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ISSUE 118 VOL 7 PUBLISHED 11/5/2004

DiCaprio wows, but speech lacks substance

By Jaruwan Punyoyai
Contributing Writer

Friday, November 5, 2004

Leonardo DiCaprio has come to St. Olaf. While dwelling on the movie stars visit, I cant help but conclude that his stay was both contemptible and refreshing.

Contemptible, because Jack from Titanic is trying to tell me how to vote, and refreshing because amidst all the confusion and indecisiveness of the voting process, I can take solace in the one certainty of Decision 2004. I dont give a damn about what Jack has to say.

Celebrity involvement in politics is one of the most pompous displays of the superiority complex that often accomponies fame. It is an affliction that seems to have very few exceptions.

It is a ridiculous notion to believe that just because you have been successful as an actor or musician, or drag queen, your political ideals or beliefs should be held up on a pedestal.

Recently, Americans have been bombarded with the political opinions of celebrities from Bruce Springsteen to RuPaul. RuPaul?!

Since when did it become popular for celebrities to take the stage in the political arena? Surprisingly, such nonsensical involvement is not a recent occurrence.

According to Ken Warren, a political science professor at St. Louis University, entertainers have been stumping for politicians ever since the 1800s.

Regardless of their stature, national celebrities have long expressed, and, as in the case of Charles Lindhberg, been held accountable for, their political views.

Lindhberg was at the ultimate height of fame in the opening decades of the 20th century. His trans-Atlantic flight is still held high among the ranks of great achievements of the past one hundred years.

However, he was awarded the Nazi Iron Cross in the late 1930s after he graciously applauded the Luftwaffe (air force). This, along with his vehement isolationist stance, expelled him from public favor to the point where he was forced to resign from the Army Air Corps.

Lindbergh is perhaps the first relevant example of serious celebrity involvement, with evident consequences. Since then, celebrity involvement in politics has been trivial.

Frank Sinatra became a passionate campaigner for John Kennedy in his bid for the presidency in 1960. With the theme song High Hopes, Sinatra helped Kennedy gain appeal as the hip, fresh candidate.

However, with changing times came changing political climates. The Vietnam War changed the role of celebrity involvement in politics. It became popular to voice dissent.

No one embodied rebellious, defiant political involvement with such publicity better than Jane Fonda. During the climax of the war in Vietnam, Fonda (the daughter of famed actor Henry Fonda) spoke out against the war.

Her pro-communist, anti-Nixon speeches were heard on college campuses across the nation. In 1972, Fonda traveled to North Vietnam and spoke with the citizens and soldiers of Americas embattled enemy.

Decrying President Nixon and the American military efforts, she broadcasted a radio message from North Vietnam which has since earned her the infamous nickname of Hanoi Jane. In interviews with the world press, she claimed that American prisoners of war were being treated well, without incidence of torture. This is a claim that has subsequentlybeen proven to be disastrously incorrect. The controversy still looms over her to date.

The despicable part of celebrity involvement in politics has nothing to do with the message. Its all about the messenger. When listening to DiCaprio speak, one must question the validity of his statement based on his background.

What gives Leo the authority or expertise to lecture us on politics? While his skill as an actor is unquestioned, he has not been an active member of the political community.

His newfound patronage of environmental activism is admirable, but does it qualify him to instruct us on who to vote for?

It is ironic that DiCaprios visit coincided with Ralph Naders. While Naders speech hardly filled half of Boe Chapel, DiCaprios crowd swamped the entire third floor of Buntrock, with some waiting in line for hours, and many denied entrance because there were simply too many people who wanted to see Leo speak.

We must question ourselves when a man who has dedicated nearly forty years of his life to public service and has finished third in the last two presidential elections is outdrawn by the guy who played the mentally handicapped brother in Whats Eating Gilbert Grape.

While some students, like myself, may not agree with Naders political beliefs, listening to his speech was still a remarkable experience for anyone interested in the American political process.

Nader spoke with insight and honesty and his words were tailored with the wisdom only achieved through a lifetime of experience. Leo read from note cards.

This is not meant as Leo-bashing, but the bottom line is that he and the many others like him should not try to influence voters with their opinions.

More benefit could be derived from 10 minutes with a political science professor than an hour with Leo.

Not that politicians and professors are the only people with valid political opinions. You want to know about education? Talk to an inner-city school teacher (One was there in the audience).

You want to know about health care? Talk to a nurse or a doctor. Leo cannot provide you the insight you need to make informed decisions on election day, these people can.

These are tense political times, and to whom you listen is becoming just as important as the message. This means its time for Leo to step down from the political pulpit, and please, please, please, paint me like one of your French girls.

Staff writer Pat Bottini is a sophomore from Sartell, Minn. His major is undecided.

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