June 28, 2011
Hard to believe though it may be, another scandal involving A-list actors is rocking Hollywood. There are all the usual hallmarks of moral decay—big-name stars (Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Tobey Maguire); illicit activity (in this case high-stakes gambling rather than sex or drugs); a high-profile lawsuit; and tut-tutting from the professional tut-tutters.
Granted, this affair is tame by contemporary local standards, shaped as they have been by the antics of Charlie Sheen, Britney Spears, and Lindsay Lohan. It is also a bit silly, since Maguire is being sued for having won from a sucker who allegedly embezzled to pay his gambling debt; the poor schlub might as well take the Devil to court for tempting him. The State of California rarely prosecutes this kind of gambling. After all, if the incompetent attorney general who is now governor did not feel like defending Proposition 8 in court, what chance could his successor have against the kind of legal muscle that participants in such games could afford? The worst thing for a politician is to have his or her inadequacies proved in a court of law. Then again, the fact that voters allowed Brown to rise from the dead indicates that we Californians do not require ability from our leadership.
Scandal has always surrounded the film community out here. As recounted in Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon books and in films such as L.A. Confidential, beneath the surface tinsel has boiled and bubbled a cornucopia of sin and satisfaction. “Anything you desire” was the motto of the latter movie’s fictional Fleur-de-Lis call-girl service. Although I do not know any major stars (though a friend of mine did babysit Leonardo DiCaprio when that future high-stakes gambler was a tot), even I have encountered that world’s peripheries in my lifelong ramblings around the Big Nowhere.
Given the innumerable premature deaths and ruined careers that such goings-on have wrought (think Marilyn Monroe, Fatty Arbuckle, Brad Renfro, River Phoenix, or anyone else you like), one might well ask—why? Why would people who seemingly have it all try to risk it on, well, in the purse-lipped brigade’s argot, risky behavior?
First, access to money and power, and its attendant pressures, has always driven people in these directions. If Washington is Hollywood for ugly people, Hollywood is Washington for beautiful ones. But since the land’s highest lawmaking body does not reside here, the age of consent cannot be lowered to 16, as it is in DC, to suit the local elites’ tastes.
Second, unlike our rulers, our entertainers and their packagers and parasites cannot delude themselves into thinking that what they do is essential to the common good. One way to quiet the roar of internal self-doubt and guilt over high wages is to plunge into “good causes,” sane or otherwise. Another is to indulge oneself however one is bent—be it sex, booze, drugs, or even gambling.