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Cardella: Mixing Politics with Art

By Tom Cardella

I’m trying like hell not to let politics invade my personal tastes in entertainment. My mother and her sisters abandoned Frank Sinatra when he left Nancy for Ava. I remained a Sinatra fan. I stayed a Sinatra fan despite the trauma of watching Frank dump Jack Kennedy for Ronald Reagan and his party. Years later, I wound up agreeing with Sinatra that it was JFK who treated Frank badly, not the other way around. But his embrace of the Reagans never seemed to jive with his outspoken liberalism that got him branded a communist by some early in his career.

I don’t want to be like some conservative folks who won’t listen to Streisand or attend a George Clooney movie because both stars are too liberal or … on the other side of the ideological fence, like some liberals who disdain pitcher Curt Schilling and actor James Woods.

Both Schilling and Woods have tweeted some really stupid stuff. Worse than stupid. Insulting. Even crazy. I try to separate their achievements in their chosen fields from their goofy blathering. Sometimes it isn’t easy, but so far I have succeeded.

I still revere Schilling as a baseball player. I still fondly remember his gutsy “bloody sock” performance in the World Series pitching for the Red Sox against the Yankees. In case you’re not a baseball fan, here’s the story: Schilling had injured his ankle badly in Game 1 of the 2004 World Series. His ankle was creatively sutured by the Sox team doctor so he could return to pitch in Game 6. The sutures came loose during the game. Blood seeped through his white sock, but Schilling pitched brilliantly. The Sox beat the Yanks. The incident capped Schilling’s brilliant career. Since his retirement, Schilling has become infamous for his extreme right-wing views. I believe it’s those views that have kept the Phillies from adding a Curt Schilling plaque to the Wall of Fame at Citizens Bank Park. Arguably, his politics have also hurt him from being enshrined in baseball’s Hall of Fame at Cooperstown. I find Schilling the man to be a total ass. But to me, Schilling the pitcher was a big game player. I keep the two judgements separated.

My take on James Woods is much the same. He’s a terrific actor given to terrible tweets. He claims that he was a Democrat until the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Today, Woods is becoming better known for his far-right views. Woods has also been charged by a former girlfriend with sexual misconduct. The charges are at this date unproven. Woods seems to enjoy trolling liberal celebs and politicians. That’s his right, but his new notoriety may have cost him acting opportunities.

Woods talent is unquestioned. My favorite film of his is SALVADOR. Woods plays real life journalist Rick Boyle and his experiences in El Salvador. The film is memorable. Woods was nominated for a Best Actor award.

It is also ironic that SALVADOR is an Oliver Stone film. Ironic for me because I find Stone arrogant and foolish for his worship of left wing dictators. As if his kissing up to Hugo Chavez, the late dictator of Venezuela wasn’t bad enough, Stone conducted a soft ball interview with Vladimir Putin of Russia that was downright embarrassing. But Stone is one of the few people in Hollywood that still makes interesting films. And I found SALVADOR to be among his very best. I’ve been able to put aside some of Stone’s political views and admire his talent. He is one of the best at his craft.

All of us are free, of course, to decide whether our distaste for a performer’s personal views is enough to keep them from patronizing their art. Robert De Niro, I’m sure lost some fans after his rant against President Trump. Roseanne Barr and Kathy Griffin, among others, have paid the price for intemperate remarks or actions. In Barr’s case those remarks were construed as racist. In Griffin’s case, her controversial video showing Trump as just a bloody head was thought by some to go beyond disrespectful of the President by encouraging violence against him.

We haven’t reached the point of blacklisting actors and writers as happened during the McCarthy era and the reign of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Ironically, there were few things more un-American than the House Un-American Activities Committee. What we’re seeing today is more a personal blacklisting by customers. I don’t like it, but I understand that everyone has to draw a line in their own sandbox.

Understand. I am not including here artists such as Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, and Kevin Spacey, whose terrible behavior is the main reason for boycotting their performances or films. Their problems are removed from personal politics. In some cases, even criminal.

Not all art is infused with politics, but sometimes politics is at the essence of our best art. Sometimes a person’s politics are not necessarily part of their performance as an artist. Certainly, Schilling’s great pitching was entirely separate from his political views. We must allow an artist to have the freedom to express their political views. But that freedom does not come without its consequences.

When we link the acceptability of an artist’s politics with our assessment of their art, there’s a downside. Inevitably we wind up with less interesting artists and that leads inevitably to less interesting art.

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