Outrage is the lifeblood of the internet, and nothing fuels online outrage quite like a celebrity going off-script and passionately challenging the socially approved pieties of political correctness.
Actor Gary Oldman is not a movie star who keeps playing himself over and over again. He’s an actual actor with a perfectionist’s work ethic and incredible range, having played everyone from Beethoven, Sid Vicious, and Lee Harvey Oswald to Dracula, George Smiley, and Sirius Black. Oldman is the kind of professional who gets the work done rather than whip up tabloid-worthy, offstage scandal.
Until last weekend, that is. He caused a perfect storm of internet indignation when he held nothing back in a fiery, wide-ranging interview with Playboy. In it Oldman verbally savaged everyone from Nancy Pelosi (a “f***ing useless c**t”) to the Golden Globes’ Hollywood Foreign Press Association (“90 nobodies having a wank”). He dismissed everything from his own movies (“Most of my work I would just stomp into the ground and start over again”) to reality TV (“the museum of social decay”).
But the primary target of his ire was the hypocrisy of political correctness, the kneejerk condemnation of others for social transgressions of which we’ve all been guilty. “I just think political correctness is crap,” Oldman began when asked about Mel Gibson’s infamous, career-wounding meltdown. “I don’t know about Mel. He got drunk and said a few things, but we’ve all said those things. We’re all f***ing hypocrites. That’s what I think about it. The policeman who arrested him has never used the word ni**er or that f***ing Jew? I’m being brutally honest here. It’s the hypocrisy of it that drives me crazy.”
He went on to sympathize with Alec Baldwin for hurling an anti-gay slur at an annoying paparazzo: “I don’t blame him… We all hide and try to be so politically correct. That’s what gets me. It’s just the sheer hypocrisy of everyone, that we all stand on this thing going, ‘Isn’t that shocking?’”
Ironically, that’s just the response his comments engendered. As The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway put it, “People lost their everliving minds.” Virtually every entertainment and pop culture website covered the interview, or at least highlighted selected portions of it that were guaranteed to evoke the most outrage. Out-of-context quotes and headlines like “Gary Oldman Sides with Homophobic Alec Baldwin and Anti-Semitic Mel Gibson!” spread like hot Nutella.
It didn’t help that Oldman let slip hints of his political conservatism, “views and opinions that most of [Hollywood] doesn’t share.” Recently I wrote an article for Acculturated in which I cautioned actors and actresses against allowing their political activism to overshadow their art, lest they alienate viewers who no longer might be able to separate the activists from their acting roles. Oldman has expressed some conservative/libertarian leanings in the past but he certainly never pushed them as far or as openly as, say, Matt Damon pushes his progressive politics. As a Hollywood conservative, Oldman noted, “you don’t come out and talk about these things, for obvious reasons.”
Sure enough, when he did, the internet lit up. Conservative websites embraced Oldman’s progressive-bashing. Progressive websites bashed Oldman’s anti-PC bashing. Jewish websites bashed Oldman’s apparent Gibson-defending. Jezebel irrelevantly bashed his age (56) and his foul language, which is rather hypocritical considering their own unabashed swearing.
Regrettably, all this internet noise overshadowed some more interesting and insightful bits from Oldman’s interview, such as his pessimist view that culturally, politically, and every other way, “we’re up sh*t creek without a paddle or a compass.” He is skeptical that we can rise above a culture ruled by narcissism, artistic mediocrity, and political correctness.
But it was his assault on the latter that struck a nerve, and regardless of how one may interpret some of Gary Oldman’s freewheeling comments or his politics, his passionate honesty may have sparked a necessary conversation. In crucial ways we are up sh*t creek without a compass – a moral compass. And perhaps throwing off the chains of political correctness is the first step toward a more honest cultural self-examination.
(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 6/26/14)