The problem with actors is that they insist on going off-script every once in a while. Life would be a lot simpler if they just appeared on screen or stage, said the words that someone else had written for them to say, and the rest of the time kept their mouths shut.
It doesn’t happen that way, of course. They are human beings after all. And other human beings insist on asking them questions about their real lives, their views on things, etc. It is not enough simply to be an actor or an actress. One must build one’s brand, and one’s bank balance, by also being a model, a campaigner, an inspiration, a putative politician, a family man, a Mum of the Year, a non-stop gif generator, and so on.
Take Scarlett Johansson, for example. She is not only one of Hollywood’s finest actresses, she is also a singer, a siren of the red carpet, a campaigner for the Democrat Party, a Dolce & Gabbana model, the face of Mango, a spokesperson for Moët & Chandon, a global ambassador for Oxfam and a global brand ambassador for SodaStream. It is these last two roles that landed her in hot water this week.
SodaStream, it turns out, is an Israeli company whose largest factory is located in a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank. Oxfam, which naturally condemns illegal settlements and campaigns against the displacement of Palestinian communities, took exception to Johansson signing a multimillion-dollar deal with the company. It was incompatible with her other ambassador role, it said. Faced with the kind of peculiar moral dilemma that happens only in Hollywood, Johansson quit the role she has performed for Oxfam for the past eight years and tomorrow night will appear in front of a global audience of 110 million during the Super Bowl promoting “how easy, how sexy it is to make your own soda”.
So Johansson chose bubbly water over life-changing humanitarian work and now look what has happened: everyone is talking about SodaStream for the first time since about 1984. There is one winner in this mess, at least.
Whether one agrees with Johansson that SodaStream “is a company that is committed … to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine”, or believes that she has plumped for cash over charity, she is the latest in a long line of celebrity embarrassments. Oxfam has been here before, when Kristin Davis of Sex and the City had to step down after singing up as spokesperson for the cosmetics company Ahava, also based in a Jewish settlement. The potential for celebrities to make idiotic, lucrative faux pas is endless. This is a world where to live is to promote, where Hilary Swank allegedly takes cash to attend Ramzan Kadyrov’s birthday party and Mel B boasts about spending Christmas with Paul Kagame.
Is it just the fault of the stars? Once upon a time, celebrities offered support to charities; now they are global ambassadors, an absurdly inflated title which implies an expertise that they surely do not have. It is a political or diplomatic role given to someone more used to negotiating a red carpet. If we the public expect them to do a good job, to understand the complexities of taking a stance, perhaps we are the dumb ones. Perhaps charities should wean themselves off celebrity ambassadors altogether. Who knows, the public might even prefer to listen to an expert campaigner talking passionately about their cause over a fly-by-night in a couture flak jacket.
That advert, incidentally, begins with Johansson saying, tongue in cheek: “Like most actors, my real job is saving the world.” It ends with her sucking seductively on a straw as a voiceover croons: “Yeah, yeah, you doin’ it Scarlett. Changing the world, one sip at a time.” As far as global politics go, she has probably found her level.
Rape, Irma, is never the victim’s fault
Irma Kurtz, agony aunt at Cosmopolitan for the past three decades, has simple advice for young women who don’t want to get raped. Don’t get drunk “with the boys”. Talking on Woman’s Hour this week, Kurtz said that women who get drunk around men are putting themselves at risk. “It really is carelessness to lose your self-defence,” she said.
As advice goes, this is on a par with the Tory MP Richard Graham telling girls to avoid going out in short skirts and high heels in case they attract a predator. It places the onus on women to protect themselves while implying that if they wear a tight dress and have a few glasses of wine, they are on some level guilty of inciting bad things to happen. To be clear, rape is never the fault of the victim; it is always the fault of the rapist. So less advice on how to avoid tempting rapists, and more action on stopping and punishing them, Aunty Irma.
Pointless, but irresistible
It’s amazing what you can learn about yourself when you have a job to do. In the past fortnight I have found out that my mental age is 34; that I should be living in Portland; that if I were a romantic heroine, I would be Cathy Earnshaw; that if I were a dog I would be a Great Dane; and that the member of One Direction I should marry is Louis.
Online quizzes, and specifically Buzzfeed’s annoyingly clickable personality surveys, have been spreading like a mass procrastination plague. They are quite irresistible and entirely pointless. Yesterday, for example, I took a test to see which newspaper I most resembled (well, duh) and waited quite a long time while an app calculated how many hours of my life I have wasted sharing things on Facebook. (The result is too shaming to share, ironically.)
The appeal of these surveys is obvious. They waste time. They are also a nostalgic trip back to those quizzes in Just Seventeen where you circled a, b or c, and got a vague idea of your ideal career/man/cake while also receiving affirmation about what a great personality you have.
This kind of thing used to be private. Now the results are shared on Facebook and Twitter. It is no coincidence the people who shared that they should be living in Paris outnumbered us poor Portlanders on my Facebook feed by about 10 to one. Let’s face it: the only truthful quiz would be one which asked: “If you weren’t doing this quiz, what would you be doing? A. Work B. Work C. Work.” But I can’t see that taking off on Buzzfeed.