Hollywood is filled with arrogant artists, people who feel uniquely endowed by an artistic sensitivity to the plight of humanity. That bulging social conscience is so untrammeled in its brilliance that anyone who questions it must be a paid lobbyist for the military-industrial complex.
Exhibit A for this arrogance is the actor and budding playwright Tim Robbins, now wowing the off-Broadway counterculture with his anti-liberation of Iraq play "Embedded," his latest attempt to wrestle the conservative colossus into crying uncle. Once again, he is only making a spectacle of himself.
The public first caught this side of Robbins with the 1992 movie "Bob Roberts," a sneering pseudo-satire he wrote. Robbins played a criminally corrupt conservative Republican U.S. Senate candidate who, thanks in large part to his talent for folk-singing media manipulation, defeats a noble liberal incumbent and thereby serves the interests of the thieving, drug-running power elite that really runs this country.
In 1993, Robbins and his spouse and fellow leftist Susan Sarandon memorably hijacked an Academy Awards platform for a bloviating protest of the Clinton administration's failure to import HIV-positive Haitians. (Years later, they'd speak out in favor of exporting Elian Gonzalez back to Castro.) Robbins is adamant: this was not a "political statement," and that he's never used any awards ceremony for political theatre.
Last year, Robbins drew loving media attention for going to the National Press Club and warning of a "chill wind" condemning his right to freely express his hatred of any attempt to overturn Saddam Hussein.(In fact, he and his wife even protested the trade embargo of Saddam's starve-the-poor, build-another-palace dictatorship.) Robbins only lost a booking at the Baseball Hall of Fame.
But the reporters who hung on his words in Washington never noted that in 2000, Robbins led his fellow actors in an effort to ruin the career of British actress Elizabeth Hurley, who made the mistake of appearing in an Estee Lauder commercial when she wasn't aware of an American strike. "We are bringing Hurley to trial," urged the prosecutorial Robbins. She was fined $100,000 by the Screen Actors Guild for her unfortunate outburst of free speech.
Robbins' overwhelming feelings of victimhood led him to write his play "Embedded," about heroic soldiers wrongly sent to Iraq by conniving, greedy, "neoconservative" leaders and, in an even more ridiculous caricature, war-mongering, military-boot-licking reporters. Central to the plot are a sextet of grotesquely masked "President's men," who are linked to the Bush White House by such clever nicknames as Dick, Pearly White, Gondola, Wolfy, and Rum Rum. Once again, Robbins feels it is inaccurate to describe this propagandistic play as a "political statement," insisting he doesn't know "what the message is."
Fortunately for those who haven't rushed to New York and surrendered fifty bucks, the critics have nailed the play, and hard. Start with AP's drama critic: "Embalmed is more like it. Tim Robbins' heavy-handed harangue is satirical deadwood....that should send audiences of all political persuasions fleeing up the aisles." Ouch.
Then see the New York Daily News: "If you or I had sent as slapdash and adolescent a script as 'Embedded' to the Public Theater, the wary literary manager might not even have sent back a standard rejection letter, lest it invite a correspondence with a writer who was clearly a crank. But then, you and I are not celebrities." Eek.
Even the liberal New York Times couldn't muster a cheer: "Audience members already in sympathy with Mr. Robbins's political views - the folks, in other words, most likely to attend 'Embedded' - will quite possibly go from nodding in agreement to simply nodding off." Three strikes and you're out.
But a closer look makes the spectacle even more grotesque. Critic Terry Teachout noticed that the character "Pearly White" supposedly quotes the philosopher Leo Strauss: "Moral virtue only exists in popular opinion, where it serves the purpose of controlling the unintelligent majority." Teachout suspected the quote was bogus, and a Google internet search quickly vindicated his suspicion. This supposed Strauss quote actually came, by several odd strands of interpretation, from one Tony Papert, who was writing for the Executive Intelligence Review - an infamous publication of the perennial presidental candidate/crank Lyndon LaRouche. Robbins is so far off the political radar screen with his play that he's using baked quotes out of the Twilight Zone of LaRouchie magazines!
Teachout mildly concluded: "None of this, of course, has any necessary bearing on the theatrical quality of 'Embedded.' But it does suggest that Tim Robbins, whatever his other virtues, is not a man to be trusted with facts."As they say, facts are stubborn things. But probably not as stubborn (and stubbornly wrong) as Tim Robbins.