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A good 'rule of life' would be for artistic types to steer clear of all political shenanigans

By Mary Kenny

Published 28/11/2016

Michael Fassbender
Michael Fassbender

We all adore the wonderful Michael Fassbender, and I particularly adore him since he actually performed in a play of mine at Edinburgh. High point of my life. But do I want to take my ‘rules for living’ from the adorable Fassbender? Probably not. I think I might pay more attention to Nietzsche (‘Live dangerously’) or Wittgenstein.

Ludwig Wittgenstein — the Austrian who found mental peace in Connemara — was the one who said that if we didn’t know about a subject, we should keep our mouths shut (“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent”). I think we can take it that Ludwig would not have been comfortable in a world where Katie Hopkins speaks with such authority.

But Wittgenstein probably wouldn’t make the cut either, since he wouldn’t be wearing a sweater priced at £1,250 — as Michael F was when he articulated his ‘Rules for Living’ in the December issue of GQ. Maybe the question we really want to ask is: how do you get to the point where you can purchase such a garment? In Fassbender’s case, be a good-looking young man with a remarkable acting talent, and a relentless hunger to work and succeed.

And then add in the actor Bryan Cranston’s wise words: “And be very, very lucky.”

Fassie’s given rules: don’t be intimidated; don’t care too much about popular choice; stick to the system (and then “give ’em hell”); be attracted to your future girlfriend when she “p***** on your shoes” during a scene (that’s Alicia Vikander, who did just that); don’t bother about trying to be James Bond; and be very critical about the UK’s vote on the EU — “pull down walls and tear up the borders”.

I love it when actors talk about their lives and their interpretative roles, and all the backstage gossip too. But I’m less trusting once they stray into politics, because people in showbiz usually have predictable political opinions — which may be understandable from their point of view.

Anyone in the performing arts would want to “pull down walls and tear up borders” because they are the inheritors of the tradition of the wandering minstrel and the strolling player who goes everywhere and anywhere. Their talents are globally portable. The same cannot be said for the Ramsgate fisherman, who feels his catches are being plundered by the lack of boundaries around his fishing-grounds.

Gabriel Byrne and Liam Neeson are other Irish stars whose views on politics and the state of the nation are sometimes sought, or sometimes given. They are as entitled as anyone else to have an opinion, but should we give weight to their opinions? Yes, when it comes to their work, but is there any correlation between bringing a brilliant interpretation to a role and guiding the national interest?

Mr Neeson’s own mother-in-law, Vanessa Redgrave, was for many decades the very emblem of the political thespian: peerless in any role to which she set her hand, but decidedly eccentric in some of her political judgments, particularly when she was funding the Workers’ Revolutionary Party in London, run by the maverick Gerry Healy (from Ballinasloe), a Troskyist rogue who worshipped Cromwell.

No, there is no necessary correlation between the performing arts and politics, except that they both involve drama and display (and even dressing the part), so perhaps it’s logical that the stars of show business are engaged by politics. But with the exception of Ronald Reagan — who was not a very good actor — it’s seldom that performers make a successful transition into politics. Glenda Jackson, who had an electrifying stage presence, became the Labour MP and sat in the House of Commons for 23 years, making no impact whatsoever on the body politic. Now she’s back on stage again — as King Lear — and once again, electrifying.

In America, Hollywood and show business often seem fully intertwined and Donald Trump was considered a loser because he singularly failed to attract celeb stars to his side, save for Hulk Hogan, the wrestler and sex-tape star and Mike Tyson, who has been convicted of rape. There was also Charlie Sheen, troubled thespian.

Whereas Hillary Clinton could assemble for her supporting cast Bruce Springsteen, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Eva Longoria and Jay-Z — and we can take it as read that the rest of Hollywood was behind her too. And yet she didn’t get elected. Maybe there comes a time when the voting public just doesn’t identify enough with show business stars. They might be fascinated by them, emulate their styles, go to any lengths to see them perform, but perhaps their celebrity lives just seem too far removed from people’s everyday concerns.

I’m a fan of ‘rules for living’ and I love life lessons interviews — because they’re about what people have learned from their experience of life. Lessons drawn from personal experience are always riveting. And when it comes to general ‘rules for living’ I often think there should be more emphasis on failure, and less on success, because most of our lives consist of a succession of small, medium, and larger failures. But Wittgenstein was right. We should stick to what we know about. I must keep that in mind.

  • Mary’s latest book, A Day at a Time — Thoughts and Reflections through the Seasons, is out now, published by New Island

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