Wednesday, February 3, 2010

It's A Lie. Paul Isn't Dead.

The first celebrity I recall hearing a rumor about was Paul McCartney. Paul was dead. Worse, the rest of the Beatles were covering it up. Paul had been replaced with a look-alike named Billy Shears. John Lennon had slipped in the clue “I buried Paul” at the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever”. There were clues everywhere. But it wasn't true.

I suspect the story hurt some real people in McCartney’s life, not just insipid groupies hoping to land Sir Paul—but at the end of the day no real harm was done. The rumors of Paul’s death had been greatly exaggerated. If anything, perhaps another few million LPs were sold.

This isn’t the case with the rumor mill today. Yusuf Islam (the musician formerly known as Cat Stevens) gets accused of supporting terrorism by an understandably freaked out public who, following September 11, were just coming to terms with the clear and present danger of Islamic fundamentalism. It didn’t matter that everything this musician stood for to that point of his life was rooted in art and humanitarianism; John Q Public had a celebrity it could burn at the stake. The result: Yusuf was denied access to the United States.

It used to be the broad brush of communism that celebrities got painted with. The Hollywood Blacklist, which expanded into the entertainment blacklist, deprived livelihoods to scores of actors, writers, directors and musicians after initially targeting screen heroes like Jimmy Cagney and Humphrey Bogart. Good folks were denied employment not necessarily because of their political beliefs or associations, but because of suspicion.

Today, the rules have changed. Socialists are awarded professorships at Harvard and radio talk shows and seats in Congress.

Want to hurt a celebrity now? Paint him gay. And do it on the internet.

New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez saw this happen not long ago. More damaging in many ways than his steroids admission was that photoshot in Details which heralded speculation that the star infielder must be a corncob cowboy. Comments on sports websites like Deadspin concluded that because A-Rod was pictured kissing himself in a mirror: "A-Rod would very much enjoy a copy of Details magazine up the wazoo" and "they followed him to the abandoned shack that he goes to to have sex with strange and diseased men." ESPN writer LZ Granderson attributed the attitude to fan jealousy and homophobia. I disagree. It’s jealousy and homopolitics. It’s the new gay agenda.

For some gays, it’s not enough to demand equal rights. There's a nagging insistance that everyone’s a member of their party. That’s why when someone like boxer Hasim Rahman offhandedly accused opponent Lennox Lewis of using “gay moves,” the one-percenters built a rumor and ran it up the fagpole.

The truth behind most gay rumors is that they are rarely true. Like the communist accusations during the Red Scare, these rumors serve not-so-well-hidden agendas: those of the rumor starter and the minority lobby who benefit from spreading it. Someone—an enemy most likely, a female most likely—planted one of these rumors in the virtual locker of Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Kordell Stewart in 1999. Imagine Stewart’s chagrin being forced to confront his teammates—as he did in a private—with “You'd better not leave your girlfriends around me, because I'm out to prove a point.”

Remember when someone targeted Met’s catcher Mike Piazza? There’s no question in my mind that the fag tag lost our power hitter some serious money in endorsements that year. Perhaps for the rest of his career. Who was behind that rumor? Follow the money.

Following his 1991 disclosure of his HIV status, Magic Johnson had to appear on the Arsenio Hall Show to tell Hall (and the audience), “I'm far from being homosexual. You know that, everybody else who's close to me understands that.” Johnson’s career was coming to a close; his endorsements certainly weren’t coming in after the AIDS story. Why deny being gay? Because it wasn’t true! And no one wants to be accused of that if it’s not true.
It’s not a crime to be a Muslim either. But how quick was our president to deny that story?

Which brings me to Ovie Mughelli. As I recently noted, some skunk with an agenda and no sense of decency just went after the Atlanta Falcon’s fullback claiming to be Ovie’s ex-lover. Where did he do his outing? On the website of a no-name blogger (who can barely string sentences together) with her own clear agenda. The next thing you know, it’s a running wildfire on the Black Gay Chat boards and blogs because they have an agenda, too. No validation. No proof. But they treat it like gospel.
Ovie says it’s not true. And he has a daughter. And the women he dates are smoking hot.

Will the rumor cost Ovie endorsement deals? Definitely maybe. But as Meyer Lansky pointed out, “When a man loses his money, he loses nothing; when he loses his character, he loses everything.” That in mind, I was heartened that Ovie didn’t take the bait, didn't dignify the rumor with a dramatic response. He shrugged and said sorry--you've got the wrong man. As I see it, #34 is a class act.

Others see it, too, apparently. Pine Crest School’s students just awarded their first-ever Earthman’s Pro Football Eco Player of the Year award to Ovie. The replica of the football is being made with recycled glass fused in a kiln and mounted on recycled wood. “Atlanta Falcons fullback Ovie Mughelli is teaching youngsters the importance of caring for the planet,” said a spokesperson for The Earthman Project, a nonprofit founded by Lanny Smith, the 2006-2007 North American Environmental Educator of the Year. Ovie’s own foundation works with environmental leaders to develop football camps, green speaking events and eco-challenges that educate 8- to 17-year-olds.

As my friend Kurt Vonnegut noted in “The Unicorn Trap,” life comes down to a singular struggle: It’s the wreckers against the builders. There’s the whole story of life!

And Paul still isn't dead.


Roger Owen Green said...

I'm a big fan of Cat Stevens' music, but a suggestion that "everything this musician stood for to that point of his life was rooted in art and humanitarianism" ignores his 1989 support of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, long before 9/11. He denies it or mutes it now, but it's still out there.

Unknown said...

I saw a group of men in my home town;
I saw a group of men tearing a building down.
With a heave and a ho and a mighty yell,
they swung the beam and the side wall fell.

I said to the foreman, "Are these men skilled?
The type you'd hire if you wanted to build?"
He laughed and said "Why no indeed.
Common labor is all I need."

"I can tear down in a day or two
what it took a builder ten years to do."
I thought to myself as I walked away,
Which of these roles am I going to play?

Am I the type that tears down
as I make my way foolishly around?
Or am I the type that's trying to build with care,
with hopes that my community, family, or organization will be glad that I was there?

--Lou Holtz

I copied this by hand 25 years ago from a Lou Holtz video tape and have carried it with me ever since.