In recent weeks, border separation has been the top story. Media coverage has included horrific pictures and videos of young immigrant children in anguish at being taken from their families. Pundits have repeatedly used the phrase “babies in cages” to describe the situation.
Hollywood celebrities like Oprah, John Legend, Ellen DeGeneres and Evan Rachel Wood are among the many stars moved by the plight of these children, who have gone public with their disdain for President Trump and his immigration policy.
While it strikes me as obvious that this policy is cruel and horrifying, I also have to admit I find the pose of child advocacy on the part of some of these celebrities to be at best misguided and at worst a form of vacuous virtue signaling.
For instance, Evan Rachel Wood, star of HBO’s Westworld, went to the Texas border to join an organized 24-hour hunger strike to bring attention to the issue. She implored people to follow her on Instagram to stay current on her progress. When I read that story, I found it so asinine that I had to double check to make sure I wasn’t reading the satirical news website The Onion. Sadly, I wasn’t, it was a real story that left me wondering if she was starving herself for a good cause or starving for attention?
While Wood’s heart may be in the right place, it’s her mind that I’m worried about. Here are a few things to consider regarding her hunger strike.
First of all, if you’re an actor living in Hollywood, if you’re not fasting at least one day a week, you’re simply not trying.
Secondly, starving yourself for 24 hours is not going to do a single thing for frightened toddlers and infants separated from their mothers and fathers at the border.
And third, if the argument is that Wood and the rest of her fellow hunger strikers are – like other famous hunger strikers in the past such as Gandhi, Cesar Chavez, Bobby Sands and the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay prison – starving themselves to bring attention to an issue, in this case the immigrant family separation policy, then they are a little late to the party.
The media has been relentlessly reporting on this topic for the last few weeks and have flocked to the Texas border to breathlessly cover the story. And that, it seems, is the point for some of these celebrities – namely that the media is already focused on this issue and therefore, when seemingly well-intentioned stars use stunts like hunger striking or going to the border, they aren’t bringing attention to the issue… but rather to themselves.
Another problem with the spate of Tinseltown voices demanding action to stop Trump’s brutal family-separation policy is that these stars didn’t get up in arms when President Obama had a similarly callous policy towards illegal immigrant families.
Obama’s DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson recently went on Fox News and commented on startling images of young immigrant children separated from their parents and put in makeshift jail cells by the Obama team in 2014. Johnson said, “Without a doubt the images, and the reality, from 2014, just like 2018, are not pretty.”
Johnson then said of Obama’s family-detainment policy, which at times included child separation, “We expanded it, I freely admit it was controversial, we believed it was necessary at the time, I still believe it is necessary…”
Johnson also proudly said that the Obama administration had deported and repatriated over a million people.
One wonders why Hollywood bigwigs like musician and actor John Legend only seem to care about draconian immigration enforcement policy when Trump is doing it. Legend, who recently donated $72,000 to the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) over Trump’s inhumane border control practices, must have been blissfully unaware that the organization lambasted Obama in 2015 for his family detention and fast-track deportation policy for Central American illegal immigrants.
Again, Legend’s heart is in the right place but his failure to advocate for the immigrant children brutalized under Obama seriously degrades his legitimacy when he chastises Trump for doing the same thing.
Another problem with the celebrity outrage machine regarding the Trump immigration issue is that none of the stars speaking out ever dig deep enough to get to the root of the problem.
For instance, ‘comedian’ Bill Maher postulated on his HBO show Real Time with Bill Maher last week that he thinks the wave of illegal immigration from Central American countries, like El Salvador and Honduras, both of which are among the most violent places on Earth, is due to the drug war.
Maher and his panel of establishment sycophants were incapable of seeing the forest for the trees, and lay the blame for the immigration fiasco either on Trump, the drug war, or both and entirely failed to notice the neo-liberal elephant in the room… namely, America’s colonialist and imperial foreign policy.
For example, El Salvador didn’t become a violent hellhole all by itself. From 1980 to 1992, the US fueled a dirty civil war in the Central American country by sending hundreds of millions of dollars in economic and military aid and advisers who trained paramilitary death squads that kidnapped, tortured and killed thousands of innocent Salvadorans. 75,000 people were killed in that brutal, US-backed proxy war that destabilized El Salvador to such an extent that it still hasn’t recovered.
Honduras is also a hot mess of a country, in part, because in 2009, in opposition to the Organization of American States, the EU and United Nations, the US backed and supported a coup that toppled a democratically elected government.
None of this is new, as children from all over the world have had to pay the price for America’s militarism for a long time now. Millions of children have become refugees, orphans or been killed or maimed by US recent military adventurism in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and Yemen.
According to the Pew Research Center, from 2005 to 2015 the number of displaced migrants in the Middle East is a staggering 23 million, the majority of which were the result of American-backed wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. If Hollywood genuinely wants to protect children, a good place to start would be to stop collaborating with the Pentagon in making muscular propaganda for American militarism that leads to endless military actions across the globe.
And finally, if these celebrities were genuine in wanting to help children separated from their parents, they wouldn’t have to go all the way to the border to find them.
Los Angeles County, home to Hollywood, has the largest foster care system in America with nearly 20,000 children in their care. Over 81 percent of these kids have been removed from their homes due to neglect. These children, just like those taken from their families at the border, have been traumatized and are in desperate need of a warm bed and a kind soul to care for them.
If Hollywood celebrities truly wanted to help kids in need rather than self-aggrandize on social media, they would open their homes and their hearts to the foster children of Los Angeles who are gravely in need.
So celebrities, if you want to prove that you are genuine in your concern for displaced and vulnerable children, you should start by doing two things: one, become foster parents; and two, vociferously advocate against America’s relentless militarism. Because the truth is, preening at the border, posing as a hunger striker and tweeting your outrage doesn’t bring comfort or alleviate a child’s suffering, it only heightens your sense of self-satisfaction and feeds your ego.
Michael McCaffrey, for RT
Michael McCaffrey is a freelance writer, film critic and cultural commentator. He currently resides in Los Angeles where he runs his acting coaching and media consulting business. mpmacting.com/blog/
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