Sometimes, Celebrities Should Just Shut The Heck Up

By Ali Khaled
06 February 2019
Liam Neeson
This week Liam Neeson's words have shown just how out of touch with reality some high profile figures are

Liam Neeson has a particular set of skills. Self-awareness, it seems, is not one of them.

But then subtlety and nuance aren’t traits generally associated with celebdom.

The Oscar-nominated actor and star of the Taken franchise caused a storm earlier this week when the Independent newspaper ran a story portraying him as, well, how to put this? A rampant racist.

Speaking to journalist Clémence Michallon - and alongside his co-star Tom Bateman - Neeson admitted that he once went out looking to murder a black man after a friend had been assaulted by a man she said was also black.

It's hard to understand what he was hoping to achieve by this astonishing moment of candour, but the admission of violence was only matched in shock value by the added racial element.

Neeson has since apologised claiming “I’m not a racist”, but he’s already amassed a few accusers and, perhaps surprisingly, some defenders, too. And not necessarily ones you’d expect.

Former footballer John Barnes, increasingly one of Britain’s most eloquent voices on racism and tolerance, said Neeson “deserves a medal” for speaking honestly. Meanwhile Piers Morgan, not usually a voice of reason, has accused the actor of being a “being a murderous racist”.

So what possessed him to link his character from the soon to be dead in the water film Cold Pursuit to an incident he should surely have taken with him to the grave?

In fact, while we're at it, just why are celebrities indulged for their opinions so much, and on so many platforms?

Often with very little qualification to back up their words, their celebrity is used as reason enough to confidently opine on everything from race, to climate change to politics.

Ever since an attractive and confident John F Kennedy, aided by the first ever televised debates and celebrity endorsements, defeated a tired-looking, nervous Richard Nixon in the 1960 presidential race, politics in the US has increasingly veered into entertainment. And how both sides have embraced this marriage.

In the US, Democrats are often the party of celebrities. As a candidate Bill Clinton famously flirted with Bono at the height of U2’s fame in 1992 when up against the painfully unhip George Bush. The next democrat to win the White House, Barack Obama, also counted on the support of hordes of Hollywood stars and musicians to defeat Mitt Romney.

Ironically it was Donald Trump who showed just how spectacularly celebrity endorsements can backfire. Turns out having Amy Schumer, Lady Gaga, Lena Dunham, Jay Z and Beyonce, Kim Kardashian and Pharrell on Hillary Clinton’s side was no match for the tide of populism that Trumped whipped up to win the election. Of course he did have a Kanye in a MAGA cap on his team, but then it's hard to know whether that one should be marked in the for or against column.

Today, the partisanship of American politics is marginally more embarrassing than a WWE event. The world of entertainment, we can see now, has its fair share of idiots too.

Of course, not all celebrities should be tarred with Neeson brush. The likes of Angelina Jolie, Mark Ruffalo and Leonardo DiCaprio, to name just a few, back their words with humanitarian and environmentally-aware actions.

But then perhaps the public gets what the public deserves.

As Neeson showed this week, if celebrities are indulged enough they will often believe their own hype, occasionally revealing a dizzying lack of attachment to reality into the bargain. Maybe the lines have blurred a little.

Perhaps Neeson feels his vigilante credentials have been proven beyind doubt (yep, even after Taken 3), and that he was within his right to search for revenge. Perhaps he simply thought he was coming clean about an episode he was deeply ashamed off? Perhaps he wasn’t thinking at all.

Unfortunately, whichever way he decides to spin this one, his words this week are something that he won't ever be able to take back.