May 1, 2012
But no matter what good deeds Sean Penn does, some people are just never going to like him.
Not that popularity has ever seemed to matter much to Penn, who has managed to land near the bottom of the heap of celebrity do-gooders, as determined by the court of public opinion.
It doesn’t matter that Nobel peace laureates gave him what a United Nations official called the “Oscar for humanitarianism” — the Peace Summit Award — in Chicago last week. Some, no doubt, thought his tears at the podium were as fake as those he shed in his role as a death row murderer in the movie “Dead Man Walking.”
Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Penn the peace activist has a well-documented temper and once punched a photographer who tried to snap his picture.
Who’s to say that a Hollywood bad boy can’t change?
It is true that these celebrities like to speak their mind. But it takes more than a big mouth to garner disdain from the court of public opinion. George Clooney, Bono and Oprah Winfrey aren’t known for holding their tongues either, yet they’ve managed to remain America’s darlings no matter what they say or do.
To get a guilty verdict in this court, celebrities have to do one of two things, according to Robert Thompson, a television and popular culture professor at Syracuse University. They must do something bad that people can sink their teeth into, or they must take a leap into the political cesspool.
“The idea is that celebrities are beautiful, they’re famous and they get a lot of attention,” said Thompson. “When they talk about politics, the question is, ‘What do you know about politics? You’re a movie star.’
“When you’re famous, you’re not supposed to have an opinion,” he said.
For celebrities who cross the line, the backlash can be vicious.
Take Jolie, for example. It doesn’t matter how many needy children she adopts or how many refugee camps she visits in Cambodia, Sierra Leone or Darfur, she made the fatal error of locking lips with her brother in front of television cameras. Then to make matters worse, she was labeled a home wrecker for allegedly breaking up one of America’s cutest couples — Brad and Jen.
The interesting thing about it, though, is that Brad Pitt seemed to have gotten through it unscathed. Go figure.
And remember the Dixie Chicks? They might have been trying to take a stand for peace during that London concert where the lead singer spoke against the Iraq War. But did they really think country music fans would forgive them for telling foreigners they were ashamed to be from the same state asPresident George W. Bush?
You would have thought they’d at least have heard about Jane Fonda’s nasty episode in North Vietnam back in 1972. Fonda has not fully overcome her trip to Hanoi, where she reportedly called returning American prisoners of war “liars” and had her picture taken atop an anti-aircraft gun.
Then there’s Kanye West, who did a good thing by contributing half a million dollars to his foundation that helps Latino and African-American students graduate from high school and go on to college. But did he really think that would make up for the night he dissed Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards?
Some would argue that Penn, through his charity J/P Haitian Relief Organization, has done more than any other individual to help refugees in Haiti. Former President Bill Clinton recently praised him, saying he’s not one of those “drive-by celebrities.”
Haitian President Michel Martelly was so enamored by Penn’s relief work that he named him “ambassador at large.”
But some people just can’t seem to forget that he has been at odds more than once with the U.S. government. Some labeled him a socialist for defending Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Some called him a traitor for taking out a full-page ad in The Washington Post in 2002 asking Bush not to invade Iraq.
A decade later, Penn saw no need to apologize as he accepted his peace summit prize.
“I’m here to say, ‘What do we know?'” Penn told fellow do-gooders. “We know how to smell a rat. We know there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”
Apparently, for Penn, being right trumps being liked.