Every now and again celebrities decide to get all political and activist. The result is usually awkward, misguided and hypocritical. This week’s shenanigans were no exception.
If you haven’t noticed, the tiny nation of Brunei has introduced sharia law as its criminal justice system. This Islam-based penal code includes stoning, amputation and flogging for "crimes" such as abortion, sodomy and adultery. It is outrageous, barbaric and has no place in a modern world. I’m no fan. Neither is former late night talk show host Jay Leno – who led a protest this week outside the luxurious Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset Boulevard, just across the street from the park where George Michael was arrested for soliciting an undercover policeman for sex.
Why that hotel? The Sultan of Brunei – a ridiculously wealthy man – owns the Dorchester hotel chain – which includes the Beverly Hills Hotel. Leno and his wife were scheduled to co-chair the Global Women’s Rights Awards from the Feminist Majority Foundation at the hotel last Monday. They moved the gala and demanded everyone boycott the hotel until Brunei changes its decision. Other Hollywood types have followed – cancelling various functions at Dorchester venues.
Let’s leave aside the fact the Sultan is one of the world’s great hedonists. He’s worth about $20 billion (oil money), he’s friendly with whichever world leader he feels like hanging with and he probably qualifies for stoning, flogging and amputation based on his rather public past actions. He’s well worth a protest or two. But boycotting an LA hotel which employees 600 locals – most of whom are worth a little less than $20 billion – to prove a point to a rich lunatic?
Why pick the Sultan out of the pack? What about Walmart – with a proven history of underpaying its American employees? What about the American garment makers who used a factory in Bangladesh that collapsed and killed over a thousand poorly paid workers? What about Syria, Ukraine, stolen girls in Nigeria? And I haven’t even started on the endangered animals.
Modern protesting is a slippery, soul-destroying activity. Where do you begin and where do you end? There is so much to be annoyed about nowadays – actually there’s always been a lot to be angry at – slavery anyone? – that it must be difficult to have a conscience and a desire to make change. Especially when you’re a media-friendly celebrity.
Picketing an upscale hotel at the possible expense of minimum wage banquet waiters because you’re annoyed at the man who probably doesn’t remember he owns the joint is at best naive and at worst just plain stupid. Because now we all have to boycott the joint, or we’ll look like we support stoning.
I applaud concern shown for Brunei – but this type of simplistic do-gooderism by bored celebrities does no practical good, usually inflicts harm on unintended victims, and only reminds me of all the other international and local horrors that do not have Jay Leno holding a sign and moving an awards banquet.
Tim Schildberger is a writer, TV producer and proud former Canberra resident who has lived in Los Angeles since 1997.