ColumnWhere celebrity becomes conscious.
Right now, I’m applying ruby red lipstick. I’m putting on my wedding dress – the only vintage-like dress I own – and I’m stepping out onto a balcony to address the masses, meaning, the neighbor’s gardener who is running the leaf blower and totally ignoring me. But here goes anyway – I’m raising my hands to the skies and achieving a look to make Madonna proud. I’m shouting, “It’s time for a change! We need to get conscious! Don’t cry for me, Hollywood! The truth is I never left you!”
Or so goes the scene in my head when I think about an eco-conscious, sustainable, anti-materialistic Hollywood. The entertainment industry can be like a boulder that crashes down the hill of our cultural zeitgeist, blasting messages of consumerism and superficiality. Really, how can such an industry be conscious? And more to the point, does anyone care?
Well, I care. And you care. We’ve been shaken out of our blissed out-state where bottled water is a good thing and plastic shopping bags make baby seals happy. And some of us operate within the great publicity machine and cultural manipulator that is Hollywood, and we do so with our eyes wide open.
Welcome to Shade Grown Hollywood. It’s not all Kardashian country and Beverly Hills Botox in Los Angeles. I’m reporting to you less than a mile east of the Hollywood sign. I have a backyard that runs into a Scientology center adjacent whole-grain-featuring lunch joints. Celebrity has gone conscious in the afternoon shade of the Hollywood sign, and I’m here to bring you its angle week after week.
And here’s why. Sure, I live in Hollywood. I also write for it. I’ve written for characters ranging from the sassy-yet-vulnerable police woman to scamps espousing the values of a corporation that idolizes mouse ears. I was a party girl at points. I’ve been known to cover a red carpet. I’ve got dirt, and I’ll sling it when something needs to be mulched.
History aside, I have an idea of what it means to live green in LaLa Land. Some might argue that it’s impossible for Hollywood and all the superficiality to ever truly be conscious. After all, celebrity seems more recently known for bombastic meltdowns a la Charlie “I’m tired of pretending I’m not special” Sheen to John “I love Hitler” Galliano. But society is as complicated as the pompous, ridiculous extremes Hollywood mirrors back at us. And for every bloated, Botoxed beauty, there’s a conscious celebrity applying her Jane Iredale lip gloss for an event. For every Anne Hathaway getting paid $750,000 to wear jewelry at the Oscars, there’s, well…it’s hard to beat that. Really, Anne? There’s probably an embattled school district near you that could use a steep donation just about now.
But beyond material endorsement, there are the causes promoted by Hollywood. The industry can be a preening celebutante, posed on the red carpet with a hip thrown out dramatically, only later to turn up in the middle of a DUI mug shot or wearing a scarf over her head at a refugee camp. They are opposite extremes, and yet – both so very Hollywood.
And this duality holds true for Tinsel Town’s treatment of environmental issues. The entertainment industry risks hypocrisy every time it takes up a cause célèbre to promote environmental consciousness. It is an industry that hums with energy flowing into film shoots while yielding an unimaginable amount of trash and waste. Celebrity endorsement of a product feeds mass consumerism like a monster in a Grimm’s fairy tale, filling our landfills with an endless parade of junk. Jack climbs a beanstalk sanctioned by Natalie Portman, so suddenly all his friends are planting magical beans and praying for rain. We’re getting choked out by trash, and it’s all in the name of Britney Spears’ perfume. Or Jessica Simpson’s clothing line.
And yet, Hollywood would like to imagine itself green and in some respects, it is. Aside from a few stalwart Republicans, mostly headlined by Kelsey Grammer, Hollywood is notoriously liberal-leaning. Sometimes, it really is just lip service. But Hollywood holds both sides of an environmentalist’s heart. Leonardo DiCaprio can use his wattage to promote cleaner living, which is a good thing. But this happens while the carbon footprint of his film productions stomps one giant foot in front of another. So there’s an uncomfortable edge to the good green deeds, like a shade of smog darkening a hybrid’s sunroof.
This isn’t to say that celebrities who promote conscious causes are wrong. After all, how green is green? How different is this from the rest of us carrying our cloth bags to the grocery store or powering our fuel-efficient cars? We consume fossil fuels, but we do so in a Prius. We live on the grid, but we recycle. We do the best we can. Ultimately, Hollywood and its minions just provide amplified versions of the contradictions most of us feel in life. Some work to help while others work to consume. For every “tiger man with Adonis DNA” (ahem, Charlie), comes a George Clooney, using his celebrity to enhance awareness of atrocities in Darfur.
And in comparing Charlie Sheen to George Clooney, we have our point. Both are sons of Hollywood and both are noted playboys. But it’s the way they live their lives that makes them polar opposites. There’s the Hollywood of Charlie Sheen, who seems to be summoning every aspect of crazy into a mammoth volcanic spew of narcissism. While some experts are calling Sheen bipolar, he calls himself “bi-winning” and recently told 20/20 that his brain fires in “a way that is perhaps not terrestrial.” Sheen may or may not be mentally ill and struggling with addiction, but he’s certainly living a lifestyle that is largely unconscious and consequence-free – at least for the moment.
And then we have George. Clooney’s list of social activism is long and storied. Despite his involvement in bringing the Darfur genocide to light, he considers it “the greatest failure of my life” – because little changed after he and his father smuggled cameras into a refugee camp to bring to light the horrors committed against an entire nation. He calls humanitarian awards for helping those victimized by Hurricane Katrina and the Haitian earthquake “embarrassing” because “You don’t want to be awarded for doing what you’re supposed to be doing.” Even after contracting malaria on a recent diplomatic trip to the Sudan to prevent genocide in the area, he just called it “good fun.” Clooney is a man with perspective, decency, and a sense of responsibility. And he’s still so Hollywood.
Put Sheen and Clooney together in a fight for supremacy, and who would win? Would it be the humble advocate of the Sudan or the brain-addled addict who smacks around women? As the Buddha noted, there has to be evil so that good can prove its purity. And Hollywood plays itself out as cleanly as a universe filled with good and bad. Conscious and unconscious. And all the shades between.
Hollywood illustrates that it’s not easy living consciously. But while being able to list off the names of the Kardashian sisters might not enable us to live a more productive life, it doesn’t make us unfit for duty in the quest to connect with our world in a sustainable, enlightened way. Because celebrity can be conscious.
This is the first installment in Katherine Butler’s column, Shade Grown Hollywood, finding the conscious in celebrity. “Shade grown” refers literally to shade grown coffee, a farming method that “incorporates principles of natural ecology to promote natural ecological relationships.” Shade grown is our sustainable twist on Hollywood.