Friday, November 10, 2006
Hollywood and Africa (and why you should care)
Raise your hand if you know where Timbuktu is. Quick, point to Guinea on a map -- even a map that has the names of the countries on it. Uganda -- go give it a try. Chad is in the news a lot, right? Can you point directly to it?

If there is a "Society for the Ameri-Centric and Woefully Ignorant in World Geography," I'm naming myself Chief Operating Officer. I'm pathetic -- and I learned in editorial discussions and interviews that I am not alone.

Generally, when we think of Africa, it’s in our consciousness as sort of one giant generic place -- as though it’s one country instead of a diverse continent with dozens of nations, ethnicities and interests. Thinking of it as a giant generic place makes it easier to ignore, too. So, when George Clooney told CNN, "When you come back [from parts of the continent] you have a determination not to let that go away without talking about it," I kind of understood what he meant. And I hadn't even been there myself. (Watch Clooney’s video from his trip.)

The seen-it-all journalist in me -- who immediately casts a cynical eye every time I watch stars discuss how much they "care" about Africa, as they get on their private planes with big sunglasses, dusty but well-tailored fatigues, and nannies close behind -- is suddenly giving their motives much more credit. The beautiful people are beginning to dabble in Africa – its many parts and issues -- and they're finding themselves ashamed of their personal cultural illiteracy.

They also want to share what they've learned. In an interview, "Catch a Fire's" Tim Robbins told me, "You tell people they're going to see a lesson, they go, 'Oh no, I don't want to go to a lesson. I don't want to go to a classroom. Please don't make me go to a classroom.' "

You know what? Turns out I do want to go to a classroom. Maybe it took Madonna, Leo, Brad, or George galloping all across the world to make me actually seriously look at an almanac, which tells me (just for starters) that Africa is the second-biggest continent by area -– and by population.

Not sure why that should be news to me.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Remembering Ed Bradley
The tributes to "60 Minutes" correspondent Ed Bradley are praising him as a pioneer, a first-rate journalist, a terrific guy. I can't speak to any of that, since I only knew Bradley the way millions of others did -- as a person on TV.

But oh, did he have an impact. Something about a Bradley interview lasted long after that night's "60 Minutes" ended.

I can still see Bradley's interview with Paul Simon, a conversation so intimate it was almost hard to watch. (Almost -- Bradley's humor and compassion always shone through.) Or his talk with Bob Dylan, unfazed by Dylan's feints and weaves. Or Lena Horne: What zest!

The thing about Bradley -- especially when talking to a musician -- was he didn't try to hide his love of the job. You could see it in the twinkle of his eye (and the gleam of his earring).

He also couldn't hide his basic decency behind a mask of journalistic dispassion. He pitched in during a rescue of the Vietnamese boat people. Narrating the event later, he was matter-of-fact about participating: "We did too," he said.

Of course.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Britney: The day after
And now the air is filled with the sound of millions saying "I told you so."

It was so predictable, after all. Kevin Federline became a national punch line the moment he danced on stage with soon-to-be wife (and now ex-wife) Britney Spears. The fact he left a pregnant girlfriend for her, his bravado, his talk of "haters" -- he made mockery so easy.

And Spears, with her startling sexuality, her carefully ProTooled singles, her whirlwind first marriage, her over-publicized mothering slips -- somewhere along the way, she became two-dimensional, a cartoon character.

The two of them together were made in celebrity magazine and gossip column heaven. They weren't real, right? This marriage was all for our entertainment.

But now it's divorce. And I can't help but think of Frank Sinatra, of all people, introducing his recording of "Send in the Clowns" (how appropriate is that?): "Whether it's the man or woman who left is unimportant. It's a breakup." The way Sinatra says that, you can feel the pain and loneliness and failure in your marrow.

It's probably foolish, mentioning Sinatra in the same breath with Spears and Federline. Spears -- her sexy body is back! -- will be back on the magazine covers in no time, no doubt linked to the latest version of Justin Timberlake, Fred Durst or Jason Alexander.

And K-Fed? Perhaps a future edition of "Celebrity Fear Factor."
Monday, November 06, 2006
Music for Election Day
Five songs to hum and ponder on the way to the polls Tuesday:

  • "Elected," Alice Cooper. But of course.
  • "Politician," Cream. "Hey baby, get into my big black car." Only not within 100 feet of the polling place, please.
  • "Know Your Rights," the Clash. All three of them.
  • "Gimme Some Truth," John Lennon.
  • "Nadine," Chuck Berry. If only for "campaign shouting like a Southern diplomat."
I can think of plenty more, though the deeper I go, the more cynical they get.

Got a few of your own? Click on the "Add a comment" button. Keep 'em nonpartisan. Cynicism is acceptable, but so is hopeful idealism ... if you have any left after another muddy election season.
Stars should be stars!
As I recently watched video of Jennifer Aniston rushing through an airport, surrounded by cameras and trying to hide from view as if she were a criminal suspect on a perp walk, I could not help but wonder: Why do the famous whose livelihoods depend on being craved by the public often react to it as if there was something criminal about it? How would stars like Aniston feel if suddenly the cameras went away and no one was interested in them anymore?

Whatever happened to the grand old days of Hollywood when stars would wave to their adoring public, and their adoring public would wave back and scream shrieks of adoration, and the mutual lovefest was a joy to behold? When did it change? Why did it change? And when is it appropriate for duck-and-run to substitute for smile-and-fun?

Injected into this perplexing double standard is the question of privacy and intrusion, and what constitutes crossing the line. If those same camerafolk were trampling on Aniston's private lawn and in her backyard, then no one could argue the line had been crossed. But is it not fair to expect that when a star is out in public they should not be surprised when they are snapped and photographed -- and should embrace it?

Former "Partridge Family" child star Danny Bonaduce, who now bares his train wreck of a life on the VH1 reality series "Breaking Bonaduce," considers himself a lone voice in the wilderness. Appearing on Showbiz Tonight on CNN Headline News, Bonaduce's eyes seemed to bulge in anger as he presented his opinion.

"I'm real militant about this," he told us. "[The stars] have no right to privacy. I bought their privacy for $9 when I went to their last movie. They owe me, you know. And I believe that to be true. I mean, the day you catch me out in public with a hat and glasses, you know, will be the day I die. That's cheating. I didn't try and become famous so I could hide."

Thanks for the reality check, Danny. Now would you go tell your famous friends?
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