Denver Dispatch: Barry Levinson Sees Massive Conspiracy Against Celebs

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Just a regular guy. Photo: Getty Images

Was Obama the victim of McCain's "celebrity" attack ad, or was it really Paris Hilton? It's possible that Barry Levinson, director of Wag the Dog, Bugsy, and the upcoming What Just Happened (with Robert De Niro and Bruce Willis), thinks our beloved gossip staple might have been the one thrown under the bus. Levinson, who's at the convention filming a documentary about celebs stumping for arts education with the Creative Coalition, says that for the past eight years, Karl Rove and his acolytes have mounted a systematic campaign to undermine celebrities’ influence in politics and, indeed, to discredit them as even being capable of independent thought. “The past eight years has created this thing where if you’re a celebrity you’re an elitist and you have no relevance at all,” Levinson said at a Creative Coalition/National Black Caucus party. “And I find that fascinating. Because it’s been my experience that 90 percent of writers, directors, and actors are basically middle-class people who had talent. The American system allows them to ultimately move up the ladder. They achieve success, which everyone wants. Their families are still middle-class, they’re still connected to them, and they have a sense of America and what it’s like.”

Levinson believes that the problem began when Rove decided he needed to neutralize the Democrats’ decidedly larger following among actors and pretty people. “He said, ‘Look, how do we get them out of the mix? We’ll call them elitist and we’ll make it stick.’” (Clearly, Rove hadn’t thought ahead to the Oprah effect.) “The irony,” says Levinson, “is that if a celebrity is in support of a candidate, there is no specific benefit that they’re going to get from it. It’s not like they’re going to get tax breaks. They’re Democrats!” True that. “Does Ben Affleck benefit personally if the air is cleaner?” Levinson went on. “Let the man say what he feels! The reality is that they are nothing more than concerned citizens. Agree or disagree with them. But to label them an elitist group is a form of very dark propaganda.”

What’s more, Levinson argues, to reject celebrities is really to reject ourselves and our hopes and our dreams. “So what? They made money. Is that a sin? All people make money as they move up. That’s what America has always been about. The immigrant suddenly within two generations is a multimillionaire. Is he now suddenly an elitist and out of touch? You’re still connected to where you came from. [In attacking celebrities we] are almost attacking the very people who aspire to the American Dream, and criticizing them for accomplishing it.”