Friday, February 6, 2009

Art, Sausage, Politics: Christian Bale and the Stimulus

Senators have reached an agreement about the proposed stimulus package. Christian Bale got in trouble this week for a profanity-laced rant he unleashed on the set of the latest Terminator movie (Bale has apologized). I'm not going to link directly to an audio of his rant, because this is a family-friendly blog. Maybe he's frustrated at following in other actors' footsteps; he is the third John Connor and the fourth modern Batman.

Those two news items don't seem like they have much to do with each other. But work with me for a minute. There's an old saying in politics that those who like sausage and legislation should watch neither being made. The same could be said, to an extent, for art. Art can be beautiful, funny, inspiring, tragic. But the process of making it (particularly movies) is rarely beautiful or inspiring (although it can definitely be funny or tragic).

Christian Bale's rant is unusual only because it was made public. There are many stories about movie stars acting badly on set. But they are, for the most part, just that: stories. Until now, there wasn't much hard physical evidence of a movie star being a jerk on set. Christian Bale just happened to be mouthing off within range of a live microphone in the age of the Internet. A political columnist (I can't remember who) gave this advice to pundits and politicians after one too many people were caught saying things they shouldn't have: if you are in front of a microphone, assume it is live and recording. The same is true of movie sets, particularly since they use some microphones that record over a much greater distance the ones in a TV set or on a podium. The whole point of making a movie, after all, is that it will ultimately be released to the public.

And we are now watching legislation being made in a much more intimate way than we did previously. There's a reason for the phrase "behind closed doors" and the cliche "smoke-filled back rooms." The process of coming up with enough compromises to make a piece of legislation passable was one that went on out of sight of the public. Not so much anymore. We know that Ben Nelson, Susan Collins, and Arlen Specter were key Republicans engaged in the final negotiations. The smoke-filled room was Harry Reid's office. I read about this on several different Websites within a few minutes of when it happened.

So those of us who are paying attention to these things are a little more aware of what happens behind the curtains. Christian Bale's reputation will probably never quite recover. No one is going to be quite satisfied with the stimulus, because we all know exactly who got what, and most people who see a program that they favor being cut are going to be upset about that part of the package.

But what the Internet takes away it also restores. Christian Bale apologized on a radio station in LA; Entertainment Weekly put it on its Website. It's also part of pop culture in ways no one would have imagined. Stephen Colbert parodied Bale's rant with Steve Martin as the target of his venom; I saw a mashup of Bill O'Reilly and Bale's rant. Bale apologized, and he was in one of the best movies of last year. If he can show the world that he can laugh at himself, maybe he'll come out even better. I have an idea: he should parody himself, but instead of ranting at a crew member, he should drop some f-bombs at the Academy, for not nominating Dark Knight for Best Picture or Christopher Nolan for Best Director. That could be funny. If Heath Ledger doesn't win Best Supporting Actor, he will have millions of people's permission to let loose.

As for the stimulus, disillusionment and discouragement seemed to set in in some quarters almost as fast as hope bloomed after November 4th. I do not countenance any cynicism at this point, and will not even begin to contemplate it for myself. The package came together quickly, and it looks like Obama will sign it less than a month after taking office. Part of the reason for the alacrity is the speed of communication these days. We all know how bad the economy is, and we all hear the same horrible news instantly.

Those who like legislation and sausage should watch neither being made. And if you don't have a strong stomach for constant setbacks and rejection, stay away from Hollywood. But the most difficult movies to make can be funny and inspiring. And two of the greatest speeches in American history were given in the middle of, and at the end of, our worst war: Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and his Second Inaugural. We are in a horrible economic crisis. Our Senators and Representatives just came up with a plan that may or may not solve this crisis.

Christian Bale finished making Terminator: Salvation, presumably without further incident; that tirade is actually from last July. The process of coming up with the stimulus was not pretty. But it's done. Time to clean up the details, watch Obama make great speeches pitching it to the American people, watch him sign it, have a few beers, maybe an apple martini, and then cross our fingers and pray that this actually works. Which I look forward to hearing about on multiple blogs,, and

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