Steve Buscemi, one of the finest character actors of our era, recently gave an interview to the British newspaper The Guardian, in which he touched on a number of subjects, including U.S. politics.
Not surprisingly, like most Hollywood actors, Buscemi slammed the Republicans for the federal shutdown, singling out the Tea Party for particular scorn.
"I think the shutdown is ridiculous,” he said. “I think the Republicans in Congress are holding the country hostage. I think it's criminal. I don't see why they're allowed to do it. The Tea Party faction of the Republican Party are holding the Republican Party hostage. They've hijacked it. … And I hope the shutdown effects change. I hope people remember this in the next cycle of elections."
I have no problem with Buscemi attacking the Republicans and the Tea Party fringe, but then he traversed onto other political territory that rankled me.
He declared that "many working-class people across the country vote against their own interests. It all comes down to culture wars: The right has always been able to use abortion and gay marriage, and in the past women's rights, but all those things are starting to erode.”
Buscemi seems to be saying that poor and working-class people (whom he laughingly claims to represent) who vote for the Republicans are cutting their own throats because the GOP tends to cut social spending programs – and that they should slavishly support the Democrats.
He also appears to be suggesting that people’s political views should purely reflect their economic needs and that “culture wars” are irrelevant. Thus, if a blue-collar worker is against things like same-sex marriage and abortion, he should simply ignore that and vote for the Democrats anyway because they will put more cash in his pockets at the end of the day (because, as we all "know,” the Democrats deeply “care about” and “love” poor people and the Republicans “hate” them).
I would counter that “culture wars” are far more important than economic issues … in the long run. Without culture, what are we but animals that eat, sleep, fornicate and die? Buscemi, who has spent his entire adult life in “cultural" pursuits, should know this better than anyone.
Is he suggesting that voters should ignore their conscience? Their values? Their belief systems? Isn’t “culture” (which, of course, is a nebulous and fluid term) the very basis of civilization?
I think that "culture warriors" (whether they are on the left or right) form the most passionate and important part of the electorate. A society’s “culture” (that is, how we live, dress, look, talk, etc.) is its most lasting characteristic.
Perhaps Buscemi feels guilty about his material success.
Steve Buscemi grew up in a large and poor Irish-Italian family in East New York, one of the worst neighborhoods in Brooklyn, during the final stages of massive white flight out of the urban core. His "working-class" credentials are solid – and, as a young struggling actor, he worked at dozens of low-paid, dead-end jobs until he eventually became a New York City firefighter.
But after 30 years in the entertainment business – and having appeared in more than 100 (yes, 100) films that have rewarded him with millions of dollars in the bank – he has left his “blue-collar” origins far, far behind.
Buscemi, who is proud of never having “gone Hollywood” and staying “true” to his Brooklyn roots, not only has a house in upstate New York but also has lived for many years in Park Slope, Brooklyn, the very epicenter of the gentrification craze that has turned a once-working-class neighborhood into a virtually all-white (and very affluent) place where the “blue collar” have no hope of affording to live anymore. Park Slope of 2013 might as well be on a different planet from East New York.
In the Guardian interview, Buscemi (who is clearly a multimillionaire by now) attacked …. uh … other rich people.
"I'm not against capitalism, but it's another thing to blame the victim,” he declared. “I think if your goal is only to make money, that's not a worthy goal in and of itself."
Apparently, it’s all right for Buscemi to become wealthy, but others who have succeeded should feel embarrassed by it. Maybe Buscemi should go to another snobbish, trendy café in Park Slope and order another latte.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.