Don Cheadle Comes to Columbia

In yet another move to stoke the youth impetus, Mizzou College Democrats and the Obama campaign brought a little bit of Hollywood to the heartland today. Actor Don Cheadle spoke and fielded questions from the crowd at Speaker’s Circle at MU. Advocacy is nothing new for Cheadle, the Academy-Award nominated actor best known for his ground-breaking roles in “Hotel Rwanda,” Oceans 11 through 13, and of course, his guest-role on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” (he played ‘Ice-Tray’).

Cheadle has been one of the loudest voices from Hollywood to decry the genocide in Darfur. Obama is “his Dude,” and Cheadle has joined the ranks of Obama-wood supporters like the ever-poignant Jennifer Aniston and the ever-insightful Scarlett Johansson.

Cheadle has a huge appeal for young voters and attracted a large crowd of college students who, for once, were at Speaker’s Circle to listen and not to heckle Evangelicals.

“If you people (young people), if you come out to vote … you’ll see nationwide that students will be the ones to swing this election (to Obama),” Cheadle said. For 30 minutes Cheadle expressed confidence in Obama’s ideas, and more believably, in Obama’s confidence and commitment to uniting the nation.

Cheadle’s endorsement and his efforts to spread Obama’s message are noble, yet wholly confounding. Taking political cues from big-name actors makes about as much sense as taking baking tips from Marie Antoinette (the real one, not Kirsten Dunst, although she did endorse Obama). Celebrities may energize young voters, and it may make for interesting fodder for cable news, but I can’t help but feel the knee-jerk from more rural, culturally conservative voters who would sooner mistake Cheadle for Tim Meadows than heed their political leanings. Watch Fox News and they’ll remind you how out of touch the cult of celebrity is with real American values.

I think something bigger is at play here. Have we as a culture crossed some sort of line in the reverence we give our entertainers? How relevant is the opinion of people who have other people find them work? Our culture’s obsession with the “Entourage” dynamic of fast cars and faster women blinds us to, let us say, more salient issues. Not that it’s the fault of celebs with a political conscience. If it takes a seven-figure smile to sell us on getting politically engaged, so be it.

Cheadle summed up his role as an Obama supporter as this:

“If you can’t get out of the spotlight, then they can’t get in.”

True words. Sadly, they are coming from Ice-Tray.

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