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The “priestly caste” of America’s artistic elite

Whoopi Goldberg’s missteps show how celebrity hypocrisy works

Whoopi Goldberg on the set of The View Associated Press/Photo by Jenny Anderson/ABC

The “priestly caste” of America’s artistic elite

The news that ABC placed Whoopi Goldberg on two weeks’ leave from co-hosting The View because of her comment that the Holocaust had nothing to do with race was shocking on several grounds. First, it is shocking for the sheer stupidity of the comment, one that beggars belief. Nobody needs to have read Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf or Nazi theorist Alfred Rosenberg’s The Myth of the Twentieth Century to know that the Holocaust was all about race, whether it was targeting Jews, Slavs, or other “inferiors.” Second, it is shocking because the two-week reflection period seems remarkably lenient in a world where a trivial but tasteless tweet from years ago can cost people their livelihoods—generally, of course, ordinary people without the influential friends, brand recognition, and substantial bank accounts of the likes of Ms. Goldberg.

But then again, the leniency is not shocking. Goldberg is representative of so many progressively minded people in the media class who talk as other people tweet—with no sense of responsibility, no sensitivity to other people, and no real grasp of what constitutes an argument or even the truth. She is, after all, the woman who, with reference to film director Roman Polanski’s rape of a minor, argued it was not “rape-rape,” a fascinating categorical distinction, especially when applied to the sexual assault of a minor. Yet Goldberg lived to tell the tale of that one too, though I suspect she does not tell it very often at polite dinner parties these days, if at all. Like her fellow apologists for Hollywood’s former favorite child rapist, such as actress Meryl Streep, she has gone a tad silent on the issue of her support for Polanski in recent years.

Now, the rapid way in which public moral tastes and tolerances change is one of the most remarkable things about modern Western society. The days of 2015, when the idea of “rape-rape” was somehow credible to Goldberg and her pals, and where Polanski was a martyr, not a pervert, seem to belong to an era as distant as that when phones had dials and were actually used to, well, talk to people. What has not changed, however, is the way the artistic/media class indulges its own excesses while excoriating others for far lesser offenses. As the medieval church granted “benefit of clergy” to its priests, allowing them to escape the harsher penalties of the law for offenses that might cost a layperson his life, our current “priestly caste” does the same. George Orwell used precisely that analogy when reflecting on Salvador Dali, noting that artists are indulged for behavior regarded intolerable in others. Goldberg may lack Dali’s talent, but she is the recipient of the same benefits.

As the medieval world granted tremendous spiritual power to its priesthood and indulged its sins because of that, so we do with our celebrities.

Some might dispute the term “priestly caste” here, but Goldberg and her ilk are just that. As the medieval world granted tremendous spiritual power to its priesthood and indulged its sins because of that, so we do with our celebrities. We ascribe powers to them that go well beyond those of mere mortals and indulge them in like manner. Now, Goldberg’s immoral comments on child rape and on the Holocaust suggest not so much that she is an evil person as that she is simply rather dimwitted. Yet for some reason, the fact that she was a passably amusing actress 30 years ago, whose sole skill was her ability to pretend to be somebody else, somehow means that her opinions on other matters count as serious social commentary.

Why is it that we grant such status and such indulgence to actors and not plumbers or HVAC engineers or bank tellers? I would wager that the average bank teller knows that “rape-rape” is not a meaningful category of moral discourse and that the Holocaust just may have had something to do with perverted racial theories about the Jews and others. So, the status of actors and artists is a mystery to me. But such is our world. The trivial, the shallow, and the witless that make up the Hollywood elite are taken seriously by the rest of us and forgiven when they cross lines that the bank teller and the plumber must never transgress, at least on social media where their employer or, worse, the hashtag-wielding mob might find them. That Goldberg is reportedly furious that her ritual public apology has not made it all magically disappear shows just how privileged and entitled her world is to that the rest of us inhabit.

Surely it is time Christians realized the absurdity of this. It is time to scorn these hectoring Hollywood clowns for who and what they are. And it is time to pray to the Lord to give us a society—and a ruling class—that might actually have something serious to say to the rest of us.

Carl R. Trueman

Carl R. Trueman taught on the faculties of the Universities of Nottingham and Aberdeen before moving to the United States in 2001 to teach at Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. In 2017-18 he was the William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University.  Since 2018, he has served as a professor at Grove City College. He is also a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a contributing editor at First Things. Trueman’s latest book is the bestselling The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. He is married with two adult children and is ordained in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

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