It is said that you should never meet your heroes. I would go a stage further and say that you should never look into their political opinions. Unless of course you idolise someone like Tony Benn, in which case this would be difficult and pointless.
When it comes to movie stars, the correlation between the roles they choose and the political opinions they hold can be quite startling. Take a look at the cast of The Expendables 2, for example.
Sylvester Stallone – registered Republican, has muscles due to fear of ‘the other’ (I assume).
Bruce Willis – hated Clinton, wants the US to invade Columbia, has spoken at the Republic National Convention, loves guns.
Arnold Schwarzenegger – was a Republican governor of California, elected by idiots/as a joke, vetoed law allowing same sex marriages.
Chuck Norris – Devoutly Christian, has donated cash to various right wing politicians in the US, hates homosexuality.
Jason Statham – was a diver (very suspicious).
There are only two jokes in that list, with the rest being fairly accurate statements relating to the political backgrounds of the stars. They are of course entitled to think what they like and support whichever political ideals they find most agreeable. But problems arise when these people feature in films that are essentially about mass murder wrapped up in themes of individual rights and the role of the government/state in organised violence.
It makes me wonder about their motivations and, in turn, feel a tingle of guilt about my own enjoyment of the end product. Because I’m stupid like that.
The main reason that the political opinions of action stars even worry me in the first place is that I feel like it changes the way that I’m allowed to interpret their performances. I suddenly feel like I’m the equivalent of a person who unironically enjoys the misogynistic and xenophobic aspects of an Al Murray the Pub Landlord show, only to find out that the man playing this character is actually a left wing, Oxford-educated descendant of William Thackeray whose personal beliefs are the opposite of those that he expresses on stage. But in the case of action movies I’ve been endowing the stars with an ironic detachment which might not actually exist.
When I watch Stallone killing Somali pirates in The Expendables, I would prefer to imagine that I am laughing along with a man who’s thinking “Obviously, if this happened in real life, it would be terrible”. But instead I fear that the conservative-leaning action hero will actually believe that flying into foreign lands to murder and torture people who, from one perspective, are ‘bad guys’, is justified not just in fiction but also in the real world.
It ultimately annoys me that the action movie has to be a fundamentally conservative, right wing object. Because I want to enjoy this genre of film without worrying that my doing so will seem like some kind of endorsement of ideals which I don’t actually support.
This is a problem that’s just as easy to encounter when playing violent videogames. I can’t justify the thousands of digital people that I have slain, just like I can’t justify the enjoyment I have experienced from watching bits of foreign terrorist being spattered over a third world slum on the silver screen. But as long as I have that cushion of ironic, humours detachment, a conflict with my political and moral convictions need not develop. Without this, all you’re left with is the graphic and persistent pornography of illiberal wish fulfilment.