Monday, October 19, 2009
I saw that you got an essay published in the New York Times Opinion Section. Good for you! Hundreds of people, thousands of them, submit manuscripts to that dead tree establishment, yet your essay somehow made it to the page, and a huge number of people got subjected to your opinions on "Rebranding America." They even ran your photo! The Times doesn't usually do that for guest columnists. I bet the lights at the photo shoot were pretty bright. Is that why you were wearing sunglasses?
I have to confess, after those 1435 words the Times gave you, I wasn't exactly sure what your point was. You started off talking about the Nobel Prize, then started talking about how foreign aid could stabilize those developing nations that have a tendency to hate America, then you got really patriotic and compared America to a singer. (you're a singer, so you're like America!) You are actually Irish, so I guess gushing about America doesn't count as "patriotic," exactly. Still, you must like America, since Americans bought a lot of your albums when you were still making music. I never bought any of your albums because I'm too young, but my mom did, I think.
Anyway, I reread your piece because although it rambled a little bit, it was in the Times so it must have been important. I figured out what you wanted to say, I think: you believe that Barack Obama deserved the Nobel Peace Prize because he makes other countries like America a lot more and this is good for the world. You made a few odd turns, like when you quoted Obama's speech to the UN in which in promised to fight poverty, then said those words meant something "if they signal action." If I was your editor, I'd probably ask you to cut that, since it isn't clear whether those words will signal action or not. Also, you said Obama "created jobs," which is open for debate. But I loved your self-deprecating tone, like when you said you couldn't speak for your entire band, which reminded us you were a famous singer, if we didn't get it from the sunglasses, your one-word byline, and the first sentence, where you mention you won a Golden Globe. (Was I supposed to remember the event you were talking about?)
By the way, do you think the Times published you just because you were famous? Would it bother you if they did? I know I would hate the idea that my work wasn't accepted on its own merits, but because of my celebrity in an unrelated field. I might even have asked the paper to not publish it under my stage name, so as to create some distance between my celebrity and my contributions to the political debate.
But who am I to offer advice to a person who is so famous his name isn't really a name? It must be hard being that famous. If you have a hobby, like painting or music or essay writing, no one will tell you that your paintings or songs or op-ed pieces are boring, which sucks. Maybe if Billy Bob Thornton's band had to suffer through obscurity before making it big, they would have developed an interesting sound or written songs that weren't outrageously bad. Maybe if the Times held your writing up to their normal standards of concision and clarity, you could have written a good 600-word piece instead of a meandering 1500-word one. I guess we'll never know.
You're not the only one who gets the celebrity treatment from publications. The New Yorker published a short story by Dave "Famous Writer" Eggers that amounted to a prose trailer for Where the Wild Things Are; Alec Baldwin has a regular column at the Huffington Post that gives him a platform for all of his unoriginal musings. Hey, maybe HuffPo would give you a blog if you asked! Or do you work for them already?
I really liked one point you made in your column--Americans do want to be loved by the world. We see ourselves as the "good guys," the shining light of the world, and we want everyone else to see us that way too. Just like a lot of celebrities don't want to be known for their good looks or pop songs or sunglasses, but their serious musings. But instead of actually becoming virtuous, America invades the countries that don't like us--and instead of actually developing startling, interesting views and writing extremely well, these celebrities trade on their fame and publications cynically publish celebrity work to boost circulation.
But hey, I don't want to be too critical. You do a lot of charity work, which is a good way to spend all of that money you have. And you should keep writing. Maybe someday the Times will publish you without sunglasses.