I have not trusted a celebrity activist since 2014, when I read the headline ‘Angelina Jolie and William Hague tackle Bosnia war rapes’.
They didn’t really tackle Bosnia war rapes — that is still pending — but Hague got to meet Jolie and Jolie got to meet the Queen and collect a damehood for the activism ‘I wish to dedicate my working life to’. It was a classic example of what the writer Paul Theroux calls ‘mythomania’, a condition that afflicts celebrity activists ‘who wish to convince the world of their worth’.
The obvious rebuttal is that such campaigning ‘raises awareness’. Victims of war rape are not interesting enough on their own, and need Angelina Jolie, who specialises in silly films where the cameras never leave her face, to make them so. But in the end, after the media campaign and the great stampede to meet her, it’s awareness of Angelina that’s mostly raised.
That seems a more innocent time. In 2018 there is #MeToo, the campaign to end sexual abuse of women, and its celebrity spin-off Time’s Up, which is preparing for the Academy Awards on Sunday. To quote my favourite film about Hollywood, Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, which says, with complete conviction, that all actresses are mad — #MeToo is ready for its close-up.
Political speeches at the Oscars used to be derided. Vanessa Redgrave, whose documentary The Palestinian was boycotted by the Jewish Defence League, accepted her award for Julia in 1978 by congratulating the Academy for refusing ‘to be intimidated by the threats of a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums’. Paddy Chayefsky, who wrote Network, responded on stage: ‘I’m sick and tired of people exploiting the occasion of the Academy Awards for the propagation of their own personal political propaganda.