The 6 Most Misguided Causes Ever Made Famous by Celebrities
Future generations might find it odd that our society repeatedly gave people a stage to talk about important social issues based on nothing more than the fact that they once starred in a movie we liked.
We wouldn't mind, if celebrity causes were simply vapid or silly. But sometimes, they're down right evil.
Free Mumia Abu-Jamal
Google the words "free Mumia Abu-Jamal" and you'll find a long list of websites that howl at his incarceration. It's like if Interpol threw Conan O'Brien in jail for making fun of the Pope. The story goes that in 1981, Abu-Jamal was arrested for shooting Philadelphia policeman Daniel Faulkner while he was issuing a traffic citation to Abu-Jamal's brother. He was convicted and sentenced to death. Since that time, everybody from Paul Newman to the European Parliament has lobbied, in one way or another, for his release.
Prince wrote Purple Rain as an extended allegory of Abu-Jamal's story.
Some who get involved are simply against the death penalty. Others decry the whole thing as institutionalized racism. As Free Mumia supporters like Susan Sarandon, Alec Baldwin and Nelson Mandela rightly point out, Abu-Jamal was a Black Panther and the American judicial system hasn't exactly been kind to African Americans. Unfortunately, that tends to be the only detail they get right about the case.
For instance, accroding to the "Free Mumia" conspiracy theory, a .44-caliber bullet was removed from Faulkner's body but Abu-Jamal had a .38.
"Mr. Baldwin, please put on a shirt and stop tampering with that evidence."
However, according to the ballistics expert hired by Mumia's own attorney, the bullet fragments pulled from Faulkner's body were a ballistics match to a gun registered to Abu-Jamal. A gun which, it should be pointed out, was found next to Abu-Jamal at the crime scene along with five empty casings. There's also the matter of the four witnesses who were at the scene of the crime who all implicated Abu-Jamal as firing the fatal shot. There's also the fact that, in almost 30 years, his story has changed numerous times, including the recent claim that it was, get this, a mysterious mafia hit man who killed Faulkner because he was a dirty cop. Faulkner's widow, who was spat on and screamed at during the trial, must especially love that theory.
The only thing more traumatic than losing a husband: Bad reggae music celebrating the guy who killed him.
The Low Point:
Arguably the saddest thing about the entire circus is that there were plenty of racist convictions celebrities could have been throwing their weight behind. DNA evidence has exonerated a disproportionate number of wrongly convicted African Americans who Paul Newman had never heard of. Meanwhile, Mumia has the distinction of being the only person to ever give a college graduation commencement address from a jail cell (Antioch College, 2000). At least he's not getting rich off his celebrity or anything. Well, unless you count all the books, like Live from Death Row, for which he was paid an advance of $30,000.
Free Leonard Peltier
Peltier is right up there with Abu-Jamal as far as celebrity causes go, except he's been locked up longer, his support network is bigger and his case involves the FBI. Also, he's a Native American, so the opportunity to tap into white guilt couldn't be better. Take that, Mumia!
See how his head is fused with a hawk? Clearly he's a Native American.
Peltier was convicted and sentenced in 1977 to life imprisonment for the murder of two FBI agents at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. That day, the two agents followed a car they thought belonged to a man wanted for robbery and assault. What they found instead was Peltier and two other members of the American Indian Movement who, after fleeing the agents, initiated a shootout that left them both dead.
Since his conviction and sentencing, his legend has grown to practically saint-like proportions, as if he not only didn't commit murder, but is incapable of so much as swatting a fly. U2 count themselves as Peltier supporters, along with the Dali Lama, David Geffen, Danny Glover and Amnesty International.
Cracked's support is limited to appreciation of Peltier's mustache.
What these people ignore is that Peltier ran from the agents that day at Pine Ridge because he thought the agents were there to arrest him for a previous warrant for his arrest in Wisconsin. The charge? Attempted murder of an off-duty police officer. Then, in 1979, he led a violent prison break attempt that resulted in the death of a fellow inmate.
The same man that did all that has reportedly been nominated for multiple Nobel Prizes.
All of that is enough to get you a supportive song from Rage Against the Machine ("Freedom") and U2 ("Native Son"). Though it appears U2 did some further research on the subject, because they rewrote the song and removed all reference to Peltier (the tune would be re-released as "Vertigo" and win a Grammy).
The Low Point:
While Peltier never got a $30,000 book advance like Abu-Jamal, he did run for president in 2004 (fun fact: in the USA it's illegal for prisoners to vote for President, but perfectly legal for them to run) and got nearly 30,000 people to vote for him.
Free (Insert Repeat Offender Here)
It's not just bleeding heart types who take up the "Free _______" cause. Back in 1957, a guy named Edgar Smith was convicted of murdering a 15-year-old girl. It only took a jury under three hours to declare him guilty, and he was sentenced to death. Somehow, he wound up in correspondence with conservative commentator William F. Buckley (the founder of the National Review). Buckley worked for years to get Smith released until, in 1971, he was.
"Awww. We can't stay mad at you."
After his release, Smith appeared on Buckley's talk show and collected $1,000 speaking fees touring college campuses around the nation. All was well until five years later, when he abducted 33-year-old seamstress Lefteriya Ozbun while she was going home from work. She survived, but Smith is back in prison, serving a life sentence.
"Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, life sentence."
Then we have George Davis, a convicted bank robber who was serving a 20-year sentence for aggravated robbery. His friends started a movement to get him freed and once more, celebrities jumped on board. Davis's case got mentioned in several UK rock songs, culminating in Roger Daltry of The Who wearing a "George Davis is Innocent" shirt on stage.
If Tommy says it, it must be true.
After galvanizing his cause to the point where it became a national priority, British Home Secretary Roy Jenkins recommended Davis's release in 1976, determining his conviction to be "unsafe."
Davis lasted two years on the outside before he was caught trying to rob another bank.
The Low Point:
Topping them all, however, has to be Jack Abbott. He was sent to prison for forgery, but had his term extended for stabbing another inmate to death. His cause was taken up by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Norman Mailer. Riding Mailer's coattails for Abbott's release was none other than Random House Publishing, who wanted to publish a book by Abbott when he got out.
He was granted parole in 1981, then appeared on The Today Show and got interviewed by Rolling Stone.
Six weeks later, he killed a guy in New York. Why? The poor sap wouldn't let Abbott use the bathroom in the cafe where he worked.
The Government is Lying About 9/11
If you had an Internet connection about four years ago, you likely ran into some 9/11 conspiracy theorists. The 9/11 attack has been to conspiracy theorists what Prohibition was to Al Capone. They believe that the government either secretly knew that it was going to happen before it happened, or did the deed themselves to have an excuse to go to war. And while it eventually faded as all Internet memes eventually do, a select few crazy people work tirelessly to keep the fire burning.
And like dumbasses to the attention flame, Rosie O'Donnell, Charlie Sheen, Janeane Garafalo, Jesse Ventura, Woody Harrelson and other less important people have flocked to the movement. For instance, O'Donnell famously said on national TV that 9/11 was "the first time in history that fire has melted steel - it is physically impossible."
We at Cracked.com would never dare question Ms. O'Donnell's expertise in the field of metallurgy, but how does she think steel is made? Does she think we dig up chunks of it already in the shape of a car door? Has she not seen the climax of Terminator 2?
Makes us a little misty-eyed just thinking about it.
No response from the President yet. Maybe because he knows something.
The Low Point:
But that's just something Sheen did in his spare time. Everybody is entitled to some crazy beliefs, right? And it's not like these people are out there profiting from this stuff.
Fidel is Your Friend
Fidel Castro has endeared himself to so many Tinsel Town heavyweights it's hard to keep track of them. Steven Spielberg described his 2002 meeting with Castro as "the eight most important hours of my life," just edging out the birth of his children and marriage to his wife. Jack Nicholson referred to Castro as a "genius" after meeting with him for a few hours in 1998. Other celebrities who've visited Castro and his island fortress and have come back roses and sunshine include Robert Redford, Leonardo Dicaprio, Spike Lee and Oliver Stone.
Castro's beard is like catnip to Oscar nominees.
Chevy Chase put it best when he described Cuba under Castro as proof that "there have been areas where socialism has helped to keep people stabilized at a certain level." In a weird way, Chase was right; Castro's version of socialism has kept people stabilized through imprisonment and mass executions.
The Cuban American National Foundation estimates that there have been 12,000 political executions since the bearded one took power in 1959. The Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy puts the number between 15,000 and 18,000.
Maybe the celebrities of the world discount those numbers; the thing about a communist dictatorship is it's kind of hard for outsiders to get solid information (Internet access there is restricted, and emails are monitored). But come on. Have they ever wondered how he could stay in power for almost half a freaking century? May Day baskets? Free shower curtains? Nope, Castro has maintained power the same way every dictator in the history of civilization has done it: political, civil and media repression. And by repression, we mean Stalinist gulags.
Instead of trying to make a joke about gulags, please enjoy these adorable baby porcupines.
The Low Point:
We could go with this claim in the New York Post that Castro has given the ol' flesh cigar to 35,000 women, but we'd prefer to not leave you with that mental image.
Try not to think about where that finger's been.
So how about Oliver Stone spending three days with Castro shooting a friendly documentary called Comandante in 2002, only to have HBO refuse to air it. Why? Because shortly after the interviews (intended to show the "human" side of Castro) Castro jailed 75 political dissidents, including journalists, human rights activists and even some freaking librarians.
Immunization is Bad for You
If you didn't have to spend your childhood like this:
...you can thank vaccines for pretty much eradicating Polio. Same for smallpox and measles. But don't bother telling that to one-time "it" girl and Playboy centerfold Jenny McCarthy, who is utterly convinced immunizations gave her son autism. They totally didn't, but to prove her point she's made the talk show rounds, organized Washington D.C. rallies and, most unforgivably, persuaded Jim Carrey to join her in her crusade.
How is Jim Carrey like Jenny McCarthy? Both have built a career on talking out of their asses.
Unlike the 9/11 conspiracy silliness, this crusade will wind up killing people. You see, parents have started to believe her, already resulting in a spike in measles-related sicknesses, thanks to an unwillingness to get their kids vaccinated. Good going Jenny, keep showing up on Oprah hawking your books and maybe next time you can bring back the mumps, or typhoid fever, or every other disease you can get on Oregon Trail.
Despite the Oregon Trail's claims, rest cannot cure every disease.
She's not alone. Bill Maher contends that not only are flu shots unnecessary, but they also give you Alzheimer's. Maher doesn't say where he got his proof, but there's a good chance it came from Herman Fudenberg: a physician famous for his anti-vaccine agenda who had his medical license suspended in 1995 by the medical board of South Carolina after being found guilty of "engaging dishonorable, unethical or unprofessional conduct."
The Low Point:
Jenny McCarthy is about to get her own show to promote her bullshit full time, pushed with the full force of the Oprah Winfrey promotional machine.
"What do you desire, our queen?"
All of America is about to catch McCarthy Fever! And measles.
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Check out some more frightening things celebrities have supported in The Top 10 Secret Celebrity Scientologists and The 5 Most Ridiculous Celebrity Cameos in Japanese Ads.
And stop by our Top Picks (Updated 07.12.10) to see which columnist thinks the World Cup being hosted in South Africa was a ploy by the UN to increase the countries corn trade and improve America's whisky.