Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sharon Stone, Jerry Falwell, Hagee and Religion by Norman Markowitz

There is an absurd story in the news today which appealed to my always dormant anti-capitalist satirical sensibility. Christian Dior, the famous French fashion house, has dropped Reagan era Hollywood star Sharon Stone as a spokesperson because she referred to the devastating Chinese earthquake as "Karmic Retribution" for Chinese policy in Tibet?

That reminded me a little of Pastor Hagee, John McCain's rejected supporter, who called Hurricane Katrina God's revenge on New Orleans for its Gay population. Or Jerry Falwell's grotesque appeal to ignorance and hate by calling AIDS God's retribution on Gays. And then there was Pat Robertson making general comments about the 9/11 attacks as retribution for America's sins.

Pre modern, press mass literacy society is filled with such proclamations announcing that natural disasters, plagues, droughts, great storms are the result of some spirit getting even with some group of humans for not following the spirit's dictates, at least as those dictates are presented by the spirit of spirits human brokers and managers.

But capitalism bifurcates institutional and ideological religion, taking away the independent wealth of the clergy in the form of great estates and control over labor, turning the various institutional religious sects into servants of the capitalist class and organizing them around capitalist profit maximization principles instead of having their leaders functions as an important part of the ruling class as in feudal societies.

Sharon Stone is a commercial product, a "piece of meat" as one Marxist critic of the Hollywood studio system once termed its stars, dressed up to stimulate the appetites of consumers and sold to them as filet mignon (A movies) or hamburger (B movies).

What does she know about Tibet or China? I doubt much of anything.Does she have any idea about Tibet's brutal feudal system over the centuries or China's nearly eight hundred years involvement in Tibet, its struggles over the last hundred and seventy years against European and U.S. imperialism, its revolution and development.

Ronald Reagan, another, lesser "piece of meat" in the Hollywood system (a B movie actor) told a group of California businessmen once that he didn't know if he would make a good governor because he never played a governor in the movies. Sharon Stone never played Queen Victoria during the Opium Wars, the unequal treaties, the bloody suppression of the Boxer rebellion. She never played China's Empress Dowager Madame Chiang K'ai-shek, or the Dalai Lama in drag.

I don't know if she was a better movie actress than Mao's famous and, to many, infamous wife, Chiang Ching, an actress in 1930s Shanghai cinema, although she certainly was in bigger budget films and didn't change her career to join a revolutionary movement, unless Christian Dior is a "front" for the French left.

Sharon Stone isn't a religious leader, even though in contemporary advertising the religious term "icon" is used loosely for her and other celebrities (no one ever called Pat Robertson an Icon to the best of my knowledge) But her use of the mystical religious concept of Karma (or fate/luck inspired by spiritual forces rewarding or punishing conduct in this or previous lives) to explain the deaths of tens of thousands of Chinese people through a natural disaster is as arrogant, vindictive, and self-righteous as the reactionary comments of the late Jerry Falwell, Hagee, or Robertson.

So why is she out of a job (at least this one) while, even with the repudiation of some embarrassed friends, they go on. First, the China market is much more important to capitalism than the Gay market (and certainly much easier to define geographically). Hagee and Robertson are also selling building their spiritual businesses by taking contributions from believers/supporters/fans, even though Robertson branched out into television in a very big way. Christian Dior is a global enterprise and China has the ability to boycott those who both vilify and seek to do business with it. Gays and others attacked by the religious right don't have that power, although entertainers, "pundits," etc. who make racist, or sexist public remarks often find themselves under sharp attack because such comments are unacceptable.(since open homophobic attacks are still part of both political and religious discourse in the U.S., bigotry against gays is still considered "normal" by larger sections of the population and less subject to punishment than racist or sexist prejudice

Sharon Stone should study some Chinese and Tibetan history (she certainly can afford it). She might even learn a little more about the concept of Karma (I am certainly no expert on it or someone who believes that any mystical ideology has any meaning except its influence on the people who do believe in it) which,from my understanding isn't so clearly about retribution and revenge of the kind that Falwell and Robertson (who perceive a merciful God for themselves and their supporters and a wrathful God for those who oppose them) routinely cite. Meanwhile, we should all be seeking to assist the Chinese governmnent and people as they seek to recover from this disaster.