Celebs make NY protests fashionable

2011-10-21 14:57

New York - Occupy Wall Street is getting a little help from its celeb friends as the movement enters a second month. But star power also carries risks, commentators say.

Alec Baldwin, star of the hit TV series 30 Rock, showed up late on Wednesday at the OWS camp in a park near Wall Street, just the latest in a string of A-listers.

One of the first was Michael Moore, the hugely successful left-wing documentary maker. Other politically minded Hollywood figures on the bandwagon include actors Tim Robbins and Oscar-winner Susan Sarandon.

John Lennon's widow Yoko Ono has not actually visited, but is a vocal supporter. "John is sending his smile to 'Occupy Wall Street,'" she stated, adding that she was sending her love.

And Rapper Kanye West caused a buzz earlier this month when he arrived with hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons.

Others lending close support include the likes of Jesse Jackson, the veteran African American leader and anti-war activist, prominent left-wing academic Noam Chomsky, and Mike Meyers, star of the slapstick Austin Powers movies.

Dripping in gold

Rich Hanley, an expert on communications and pop culture at Quinnipiac University, said the celebrities give the grassroots movement an obvious boost.

"It helps their cause in the number of cameras pointed to the action," he said. "The celebrities are doing their job of attracting publicity. That's what they do and they do it well."

But celeb sword is double-edged, Hanley and others say.

Someone like Michael Moore, director of Fahrenheit 911 and Bowling for Columbine, could be seen as too divisive as a figurehead for protestors who want to stay out of normal politics.

And since protestors claim to be representing the downtrodden 99% against America's super-rich one percent, what to make of Kanye West and other multi-millionaires who make brief appearances in solidarity with the young street idealists?

Kanye West, lover of gold bling and the Mercedes Maybach, which can cost nearly half a million dollars, came in for a ribbing in the blogosphere after his visit.

YouTube footage from the protest camp showed him silent, unsmiling, and dripping in gold, while Simmons spoke for him.

"He's here just to stand with the people, it's not the politics of it. He doesn't want to make a statement, didn't want to do any media at all actually," Simmons said. "He wants to give power back to the people."

Celebrity buzz

Hanley said these kinds of celebrity sightings can energise right-wing foes of Occupy Wall Street.

"It opens up a new front on their capacity to criticise it," he said. "It does open up just a lot of criticism that the right-wing media will pounce on."

Music consultant Bruno del Granado said on ABC television that the celebrities themselves risk a backlash if they are seen as "condescending".

"They do make a tonne of money," he pointed out.

However, del Granado said Hollywood is good at seeing which way the political winds are blowing and "they really want to be a part of what's going on".

Some of the high-profile protestors have immediately made clear that their love is not unconditional.

Sarandon was quoted as saying that change "from the bottom" is great, but warning that the leaderless movement should "focus on one thing to be accomplished".

Baldwin echoed that, Tweeting that "OWS needs to coalesce around some legislative policy." He even committed the OWS version of blasphemy by stating that "capitalism is worthwhile".

What's sure is the celebrity buzz around OWS is not going away soon.