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Column: Alec Baldwin is waving goodbye to public life – and can you blame him?

Sharon Ni Bheolain was treated abominably by our tabloids at the weekend, so what must it be like to be an international star? It gets hot under that spotlight, writes Lisa McInerney.

Lisa McInerney

FIRST SHIA LABEOUF, now Alec Baldwin. It’s not exactly a trend yet – though perpetual chin-stroker James Franco seems tantalisingly sympathetic – but if 2014 comes to be defined by Hollywood actors deserting their posts en masse, who’d be surprised? Though admittedly it’d be nice to see someone plagiarising Shia LaBeouf for a change.

Alec Baldwin’s decision to quit public life comes to us via an editorial in New York magazine. He’s had a turbulent few months. His late-night talk show on MSNBC was cancelled after long-time adversary, TMZ’s Harvey Levin, alleged that Baldwin called a TMZ videographer a “faggot”. Alec’s aghast. He’s not homophobic. Sure, there was that time he called a Daily Mail reporter “a toxic little queen”, and yeah, he casually refers to a transgender man as a “tranny” in the opening paragraphs of the same editorial that he’s using to deny his alleged homophobia, but he’s just hot-headed and being famous is hella hard. He then goes on to list a number of people, media outlets and … uh, cities that have wronged him.

Amongst those to get it in the ear is young Mr LaBeouf, who drove Baldwin up the wall by being too rigid about learning his lines for the Broadway production in which they were both cast.

An uncomfortable truth

Look, there are a lot of reasons to be annoyed with Shia LaBeouf, but his being too darned professional isn’t one of them. The man combated being caught plagiarising with more plagiarism, in the apparently vain hope that we’ll all assume it’s performance art. He even became an art installation in an LA gallery, weeping silently with his head in a paper bag (James Franco’s chin was buffed goodo that day). And, then, at the Nymphomaniac press conference, he cruelly butchered an Eric Cantona quote. This is not a man who needs to be taken to task for learning his lines.

It’s rather a coincidence that the visibly floundering Baldwin has identified the visibly floundering LaBeouf as a personal problem that has compounded his issues with public life, as if their fragile egos were drawn to one another in some sort of peacock-baiting cosmic joke. Whatever the reason, there’s an uncomfortable truth in there somewhere: Baldwin, temperamental gasbag one minute, conscientious zealot the next, has a point.

It must be absolutely head-wrecking to be Hollywood-famous.

Whatever you think of him, consider the paparazzi

Baldwin is an actor of considerable talent and charisma. He’s also undoubtedly a pain in the arse. Not hugely interesting unless he’s lashing out at paparazzi or roaring unpleasant epithets on his daughter’s voicemail, he’s baited by showbiz journos and photographers to display the traits they claim to want to shame out of him. His temper is legendary, so he’s encouraged to lose it as often as possible. There’s no excuse for his carry-on, because he’s not two years old, but we can appreciate that his behaviour is facilitated by those who stand to make money out of it. Whatever you think of the man, the paparazzi’s treatment of his wife and baby daughter is heinous.

In his essay, Baldwin complains about the loss of the personal space New York used to grant its residents.

[People] take your picture in line for coffee. They’re trying to get a picture of your baby. Everyone’s got a camera. When they’re done, they tweet it. It’s … unnatural.

Sarcasm on hold, guys; he’s right. Sharon Ni Bheolain was treated abominably by our tabloids at the weekend, where a story about her ordeal with a stalker was accompanied with sneaky photographs of her shopping and walking the dog. These were double-standards, assuredly exhibited. Par for the course for an RTE personality; what must it be like to be an international star? Little to no craic, I’d wager.

So, granted, being a Hollywood star isn’t all muffin baskets from the Gersh Agency. But while we can grant Baldwin his point on invasion of privacy in a culture where everyone can (and will) play the paparazzo, there’s another interesting detail buried in his rambling diatribe.

‘Gay media culture’

Strongly liberal himself, Baldwin’s biggest bugbear is the erosion of his A-list privilege by what he sees as the sudden eminence of aggressively liberal values, especially the disdain for gay slurs. It is simply not OK to call anyone a “toxic little queen”, or a “faggot”, or a “tranny” anymore. Whether offenders accept it’s hate speech or claim it as momentary, regrettable rudeness is unimportant; a professional entertainer in 2014 should know that certain labels are simply off limits.

Baldwin’s resentment of the “gay media culture” that punished his indiscretions is palpable, and, if we’re feeling generous, understandable. There’s always someone happy to school you when you step out of line, no matter who you are, and now that the media and the public are drawing ever closer together, the need to be constantly guarding your own gob must feel frustrating for a personality like Baldwin’s.

Hot under the spotlight

Still, forgoing the use of gay slurs is hardly too big an imposition, especially when Baldwin claims to be an LGTB ally. Those liberal media sentries might be ever-ready to rain down judgement, but it’s for a good cause. Discrimination left unchallenged is a much bigger problem than actors getting called out for being thoughtless buffoons. Baldwin may demand to be seen as a misunderstood good guy, but he’s got a large hunk of crow to eat first.

In the meantime, disappearing from public life might be just the tonic. As for his worthy opponent Mr LaBeouf, may I suggest some sort of collaboration? He too could do with the time-out. It gets that hot under the spotlight.

Read more of Lisa McInerney’s columns here >

Read: 10 eyebrow-raising quotes from Alec Baldwin’s goodbye rant

Read: Shia LaBeouf arrives on red carpet with a paper bag over his head

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Lisa McInerney

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