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Analysis: Senseless backlash in show biz?

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter

LOS ANGELES, March 20 (UPI) -- Some Americans seem so bent on harming the careers of anti-war celebrities they don't care who else gets hurt, as long as their targets pay for speaking freely.

Take, for example, the New York Post's Page Six column, which is usually devoted to entertainment gossip. On Wednesday, the column rolled out a list of entertainers who have expressed themselves politically -- and suggested that readers boycott their movies, CDs and concerts.

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The column -- which called its targets "Saddam lovers" -- seemed to have been inspired by Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines. She said in London last week that she was ashamed to be from the same state (Texas) as President George W. Bush.

There have been reports of country stations dropping Dixie Chicks music from their play lists and fans holding ceremonial burnings of Dixie Chicks concert tickets.

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Maines has apologized for her intemperate comment, but the Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper persisted in pushing the boycott of Dixie Chicks music. It even saw in the episode an opening to promote economic punishment of several other "appeasement-loving celebs ... who want to stop the liberation of Iraq from mass murderer Saddam Hussein and his rapist henchmen."

The Page Six "quick reference list" of entertainers whose careers readers might wish to harm includes Tim Robbins, Sean Penn and Laurence Fishburne -- who co-star in the upcoming movie "Mystic River."

The paper called it "the mother of all appeasement casts" but did not explain why readers might also wish to harm the careers of others involved in the production. There is no article of particulars alleging insufficient patriotism on the part of "Mystic River" co-stars Marcia Gay Harden or Laura Linney.

One wonders whether the column's writers even bothered to learn that the movie was directed by the reliably conservative Clint Eastwood. By the way, a boycott would harm Eastwood directly in the pocketbook -- since he also co-produced the movie through his own production company, Malpaso Productions.

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It seems not to matter to Page Six that Eastwood and hundreds of others involved in the production could suffer economic losses -- as long as Robbins, Penn and Fishburne are made to pay a price for publicly disagreeing with the president on the wisdom of his policies.

The Post also suggested that film-goers stay away from "Basic," the upcoming John Travolta movie that also features Samuel L. Jackson. The paper called Jackson "another Hollywood drone who signed an anti-liberation letter to the Bush administration" but did not explain what Travolta or co-star Connie Nielsen did to deserve payback.

The paper suggested that viewers shun the Sci-Fi Channel mini-series "Children of Dune" because Susan Sarandon is in it. It seemed not to care that the cast is mainly made up of actors who are still struggling to become bankable -- and who see "Dune" as an important step in their career development.

Never mind. Sarandon has spoken out of turn and must be punished.

Same thing with Alfre Woodard -- "another petition-signer," the Post called her -- whose upcoming feature "The Core" must be shunned to teach her a lesson for signing a petition. The column neglects to inform its readers why "The Core" cast members Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank and Delroy Lindo must be punished.

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It also failed to inform its readers that the movie's Bruce Greenwood was born in Quebec, which may qualify as a punishable offense given the current political climate in the United States.

The Post went on to recommend that entertainment consumers harm the careers of rocker Fred Durst, actress Janeane Garofalo and singer-songwriter Jackson Browne. It even suggested that film-goers not spend $10 on a ticket to see Danny Glover in "Good Fences."

The fact checkers at Page Six missed the fact that "Good Fences" is on cable, not in theaters. They also misspelled Fishburne's and Garofalo's names while they were at it.

Bear in mind that the Post is recommending punishment for statements that celebrities made when the nation was still debating the advisability of invading Iraq. Now that the bombs are falling, of course, there will be different expectations about what celebrities -- and politicians and cab drivers and the rest of us -- should consider to be the bounds of appropriate dissent.

But even so, the "sit-down-and-shut-up" constituency might want to consider that -- just as Bush has reminded us all that American doesn't need anyone's permission to defend itself -- Americans don't need permission from anyone to say what's on their minds.

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If the Post wants to organize a boycott of Fishburne, Garofalo and the rest, that is their right. They might have a bit more credibility if they would bother to get their facts straight.

The Page Six team might also consider explaining to its readers -- if it can -- exactly what the name-calling contributes to a rational public discourse on one of the most crucial issues Americans can face. Otherwise, thoughtful readers might be left with the impression that the writers are more interested in simply breaking some crockery than in solving a serious problem.

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