“If only actors didn’t also talk.”

So begins Alexandra Petri of the Washington Post, one of many voices to roundly condemn actor Gary Oldman for a bizarre, obscenity-laden rant in Playboy. During the exclusive interview, Oldman, accomplished star of such juggernauts as Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” trilogy and perhaps the finest character actor working today, lashed out on topics ranging from political correctness in Hollywood to widespread societal decay. Along the way, he somehow managed to defend Mel Gibson (gasp!), trot out that tired old trope about Jews running Hollywood, express sympathy for Alec Baldwin’s tendency to lose his mind in public places and hurl homophobic slurs at anyone in the general vicinity, and obliquely refer to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as a…well, let’s call a merciful curtain on that bit of bile.

 

Outrage ensued, and Oldman promptly backtracked in a panic, penning a letter of apology to the Anti-Defamation League (who promptly rejected it) and making a contrite, emotional appearance on Jimmy Kimmel. The public judgment? Oldman is a fine actor. Pity he’s also a barely-closeted racist, sexist, libertarian-leaning old white male who uses delectable phrases like, “we’re up s**t creek without a paddle,” to describe the state of modern society.

 

Oldman’s remarks were abrasive, abusive, and offensive. What’s more, his caricature of a bereft, rudderless American social order is alarming in its cynicism and bull-headed reductionism. The real question is, why do we care so much?

 

Modern American culture’s fascination with celebrity news inevitably demands that our public figures, be they politicians or pop artists, give public voice to their opinions on a wide range of matters more or less completely outside their jurisdiction. This can range from the trivial (“what do you think of Kanye West dissing Taylor Swift, Mr. President?”) to the slightly more serious (the long, storied tradition of every rock star ever clamoring to find the nearest authority figure to lyrically lambast).

 

Our craving to lap up the proffered opinions of cultural figures stems from our craving to “know” the minds and hearts of our stars, to connect with them, converse with them, and hear them give voice to their thoughts on mutually compelling subjects. This is an understandable outgrowth of America’s fascination with celebrity culture, and who is complaining? If Brad Pitt wants to talk gay marriage in front of an interviewer’s microphone, so be it. We’ll buy the magazine, pronounce him properly progressive and go on with our lives, content in the knowledge that we’ve unearthed just a little bit more of his mind to share amongst ourselves.

 

The cyclical stanzas of glorification inherent in celebrity culture make for a rude awakening when a star’s mind turns out to be a tad more unattractive than we’d like. As Oldman’s PR disaster illustrates, we often respond with shock and condemnation, roundly reviling our so-called heroes for their appalling worldviews and unappetizing political convictions. We demand that they speak, but damn it if we will stand for it if we do not like what they are saying!

 

We would do well to assign far less value to the personal opinions of our public figures. At the end of the day, who cares what Mr. Oldman’s take on societal flourishing is? Better to not bother raising the question at all. It frees up space for meaningful public dialogue and saves us all the heartache of discovering that a great actor is, shockingly enough, a bit of an asshole.

 

What do you think about Mr. Oldman’s comments? Do we care too much about celebrity opinions? Start the discussion in the comments below or connect with me on Twitter @aa_murph