Gavin Mortimer

    Why the Yellow Vests haven’t received any celebrity endorsements

    Why the Yellow Vests haven't received any celebrity endorsements
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    When the actor Jared Leto won the Oscar for best supporting actor in 2014 he used his acceptance speech to send a message to those people protesting against poverty. 'To all the dreamers out there around the world watching this tonight, in places like the Ukraine and Venezuela, I want to say we are here,' declared the American. 'And as you struggle to make your dreams happen, to live the impossible, we're thinking of you.'

    Leto wasn't alone in thinking of the thousands of brave Venezuelans who for weeks had been demonstrating on the streets against social inequality. Madonna, Kevin Spacey (in the days when he was still a beacon of righteousness) and Rihanna were among those who also spoke up for the students and middle-class demonstrators. 'Please keep the people of Venezuela in your prayers!' tweeted the latter.

    Rihanna hasn't asked her fans to pray for the people of France. No tweets or hashtags extending solace to the hundreds of men and women wounded by police weapons; but then she is a friend of Emmanuel Macron. They had an 'incredible' meeting together in Paris in 2017, when education in developing countries was on the agenda.

    We live in an age in which celebrities have never been so socially aware, which makes it all the more curious that Hollywood's heart-warming conscience hasn't been extended to the Yellow Vest movement. They are, after all, protesting about indisputable inequality but what have we heard from the celebrity world by way of support?

    The only foreign celeb to have yelled for the Yellows is the Canadian actress Pamela Anderson, who on 3 December tweeted: 'I despise violence...but what is the violence of all these people and burned luxurious cars, compared to the structural violence of the French - and global - elites?'

    The first two Saturdays of protest were relatively peaceful but still hardly any celebrities - save for Brigitte Bardot - offered encouragement.

    The question of why so few artists have publicly supported the Yellow Vests was discussed on French radio at the start of this week. Among the reasons put forward by the panel, which included the Socialist singer Kaddour Hadadi, a Yellow Vest from the beginning, was a 'fear' of being aligned with a movement that was more 'populist' than progressive.

    The protests began in November as a response to Emmanuel Macron's planned eco-tax rise on fuel. Faced with a choice of saving the planet or getting to work, the Great Unwashed chose the latter. That was their first sin against the God of Green. Their second was in calling for Macron to resign, clear proof that the apolitical Yellow Vests are pagans in a progressive world.

    It doesn't matter to French artists and celebrities that millions of their fellow citizens live in abject poverty with 12 per cent of 20 to 29-year-olds classified as 'officially poor' or four million people dependent on food banks. That is of secondary importance to saving the planet.

    In the 1968 revolt it was the head of president Charles de Gaulle that protestors wanted. The old general was not what one would call a progressive so artists rallied to the cause. Jean-Paul Sartre was the most prominent in a group of writers and philosophers who voiced their support for the May uprising that united students and workers. Others displayed similar solidarity, despite the violence in Paris, like the actress Anne Wiazemsky. At the Cannes film festival Jean-Luc Goddard and François Truffaut led a call for the cancellation of the event as a way of embarrassing the government.

    Half a century later, Europe's politicians and artists are so ideologically aligned on progressive issues that it's difficult to spot any divergence between a government minister and a rock and roll singer. But this alliance of cultural conformists has created a moral ambiguity, and artists' failure to support the Yellow Vests is, by default, an endorsement of the French government's increasingly brutal repression of the people.

    This week the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner, Dunja Mijatovic, expressed her 'concern' at the horrific injuries inflicted by police on protestors, and a law passed by the National Assembly on Wednesday to restrict people's right to protest prompted one MP, the centrist Charles de de Courson, to liken Macron's government to the 'Vichy regime'.

    A year after the outpouring of affinity for the Venezuelans, the celebrity world was at it again, offering their support (and, in some cases, their homes) to refugees at the height of the 2015 Migrant Crisis. In Britain, and across the continent, artists, actors and pop stars reached out to the dispossessed and downtrodden. In France the support was particularly impressive. More than sixty 'personalities' signed a petition pledging to donate some of their wages to refugee charities, and another 200 put their names to an open letter to protest about the conditions endured by migrants in Paris.

    As celebrities obsessively champion progressive causes, the median living standard in France has regressed in the last decade, and ten per cent of the population now has an annual wage under €8,280. That's less than the €10,000-a-head that Afghans were paying smugglers to get them into Europe in 2015.

    It's the Oscars at the end of this month so perhaps the Yellow Vests will be saluted in someone's acceptance speech. But don't bank on it. In the inchoate world view of many actors and celebrities the poverty of populists is the price of progress.

    Written byGavin Mortimer

    Gavin Mortimer is a British author who has lived in Paris for 12 years. He writes about French politics, terrorism and sport.

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