Having just reviewed Amy Goodman's recently published collection of syndicated columns, Breaking the Sound Barrier, I have been listening regularly to the podcasts of her news and opinion show, Democracy Now!. Friday's show included an interview with comedian Andy Cobb who had worked as a spokesperson for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida and has now come out to speak in favor of the current health reform proposals and against his former employers. Exactly why they were his former employers was never mentioned, although the suggestion that he left the insurance company's employee in disgust at their activities was fairly clear. Whether or not this is true, we really have no way of knowing. No one spoke for the insurance company. Goodman's show doesn't exactly subscribe to the "fair and balanced" mantra. Whatever the reason he left or was asked to leave, I would, myself, normally applaud his new appetite for biting the hand that fed him. I just wonder what took him so long.
What interests me is a moral question. What is your obligation when it comes to working for a company or a cause you find, not illegal, but offensive. This intrigues me because like Cobb, I've had to make this kind of choice. Last year during the election campaign, despite considering myself a staunch Democrat, I was cast in an election commercial for the Republican candidate for the governorship of a state other than the one I live and vote in. The question of whether or not I should take the job occupied me for all of ten minutes. I booked the job, made the commercial and pocketed the check. I wasn't happy about it, but then again I wasn't exactly not happy either. Paying opportunities come too few and far between to turn them down for something as impractical as principle.
Besides, the Republican lost, so I guess that lets me off the hook. At least it salved my lack of conscience. But suppose Blue Cross Blue Shield of Pennsylvania was looking for actors for some new ad campaign, what then? A few years ago I auditioned for one of their campaigns; the one with the blue hand, you may have seen it. I didn't get it, but had it come through, not only would I have taken the gig, I would have danced in the streets for joy. Principle is fine in principle. But it's hard not to sell out for cash. If you're an actor, you want to work. If you're an actor, oftentimes you will be willing to work for nothing. If you're Brad Pitt or George Clooney, surely you can afford principles, maybe even if you're Andy Cobb. For most of us it's just not in the cards.
Cobb has coined a name for what he was and for all those other actors still working for the insurance companies are, indeed a name for all those shills speaking in commercials for companies and products they don't really believe in: "spokesjerks." Think about it. Think about all the possible "spokesjerks" out there: Peyton Manning, Jared, the cave men, the pile of bills with the eyes atop. Besides, anyone naïve enough to take advertising as gospel probably deserves what they get.
Speaking for the "spokesjerks" and the "spokesjerk" wannabees, I want it understood that I may feel guilty speaking for things I don't believe in, but if another Republican candidate needs an old guy for a political spot, I'm available. Behind my back, I'll just keep my fingers crossed.