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Athletes, acting, and the war

The recent war in Iraq has of course thrown up many examples of actors and actresses, many of them from Hollywood, who have taken a stand against war. What is interesting is that there appears, according to David Skinner in the Weekly Standard to be a divide in public life between the acting and sports communities, if one can use such a collectivist catch-all term like “community” (yes, I am aware there are nuances here). For example, while “documentary” producer and all-round blowhard leftist (I refuse to be polite) Michael Moore denounces Bush and the war, golfing god Tiger Woods (one of my heroes) takes a diametrically opposite stance, saluting the bravery of American soldiers on his personal website.

What is going on here? For example, I don’t really know what British sportsmen and women like Manchester United’s David Beckham or English cricket captain Nasser Hussein think about such things, although Hussein’s recent decision not to play against Zimbabwe during the World Cup attests to a moral fibre not usually seen among the thespian community. And I admired the fact that Beckham, apparently, asked for the Stars and Stripes to be laid in the mddle of Old Trafford, Manchester United’s home ground, at the start of a match just after 9/11. Skinner reckons that sportsfolk, unlike actors and actresses, have to deal in reality of a sort that makes them better suited to taking a view on issues like war.

I particularly liked this paragraph:

As competitors who directly face opponents, athletes may have less trouble accepting the probability of enmity between nations. They become famous over the strenuous opposition of other people. Their professional lives are in fact defined by antagonism and opposition. They have to individually dominate other players, and help their teams dominate other teams.

While with actors, he says:

when show-business types triumph, victory comes on a wave of public admiration that can make it seem like they were just elected the public’s favorite human being. If competition is the watchword of sports, adoration and acclaim are the watchwords of show business. This kind of career makes for a weak political education as one grapples to understand why a president would take actions certain to make him unpopular in important parts of Europe and elsewhere.

I think he is definitely on to something. Maybe libertarians should forget about ever trying to network in the artistic community and get on the golf course instead.

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15 comments to Athletes, acting, and the war

  • A_t

    Where do musicians fit into this scheme? (thinking of pop/rock here, rather than classical, though you’re welcome to include whoever)… The ‘moral fibre’ you refer to has been in evidence since the 80s and before, with artists boycotting Apartheid South Africa & making statements on various political situations. A significant number (majority by the look of things, though this is always hard to assess) of popular artists were opposed to this war, so is this them demonstrating moral fibre, or lack of it?

    Also, do you think people who opposed the war did so out of cowardice? (surely the implication, if supporting the war implies moral fibre)

  • And then it could be that artists are more aware of how people are influenced by various kinds of art — including propaganda.

    The art world is filled with competition. And with enmity. It’s also filled with cooperation and friendship. The same is true of the sports world.

    Currently the art world is more linked to the left; the sports world to the right (at least in the United States). That’s probably a better explanation of the various political stances than anything else.

    Personally, the only thing I’ve ever used a golf course for is running. The game bores me.

  • Tim Haas

    Acting/entertainment takes place in a constructed reality with no physical consequences. Sport, though its context is constructed, is real and has physical consequences.

    The respective particpants bring work home, I think.

  • Don P

    Tiger Woods’ statement is rather more nuanced and restrained than Jonathan Pearce’s description of it suggests. It certainly doesn’t express a position “diametrically opposite” to Michael Moore’s.

    But I think the idea that sports stars do not receive the kind of public acclaim and adoration that show business stars receive is pretty silly anyway, at least in the U.S. Sports stars like Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan receive at least as much public adoration as any movie star I can think of.

  • Ted Schuerzinger

    I’d argue that there’s a different reason for the divide.

    In sports, you get where you are based pretty much on objective ability. You actually have to go out on the field and show that you’re good enough. If I were to name a number of US football quarterbacks, I’m sure most American sports fans would come up with roughly the same order in ordering them from best to worst.

    With entertainers, the quality is a much more subjective thing. I’m sure we’ve all heard the story of how Lana Turner was supposedly discovered in a drugstore. And if I were to name several comedians, there would be wildly different lists of which one was the funniest and which the least funny if we were to rank them.

    And I think this helps shapes the world-views of the two groups. Athletes, getting where they are through hard work and competition, may be more likely to take a libertarian view on matters economic — that is, they’d be more likely to think that just as in sports, you get where you are in business based on hard work and the quality of your ideas.

    Since entertainers get where they are on what is more or less the whims of the populace, and horrible shriekers like Mariah Carey and Brittney Slut can sell more records than favorites of mine like Basia, entertainers may be more likely to think that *nobody* gets where they are based on their raw ability, and that it becomes the job of the State to enforce an equality of outcome.

  • Byron

    Personally, the only thing I’ve ever used a golf course for is running. The game bores me.

    How could it bore you?? There are lots of fun things to do in the game of golf, like seeing how many windows you can hit in the homes lining the course, or who can toss their golf bag the furthest, or how many times you can wrap your three iron around a tree in a fit of rage. And if you wanna get really wild, there’s always golf-cart polo. Boring indeed!

  • Two other point:

    Actors and musicians entertain pretensions to actually delivering messages to their audiences, in hopes of changing them. That’s not an aspect of sports.

    And for actors, what you have the ability to seem to be is more important than what you are; there is a reward to the ability to suspend reality. In sports, good intentions and moral pretensions avail you not. Once the game is on, one side will win based on actual performance, which cannot be faked.

  • Byron

    Acting/entertainment takes place in a constructed reality with no physical consequences. Sport, though its context is constructed, is real and has physical consequences.

    I think that’s the most likely explanation. The most constant characteristic of Hollywood is that they tend to dwell on cloud 9. They seem to believe that reality follows their scripts, rather than the opposite. There are some notable exceptions, like Willis and Schwarzenegger, but they’re among the few who suffer no fools.

  • Tokyo Taro

    Interesting contrast. I’d like to point out that I’ve heard of some actors like John Malkovich and John Rhys Davies being very hard on the left. And I’d also like to point out that Iberian Notes blog reported that the soccer football team FC Barcelona made some anti-war statements and NBA star Steve Nash, the long-haired Canadian point-guard for the Dallas Mavericks caused a minor stir with his own anti-war statements a few weeks ago.

    But I think you are correct about overall differnce in attitudes.

  • Just out of curiosity — what are the people who read and comment on this stuff actual connections to the world of sports or art?

    I run, swim and ski. I am an artist. I’m also an IT professional.

    I’ve photographed competitive sports for money. I’ve also photographed theater and dance for money. When I did so I had real friends in both worlds.

    Oh, in case you didn’t know, ballet is brutal on the body.

    I suspect people here are making arguments without alot of real data to back up their points.

  • Oversimplifier

    <broad brush>
    In sports the customer is male,
    In acting the customer is female.
    </broad brush>

  • Tim Haas

    Oh, in case you didn’t know, ballet is brutal on the body.

    Yes, but ballet is hardly entertainment, is it?


    OK, blatant cheap shot aside, I wasn’t including the fine arts in my assessment above. I was referring specifically to actors and entertainers (singers, comedians, etc.) who can’t seem to shake the trappings of their make-believe world when the kliegs are switched off for the day.

    I’m not sure what proof you need other than their obtuse flummery.

  • Tom Grey

    I think “objective achievement” vs “emotional relationship with audience” as an simplification is consistent with male/ female differentness w/o the sexism.

    Unmentioned is the difficulty for the “average” actor/ artist to be socially different (eg non-Leftist) than most of the Hollywood milieu. The support group is just not there.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    A_T, asks if I was implying that only supporters of the war are showing moral fibre. Not so, and as I have said in previous posts – which also seem to rile some pro-war types, some of the opponents of war have been good and honorable folk, who have raised serious issues. However, in the main, many opponents, such as the Hollywood types I mention, seem to be motivated by at best a sort of goofy sentimentality about the world, and at worst, a form of self-loathing. Hence my focus on sportsfolk as a contrast. Of course this post was based on a simplification, and I am sure there are spotsfolk who oppose the war, just as some people in the entertainment business are pro- (Bruce Willis, for example)

    Don P., you are right to say Woods’ statement is nuanced, but I don’t think I was implying he was some sort of crazy warmonger. I was certainly struck by the dignity of his comment.

    Ted S., you are absolutely right about the “objective” versus “subjective” issue here. Sportsfolk have to live in a binary win/lose environment, while actors and actresses do not.

    Personally, I like to think that some of our greatest actors make us think harder about what happens to folk who evade reality in times of stress.

  • Very interesting post