WHCA Dinner: Where Politics and Celebrity Intersect
May 3, 2014 - 3:54 pm
On Saturday night, the worlds of politics and celebrity will merge at the White House Correspondents Dinner. Anyone and everyone who is anyone is going to be there — Broadway actors, Hollywood starlets, reality show hustlers, musicians and more will rub elbows with politicians who will be tickled pink at the opportunity to get close to fame.
This is pretty heady stuff for button-down politicos who toil mostly in total obscurity. There is the vain hope that whatever the rich and famous have that makes them, well, rich and famous, will rub off on them and help them win elections.
For celebrities, an invite to the WHCA Dinner validates their lofty opinion of themselves; they’re important. They matter.
A supreme irony in all this is that both celebrities and politicians would secretly love to change places — an indication of just how low and silly politics has become.
Kathleen Parker questions the value of the dinner — along with all those in the press who didn’t get invitations:
Those questioning, of course, are the media, which create the problem, then examine the problem, then suggest ways to solve the problem (that we don’t really believe is a problem) and then go on to repeat the problem.
The rest of the world couldn’t care less about the dinner except perhaps to note that Washington is out of touch with regular Americans and that journalists are too schmoozy with officialdom. Most journalists would agree, but who would want to miss the scholarship awards? Oh, you didn’t know about those?
What we all hate most is the attendance of so many celebrities, who undermine the noble purpose of this convocation. Moreover, they tend to make journalists, who have spent considerable time looking their red-carpet best, feel like last week’s tulips.
Hence, the popular description of Washington as “Hollywood for Ugly People” and the dinner as the “Nerd Prom.” Not that anyone in the media really feels this way, but it makes everyone feel better to say so, especially in light of the seething wall of protesters gathered each year outside the Washington Hilton.
The buzz-killer crowd, however, is quickly forgotten once inside, where an avenue of cameras and lights awaits stars passing along the red carpet. Note to future newbies: Your entrance is upstairs. Otherwise, you risk a probable humiliation that the lights will suddenly go dark and your grand entrance becomes a soul-killing walk of shame past a gantlet of fish-eyed fans of other people.
How did we get to this point? Blame John F. Kennedy — or, more specifically, his father Joe. At the outset of the campaign, Joe Kennedy reportedly told Bobby Kennedy that “We’re going to sell him like soapflakes.” American politics was not totally unknown to Madison Avenue, but the PR guys who worked on previous campaigns had never seen Joseph Kennedy in action.
Kennedy created the film studio RKO by merging a couple of his other ventures in Hollywood. From the early 30′s on, he had an abiding interest in the doings of performers and others in the industry The elder Kennedy was fascinated with movie stars and what they possessed that caused their image to jump out through the screen and capture the viewers attention. Jack shared this interest and eventually determined that “charisma” could be cultivated.
Through the years, he maintained solid connections to Tinseltown, so that when his son was ready to run for the presidency, he had the biggest names in Hollywood on board. Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Cary Grant — the biggest stars at the time agreed to be seen and photographed with Kennedy on a regular basis. The media ate it up and the public loved it.
From 1960 until today, no candidate could totally ignore the impact of celebrity on campaigns. And as Hollywood celebrities became less dependent on the studios, they became more overtly political as time passed. Now, celebrities expect to be quasi-advisors to campaigns rather than just totems that add pizzazz to a campaign stop.
The WHCA Dinner is just a Washington sideshow — an event that in the scheme of things, only shows how out of touch politicians are with ordinary Americans.