Sunday, November 20, 2016

James Woods, Mike Pence, and the Hamilton Cast

Image source: Celebrity of the Year

This is the story of how James Woods held a door for me (okay, the story is not really about that)... Several years ago, I was with a group of people at an Olive Garden near Providence, Rhode Island. As we were leaving the restaurant, a gentleman coming in held the door for us. Instantly, I recognized his face: James Woods, a RI native celebrity. But I was the only one in my group who recognized him. After he walked in, I turned to my party and said, "Oh my gosh, that was James Woods!" One of my dining companions was excited but a little incredulous. "Are you sure it was him?!" I was sure. After all, I had watched "Shark" regularly back then. I knew what he looked like.

A part of me wanted to follow him back into Olive Garden and get an autograph or picture. But it was late - we had already finished our dinner - and here he was just going in to eat his. It didn't feel right to accost him, though I suppose celebrities are used to such interactions. But that dining companion of mine who doubted me wanted to go back in to speak to him, and did. I wouldn't call that rude. It wasn't the choice I made, delaying his meal for a minute, but the person I was with intended no rudeness or disrespect by taking up a moment of his time.

I was remembering this encounter today in light of the discussions of the Hamilton/Pence controversy. Some feel the actual substance of what was said was rude and disrespectful which I'm not even going to address because the amount of mental gymnastics required to twist their words into something rude is just beyond my ability to even deconstruct. What has resonated with me is the suggestion that the theater was not an appropriate time or place for these words to be spoken, for him to be addressed as the future Vice President. That's why I'm mulling over my celebrity encounter and the choice I made to not insert myself into his personal space.

I'm wondering, can celebrities like James Woods really expect the public to ignore them in public or does being a celebrity mean you've accepted that you will constantly be recognized wherever you go? Our paid entertainers don't seem to mind, they just accept it as part of the job. But really, actors and musicians don't work for us. They don't owe us their time or attention. They don't serve the public.

But Mike Pence is not an entertainer. He is a public servant. He signed up for the job of working for us, representing us, and yes, listening to us. I can't quite get on board with the idea that he is entitled to go out in public and leave his job behind. He's our Vice President-elect and will be serving us for at least four years. He doesn't get to clock out of that role. Speaking to him should not be considered "off-limits" nor should there be any concerns about the public nature of addressing him. This is the job he has willingly chosen, a public position. He deserves respect, certainly, and I believe the cast of Hamilton gave him that in their words. But I don't believe respect means that he deserves to step outside of his role and move through society as a regular citizen when he simply is not a regular citizen. He now answers to an entire nation. And it is our responsibility to treat his position with both respect and accountability.