In its own way, Hollywood is a political platform – not to mention a springboard for celebs like Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
But Syria has tied some of the most prolific tongues in Tinseltown, in spite of an agonizing two years of murder and mayhem, much of it by the ruthless regime of Bashar Assad.
Still, as Washington was loudly rattling sabers at Syria this week, we might have heard the odd outburst from TIFF celebs like George Clooney, a vocal critic of failure to staunch the suffering of Sudan. Susan Sarandon, a noted anti-war activist, was also silent.
The Hollywood Reporter, not known for its probing geopolitical analysis, went on the hunt for comments from more than a dozen red-carpeters and came up empty-handed. Sarandon was “unavailable for comment,” (though she told the Daily Beast Syria was "tricky.") Likewise silent were libertarian comic Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller. And anti-war toughie Josh Brolin. And fellow Iraq protester Tim Robbins.
Many have been pilloried by the American right as un-American and unpatriotic for speaking out against George W. Bush’s war. Now they’re skewered again as “hypocrites” for keeping stum on Barack Obama’s threatened strikes on Syria.
The silence is suprising. From the McCarthy era Hollywood blacklists to the Vietnam protests, to the bare-knuckled rhetorical brawls over Iraq, famous Hollywood voices have been raised, and sometimes harshly silenced on volatile political issues.
But super-celebs like Barbara Streisand, “Hanoi Jane” Fonda and anti-poverty rock star Bono have stayed out of the Syrian fray. Even Martin Sheen, and Sean Penn -- who joined Egypt’s Tahrir Square protests -- have been uncharacteristically tight lipped.
Why the reticence?
Hollywood veteran Ed Asner – no stranger to protest and arrest -- puts it down to fear of racism against a black president, as well as sluggishness, disorganization and Obama's sudden rush to war, which caught the anti-war faction with its placards down.
“It’ll be a done deal before Hollywood is mobilized,” Asner grumbled to the Hollywood Reporter. “This country will either bomb the hell out of Syria or not, before Hollywood gets off its ass.”
And, he said, protest fatigue set in after Iraq, when Bush and his backers were never called to account. But Obama’s dismal record on inequality, corporate power and cyberspying has also alienated rather than energized his onetime Hollywood supporters.
“People aren’t getting active because ‘who gives a s---? ‘ is essentially the bottom line,” he said.
Not so Madonna, however. On her Instagram account she posted a graffiti-like message, “U.S. stay out of Syria.”
Rapper-songwriter Azealia Banks also broke ranks, and silence, on Twitter, saying that “America should mind it’s (sic) business this time.” But she added later, if another world war is inevitable, “can’t we just wait until AFTER I drop my album in January?”
Olivia Ward has covered conflicts, human rights and politics from the former Soviet Union to South Asia and the Middle East. She’s never been to Hollywood.