Tennis star Naomi Osaka stood up for herself and changed the world for the better.
Apparently, professional tennis players are contractually obligated to attend a press conference after every match. Last month, Ms. Osaka announced that she was not going to talk to reporters because the press conferences are a threat to her mental health.
Pretty darn reasonable, right? Not according to the heartless people who run professional tennis. They fined Ms. Osaka $15,000 and threatened her with further penalties. Osaka withdrew from the French Open.
Overall, the media hasn’t been too hard on Ms. Osaka. But they also have been careful not to address the real issue at hand. It is a known fact that celebrity is an imminent threat to a person’s happiness, peace, and sanity.
Legendary director Elia Kazan understood this. At the dawn of the television era, he released “A Face in the Crowd.”
Kazan envisioned a world where entertainers and politicians were little more than celebrity influencers. And where fame would attract the sickest people and inevitably make them sicker.
When we meet Lonesome Rhodes (Andy Griffith), he’s just your average jerk with a country guitar. He’s a selfish, dishonest cad drying out in a small-town Arkansas drunk tank.
Local radio producer Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) sees greatness in Lonesome and gives him a morning show. Lonesome’s charisma is undeniable; before long he is a national celebrity with a top-rated television show.
That’s when “A Face in the Crowd” gets unexpectedly dark. Fame exacerbates all of Lonesome’s flaws and frailties. He uses women left and right. He begins to believe that he’s better than everyone else and his fans are morons who need his guidance.
In a visionary side-plot, a substantive but milquetoast presidential candidate named Worthington Fuller hires Lonesome Rhodes to advise him. During the Eisenhower era, Elia Kazan already understood that the future of politics is showbiz and commerce, not issues. “We’ve got to find 35 million buyers for the product we call Worthington Fuller,” Lonesome explains.
“A Face in the Crowd” is a little preachy and heavy-handed, but the film is saved by Andy Griffith’s energetic and uncompromising performance. Andy of Mayberry had a serious dark side.
In the climactic scene, we see that addiction to fame has driven Lonesome Rhodes mad. He’s a delusional raving lunatic. Marcia Jeffries watches her protégé with sorrow and regret. She is Dr. Frankenstein and he’s her miserable monster. He would have been much better off rotting in that Arkansas jail where she found him.
Celebrity destroys the soul. This is why Naomi Osaka is a hero who is pointing the way toward a more moral future for our society.
The greatest tennis players and baseball players and actors do have to be famous. But they don’t have to be celebrities. They should never be forced to talk to reporters and we should not know what they think about politics.
“A Face in the Crowd” is not the best film. But it is insightful and convincing. It shows that mass media culture churns out unhappy, unhinged celebrities. And we are all worse off because of it.