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ISSUE 118 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 4/15/2005

Big names skirt big politics

By Executive Editors
Executive Editor

Friday, April 15, 2005

It’s plausible that less than half of the capacity audience at Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oct. 27 lecture chose to attend the event in the name of environmentalism. It’s more likely that those hovering in and around the Black and Gold Ballroom that evening were simply hoping for a glimpse at a living, breathing Hollywood celebrity. Who wants to engage in a lecture about oil pipelines and rain forest devastation when they can just sit back and stare at “Titanic’s” beloved Jack Dawson?

Like DiCaprio’s fated visit, Jesse Ventura’s April 4 appearance in Boe Chapel had many a “celebrity string” attached to it. While his Minnesotan roots and eccentric personality surely generated much of his on-campus acclaim, Ventura’s WWE and “B-movie” renown undoubtedly boosted his audience attendance. Case in point: does anyone even remember Green Party candidate Ralph Nader’s Oct. 26 appearance in Boe?

It seems that St. Olaf’s recent trend toward “big name” speakers has done little to bridge the liberal-conservative gap on campus; rather, these famous speakers have generated talk about – what else? – their own celebrity. Discussion surrounding DiCaprio and Ventura’s lectures related more to the self-images the two actors projected (who could resist a jab at Ventura’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” beard?) than to the politics the pair were pushing.

In the wake of Dicaprio’s and Ventura’s more openly liberal on-campus appearances, right-wing author and columnist Ann Coulter will speak Sunday in a lecture comparing liberalism to terrorism. Coulter will undoubtedly drive a hard wedge between the Democratic and Republican factions on campus.

So, how have the recent celebrity politicians at St. Olaf affected on-campus politics? Sadly, very little – except to cause further discourse among the left- and right-leaning factions of the student body. Most of St. Olaf’s politically active students have already pledged their allegiance to whatever political party they most admire. No speaker – celebrity or otherwise – is likely to change this fact.

This isn’t to say that political change on the St. Olaf campus is totally unobtainable. Rather than devoting our student organizations’ budgets to celebrity speakers, St. Olaf should strive to promote more speakers such as those who lectured April 5 on Women and Jerusalem or those who spoke Tuesday about the Abu Gharib atrocities. Professors like Mark Allister, James Farrell and Jim Heynen, whose Sept. 29 lecture on environmentalism in literature was blatantly overshadowed by DiCaprio’s speech, deserve our attention, too.

These understated, non-celebrity speakers tried to shed light on issues affecting all humanity – not just the right- or left-leaning factions of it. And the improvement of humanity – rather than the awe-inducing nature of celebrity – should be the goal of our on-campus discussion.

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