In a video which could have come straight out of Leni Riefenstahl's cutting room, Oprah (producer) and Demi (director) have brought us a bit of propaganda in support of their pal, President Obama, which raises a lot of troubling questions in the process of laying out a generally positive message encouraging volunteerism. In a montage of statements from minor, but politically committed celebrities, the video runs through a litany of progressive causes which we can now safely volunteer our time to support, now that president Obama is here to lead us. Some of the messages are peculiar, a few are humorous, but the repeated message of pledging ourselves to service builds until at the culminating moment one of the celebrities urges us to pledge ourselves to Obama — not to a cause, but personally to the leader, the essence of the cult of personality which drives totalitarianism.
You know the propaganda is coming when the video starts out with a variation of the disturbing Shepard Fairey "Change" poster, which is so eerily reminiscent of soviet-era propaganda posters. From there the celebrities quickly run through more than a dozen causes, some laudable and some questionable, ending with the command to pledge our loyalty to their leader.
For me, a couple of things stood out as interesting. The first was the overall message. I find it surprising that the left has finally awakened to the idea of volunteerism, something which conservatives have been committed to for decades. But it makes me wonder, based on studies which show that most volunteerism comes from people in the middle class and in conservative parts of the country, whether these celebrities are planning to take time out of their heavy schedules to volunteer, or if they just want us to volunteer. Do they plan to serve Obama with their time and money, or do they just want to make sure that we pledge our much more limited resources? Volunteerism is great, but I find being preached to by these recent converts to be a bit patronizing.
One of the more amusing pledges was when Cameron Diaz announced her plan to meet her neighbors and greet them with a smile. This might require considerable exercise and a certain amount of risk given the size of the estates in the area of the Hollywood Hills where she currently lives, as well as all the security which her neighbors have. Or maybe she already met them and wasn't pleased with the experience — maybe they didn't smile back at her — since she is currently planning to move to a remote estate in the English countryside, about as far away from her current neighbors as she can get.
Even more intriguing is the pledge made by a series of celebrities to "work to make good the 200 year old promise to end slavery…to the abolition of 21st century slavery…to free one million people from slavery in the next 5 years." This comes near the culminating point of the video and includes its most significant participants, like Ashton and Demi. What's interesting about this is that the people who pledged to end slavery 200 years ago hold almost no political beliefs (besides ending slavery) in common with the participants in this video, and were ultimately the founders of a political party which these Hollywood leftists have campaigned relentlessly to smear, defame and destroy. More importantly, it raises the question of exactly how they plan to free these slaves. I'm all for it, but I realize that it is likely to require massive use of the military and what might amount to a full-on war with the primary institution supporting the continued existence of slavery, Islam. I don't think they get this. Their understanding seems to be at the level of "slavery is baaaaad" with no greater knowledge of the realities of the issue. Do they realize that only weeks after their last protest against the Iraq war they are now advocating all-out holy war against Islam?
While viewing the video you have to make sure to check out Anthony Kiedis (thanks to teen daughter for identifying him) kissing his biceps (which he seems to have named Barack and Obama) while pledging his eternal loyalty to Obama at around 3:19. That message is then echoed in a less bizarre way when Demi says, "I pledge to be a servant to our president…" at the culmination of the video, suggesting that the real goal here is not to encourage volunteerism, but to encourage loyalty to the leader, a message which I find very disturbing, coming from a video presented in such a blatantly propagandistic style.
It appears the video got to me a bit late. On checking out USAService.org, I learned that the volunteer opportunities they were mainly promoting were all connected to the effort to make MLK day a day of service for the nation. Apparently their plans for volunteerism don't extend beyond last week, so I'm out of luck, having stumbled on it only just today. I actually think promoting volunteerism on MLK day is a pretty good idea, but I think they're missing the point entirely by not making an effort to put more emphasis on community organizations which help people and can use volunteers every day of the year. But perhaps the more politically conservative character of the most prominent volunteer organizations, many of which work with or through churches, is something they feel uncomfortable with.
Do I have a point here? Yes, mainly that everyone ought to see this video and judge its sincerity for themselves. I find it condescending, insincere and somewhat ominous, but the basic message on volunteerism is still a good one. I just wish it weren't presented to me in terms which remind me so much of the twisted sloganeering of George Orwell's 1984, accompanied by a reminder that a lot of Hollywood celebrities (David Arquette in particular) give being an idiot a bad name.