Niedner: Take celebrity opinions with a grain of salt
December 27, 2013 11:00PM
Having never developed a taste for reality television, I had no clue why the earth tottered on its foundations last week when the A&E network dismissed Phil Robertson for publicly comparing the attractiveness of various bodily orifices and describing how happy black folks seemed back in the days of segregation. For all I knew, Duck Dynasty was a new fast food chain.
Alas, a brief, educational foray into the exotic world of cable television has only heightened the mystery inherent in this curious saga. It turns out that Duck Dynasty is little more than the life and times of Boston Red Sox players in the off season. They trade their bats and gloves for guns and duck calls and spend their days shooting things and philosophizing. Why does anyone care what they think about history, theology, or even sex?
A better question, perhaps, is why we keep asking television personalities, athletes, or the multitudes of cheerleaders who surround them for their views on weighty matters. Merely because celebrities have highly visible platforms from which to speak doesn’t mean they have acquired special wisdom on their way toward a dais we provide them. Should we teach our kids what Lance Armstrong thinks about fair play, or Tom Cruise’s views on childbirth?
If I had to stake my life or civilization’s future on the good judgment of someone in the world of sports, I would first inquire of the umpires and referees, and perhaps the people who clean up the clubhouses and locker rooms, “Which coaches and superstars have integrity? Who are the real grown-ups here?” In Hollywood, I would seek recommendations from the least visible folks listed in the credits at the close of shows and movies. I’ll bet that I could trust those who apply make-up before every day’s shooting to know as well as anyone which actors care about the lives of real people who never appear on screen.
Then again, maybe this is precisely what happens on reality television. Instead of filming actors at work in roles screenwriters have created, the networks have decided to put everyone before the public, from feuding family members to bachelorettes looking for a handsome prince to guys whose day job is making duck calls.
Somewhere in this vast mix of private opinion becoming public we have newspaper columns such as this one. We who write them also have a platform not available to everyone, although the rise of the blogosphere gives anyone with a computer and internet service a potentially effective megaphone. Should you trust us, give our words gravity? Take them all with a grain of salt?
Before taking to heart the opinion of anyone, including someone who presumes to speak for God, as does Phil Robertson, who claims (somewhat loosely, I would submit) he was merely reading from the Bible when he talked with GQ magazine, first run it past your personal Reality and Truth Checkers. If you don’t have any, get some. In a world flooded with so much opinion, they’ve become a genuine necessity. They are your friends, the ones you talk with daily. Optimally, at least one of them has a slightly different take on the world than you do and will blow the whistle on your circle’s potential self-deceptions.
Finally, if at all possible, take up with a long-term life partner who will come to know you better than you know yourself, who will understand that you’re crazy at least part of the time but love you anyway. Check every opinion with him or her. If it still seems safe and sane, pass it on.