Celebrities: Ruining Everything

Another day, another letter from someone who thinks that having work out there in the market means that I need to shut up about the political process here in the United States. This is not a wholly uncommon occurrence for me and usually plays out like this: Someone reads Old Man’s War, assumes because it’s military fiction that I am some stripe of conservative and/or Heinleinian libertarian, comes here, catches me on a day I’m writing about politics, has the veins in their neck pop, and then writes me a letter or makes a comment suggesting that I shouldn’t write things they don’t like because then they might not be able to buy any more of my books, hint, hint.

To which my response is always the same: Kiss my ass, hint, hint. Someone who thinks that buying my books entitles them to suggest I need to be silent about anything is someone whose money I don’t need or want. It’s always the righties who do this; I can’t remember the lefties who disagree with my politics, and yes there are some, ever pulling this kind of stunt (on the other hand, the lefties who disagree with something I write often want me to write differently than I do, which is not something I get from the folks on the right. This may be indicative of larger political pathologies relating to the American right and left wings; I invite master’s theses on this subject).

To be clear, the vast majority of my right(ish) fiction readers who are aware of my personal politics appear to be content to let me be an idiot on the subject and buy my books anyway; I thank them for their patronage, from the very bottom of my mortgage, and I also thank them for their (ahem) liberal attitude on the subject. I am always glad to see when someone, right or left or orthogonal, decides that as a general rule they don’t have to filter every single aspect of their life through a screen of personal political orthodoxy. It speaks well of their higher cognitive functions, in my opinion.

That said, this particular letter was a new variation on the theme: rather than threatening not to buy future books unless I shut the hell up, which is the usual tactic, this one said that the decision not to buy future books was already made, because “I respect celebrities who are humble enough to keep their political views to themselves, and after visiting your website, it seems you do not fall into this category.” Mind you, there’s still an explicit “STFU” message here, which boils down to oh, if only you followed the rules and been a silent little monkey from first you entered the marketplace, I could still give you my precious, precious coin. But the “more in sorrow than in anger” tone here is a nice touch.

But the part that really got me was the implication that I am now a “celebrity,” and that celebrities, by this gentleman’s formulation, should be “humble enough to keep their political views to themselves,” which is a formulation that is less about humility, I expect, and more about “I own your work and therefore I own you, so shut up, monkey.” But let’s take each of these points in turn.

Celebrity, me: Yeah, really, not so much. Yes, I’m a writer who is well known among people who read science fiction, and among people who read blogs. This is not the same thing as being a “celebrity” in the generally accepted sense of the term. I don’t get recognized in public; hell, a lot of the times I don’t even get recognized at science fiction conventions, which is the one place people might have some inkling of what I look like, and are sometimes even looking for me. I’ve had conversations with people who were holding books of mine and had them not know who I was. This is amusing, to be sure, but it’s not celebrity.

This is fine. I used to interview movie stars and musicians, you know, and have friends who work with and near the genuinely famous. I’m not unfamiliar with actual celebrity. It seems tiring. When I was younger, I thought it would be nice to be famous; at this point in time I’m content to be well known in my own field. It seems to give some of the nicer perks of fame (i.e., people seeming to be glad to meet you, once they know who you are), without some of the more annoying aspects (i.e., absolutely no privacy whatsoever about any aspect of your life). True, this means I miss out on groupies, but I suspect after the first several hundred they lose their luster as well. I could be wrong. I might be willing to find out. Let me clear that with the wife and get back to you on it.

I don’t want to be disingenuous or artificially humble about my notability, but at the same time, let’s have some perspective. Let’s say I am a celebrity among science fiction writers. Fine. You know who is more famous than me? My cat. Who is more famous than her? Wil Wheaton. Who is more famous than him? Neil Gaiman. Who is more famous than Neil? Tila Tequila. And thus, we learn the value of celebrity. And more to the point, if I’m going to be required to shut up because I’m a celebrity, I want to be at least more famous than my cat. Although to be fair, my cat rarely gives her political opinion on anything. Maybe this guy should buy books from her. Soon to come from Ghlaghghee the Cat: Everything I Ever Really Needed to Know About Disembowling Defenseless Rodents I Learned from Karl Rove. Brilliant!

As for respecting celebrities humble enough to keep their political opinions to themselves, allow me to suggest, humbly, even, that this fellow really ought to grow up a little. What he’s really saying is that he doesn’t want his fantasy image of celebrities messed with through the inconvenient fact of a celebrity being an actual person. But, alas, celebrities are not merely poseable action figures for our enjoyment and control; they regrettably come with thoughts and brains and opinions and such, which they may wish from time to time to use and express. Possibly some of these celebrities will be not particularly astute in their opinions; you could say the same about real estate agents, plumbers, doctors, bloggers or any other group of people, including, alas, politicians. I wonder if this fellow also only patronizes real estate agents, doctors, plumbers, etc, who never express a political opinion outside the confines of their own brain, and if he does, if as a consequence he’s become quite the handy man.

(Also, you know: What about political celebrities? They are celebrities, after all. And clearly caught in a bind by this man’s strictures, for the moment they speak or write, they make it impossible for him to give them campaign contributions! Or buy their books! Oh, the conundrum.)

But at the end of the day, of course, it’s this man’s choice, and his money. I would not have him do other than stick to his guns; indeed, I celebrate his choice and wish to help him achieve it. This fellow offered a list of representiative celebrities — aside from me — who he thinks ruin his fun with their persistence in talking about politics: Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Ben Affleck and Sarah Jessica Parker. I’m sure there’s something that connects all four of those actors, but I’m not quite sure what it is. Nevertheless, to aid this fellow in his quest to purge from his entertainment dollar all entertainers who just can’t keep their mudflaps shut about politics, here’s a list of conservative celebrities, from I’m sure he will get right on not supporting any of their projects with his money. Likewise, I’m sure that in science fiction, this fellow will henceforth avoid any books by John Ringo, Orson Scott Card or Jerry Pournelle, to name just three gentlemen who unnecessarily sully the air with public announcements of their own political thoughts.

I wish this fellow the best of luck in his purge of all entertainment by people who have ever publicly expressed a political thought, and hope that he finds his resulting entertainment choices — nutrition information panels and car owner manuals, mostly — keep him gripped and on the edge of his seat, waiting to find out what happens next (SPOILER: Riboflavin did it! In the B Complex!)

For my part, I think restricting one’s entertainment only to those people who don’t ever speak about politics is pretty damn stupid, even when those entertainers have the temerity to have opinions that aren’t exactly like mine. But I suppose that’s because, silly me, I think that a multiplicity of political views is actually a good thing for the health of the country, as is the willingness of all Americans to speak their mind on the subject, even famous people, even when they disagree with me. I also think there’s more to life than just politics, and pity those who apparently don’t. But, hey, I’m a celebrity. What do I know.

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