following overdue reforms), imprisoned in small cells, sometimes cages, sometimes crowded tent cities. This is permitted by the population because the migrants are “not us”; they are by virtue of their difference “the other”, and so what we do to them is transformed in our minds from horrible to reasonable.

And yes, it’s also true that, because of the same mechanism, people like Gina Carano get fired from Disney for re-posting a meme because it doesn’t fit the Disney prejudice. She is “the other” because of her politics. Ironic, really — though the difference remains: that she chose her politics.

It’s perfectly reasonable that Disney can fire people for being unpopular because they’re widely perceived to have done something immoral. They’re in the entertainment business; their employees have morality clauses in their contracts. Gina Carano may have erred through ignorance or carelessness, but to Disney, that’s immaterial.

Celebrities are different.

It is of vast importance that the rest of us are allowed — no, not just permitted, but encouraged — to keep asking the difficult questions.

“How is that any different from hating someone for their political views?”

It’s different because the hate is for who they were born. It’s the same because it is still mindless, murderous, self-righteous hatred that drives people toward atrocity. That sameness holds whether you’re hated for being a conservative or for advocating cancel culture, by the way. And there are a thousand thousand other truths, mostly unpleasant, that can be found through examining this question and others like it.


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