I whine about tabloid journalism, but I often end up reading the stuff anyway. Ah well! And yet I recently discovered how easily I am manipulated by the sensational stories and headlines I consume.
Until recently, I admired the actor Alec Baldwin. Everything I knew about him I learned from the film, Glengarry Glen Ross. In it, he plays a small but terrifically nasty role as the slick tough guy from “Mitch and Murray” coming to knock some salemen’s heads. He gives a motivational speech with lines like:
“As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac El Dorado. Anyone wanna see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired.”
He finishes the scene by brandishing a pair of brass balls and swinging them below his belt.
“You want to know what it takes to sell real estate? It takes BRASS BALLS to sell real estate. Go and do likewise gents.”
Yah! It’s a classic scene. Check it!
So, a few weeks ago when I read a linkbait headline screaming Alec Baldwin was quitting New York City (whoa! he’s in NYC not LA?), of course I clicked. I skim-read the whole New York Magazine piece, which was basically a very long, very specific rant, spoken or written (hard to tell) by Alec Baldwin detailing ways he gets no respect. Like Rodney! Except Baldwin was totally serious. He itemized all the ways he tries to be a caring public figure but is, for various unfair reasons, by various unfair people, shat upon and accused of evil — and false! — ill-liberal behavior.
Yah! It was embarrassing . (You will have to Google it. I’m not linking.)
The next thing I knew, I had a completely different view of Alec Baldwin. Oh, I believed he was vilified unfairly; anyway, I was too lazy to check the facts. Heck, I didn’t even know he HAD a television show. Even so, after reading his rage against vicious public perception, I immediately stopped thinking of Alec Baldwin as an actor. Suddenly he’d become a goofy celebrity with a gift for terrible PR.
Okay, so what’s the point? From actor to moron in 15 minutes: public media has a sadly insidious effect. Who cares, you ask? Here’s the kicker: Real life trumps “the media.”
Soon after reading Baldwin’s ridiculous rant, I was listening to public radio, as I am wont to do on weekday evenings. My boys and I tuned in, once again, to an hour with the New York Philharmonic, hosted by Alec Baldwin. I had heard the host’s very smooth, deliberate, intelligent-sounding voice many times, and I assumed it was some-classical-music-DJ Alec Baldwin, not THE Alec Baldwin. And as they’ve asked before, the boys wanted to know: “Is that Alec Baldwin the actor?” This time, I Googled it.
Alec Baldwin in the WFMT studio. Photo: Todd Heisler, New York Times, 2009.
Well! Sure enough, Baldwin’s been the voice for the New York “Phil” since 2008, a serious personal commitment. Plus, he recently donated $1M to the orchestra.
Immediately, my view of the man flipped — again. Now that I know he’s an individual who spends his time and money where he sees true value, I view him as a bonafide public figure, not merely an actor, and certainly not merely a tabloid clown.
The tasks for me remain: resist the tabloid linkbait. Think more kindly of strangers. Keep listening to Alec Baldwin and the New York Phil. . .