Susan Sarandon, under fire by numerous religious groups for calling Pope Benedict XVI a Nazi, is now being criticized for her support of the Occupy Wall Street protest, with some calling it ignorant, hypocritical, and attention-seeking.
Sarandon, 65, was at a Hamptons Film Festival interview on Oct. 17 when the outspoken actress called Pope Benedict this Nazi one [Pope] we have now.
In the immediate aftermath, the crowd expressed no concern or outrage at Sarandon's insinuations. Instead, many praised the actress, crediting her for her work with UNICEF and her support of Occupy Wall Street, according to Fox News. Following media coverage of the Nazi comments, however, Sarandon was harshly condemned by religious groups, with both Catholics and Jews decrying the insinuation that Pope Benedict was a willing Nazi sympathizer.
Susan Sarandon's ignorance is willful, the Catholic League of America said, grouping her with those who have hatred in their veins [and] are not interested in truth. Pope Benedict, formerly Joseph Ratzinger, was indeed a member of the Hitler Youth, conscripted into the Nazi organization at age 14. According to his statements however, Ratzinger never attended the Hitler Youth meetings, and deserted at the first opportunity.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a Jewish group that fights anti-Semitism, was similarly condemnatory. [There] is no excuse for throwing around Nazi analogies, the ADL said in a statement calling for Sarandon to apologize to the Catholic Church. Such words are hateful, vindictive and only serve to diminish the true history and meaning of the Holocaust.
Such a response is understandable, and very justified. Sarandon may not have called the Pope the enemy, as Hank Williams Jr. did, or expressed sympathy for Hitler, like Lars von Trier, but she still made an ignorant and offensive remark, one referencing rumors long disproved.
In a bizarre twist following the Nazi comments, however, Sarandon has also started to be criticized for another, initially much more popular move: her support for Occupy Wall Street.
Though Sarandon has been praised for her presence on Sept. 28 in Zuccotti Park, some have begun to call the visit pure showmanship, linking her controversial comments and her presence at OWS as similarly ignorant and attention-seeking ploys of limousine liberalism.
Amy Ridenour's National Center, a well-cited conservative blog, slammed Sarandon for protesting all the way to the bank. Referencing the Hitler remarks and her share in pricey playground SPiN New York, author David W. Almasi said Sarandon's attempt to educate herself on OWS was based in liberal hypocrisy, a case of do as I say, not as I do. Almansi ended with this message to Occupy Wall Street protestors, who many say are picking the wrong targets: They also seem to have problems picking their friends.
Others, meanwhile, took the opportunity to make their attacks intensely personal. Sarandon's comment is obscene, Catholic League President William Donohue said, but sadly, it's what we've come to expect from her. Political commenter Michael Medved, noting both her comments at Hamptons Film Festival and her high-profile activism, called her a fading Hollywood actress that the world is increasingly ignoring.
The ADL, which merely approved of William's firing and has said little on Lars von Trier, is now calling for an apology from Sarandon, to the Pope and to Jewish groups. Washington Post contributor Rabbi Wolpe, meanwhile, had three options for why Sarandon called Pope Benedict a Nazi: she was demonstrating astounding historical ignorance, possessed brutal prejudice, or was merely [reaches] for the most savage epithet she can find to characterize those who disagree with her.
A Bigger Problem
Sarandon's remarks come amid a flurry of Nazi name-dropping. Hank Williams Jr. was recently booted from ESPN for comparing Barack Obama to Hitler, calling the President and VP Biden the enemy. Lars van Trier has announced his complete withdrawal from the media after sympathizing with Hitler and criticizing the state of Israel at the Cannes Film Festival. George Soros came under fire earlier this year, and Tea Party protestors have been spotted with signs calling Obama Hitler, Democrats Nazis, and supporters of Obamacare new members of The Third Reich.
Beyond celebrity faux pas, however, Internet blogs and those in everyday conversations call people Nazis so often that the word itself, and everything it means, has become largely commonplace beyond high-profile mudslinging. The terms recycle-nazi, feminazi, and grammar nazi are used frequently and with abandon, while jokes about the Holocaust and rants against the new Hitler populate blogs and Twitter feeds.
While some, like the ADL, do link Sarandon's comments to the larger problem of Nazi name-dropping, most reference the incident alone, perhaps with one call-out to Hank Williams Jr., before tearing into the actress and criticizing her motives.
But what is more pressing than Sarandon's individual comments? A culture that will virulently condemn a woman for a statement, and do the same with those like her, without directly addressing how such comments have seeped into everyday conversation and debate.
Susan Sarandon should apologize for her remark. The effect that such a seemingly offhand remark would have on the Catholic and Jewish community is obvious, and the actress should have known better.
What she should not have to do, however, is carry the blame for over a decade's trivialization of the Nazi Holocaust.
A Bigger Picture
By the same token, Sarandon's moment of idiocy should not undo decades of political and social activism by the actress, much of it bent on keeping free speech and human rights on everyday people's minds, or tarnish a movement striving for economic equality.
Sarandon has a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 1999. She has worked for organizations like MADRE, which promotes social, environmental, and economic justice, and the Love is Love is Love campaign, which strives for LGBT equality. She served on Racism Watch's advisory committee in 2004, has long worked with Habitat for Humanity, and opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over a year before celebrities jumped on the Hate Bush bandwagon.
And well before she was thrust into the spotlight, Sarandon was an activist. She participated in the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965, and fought for the Civil Rights Movement well into the '70s, then focusing on feminism and LGBT rights.
Concerning the Wall Street protests, meanwhile, Sarandon is indeed part of the capitalist system. She is incredibly wealthy, a member of the elite, possessor of millions of dollars. But why should that make her presence there less meaningful, or her efforts to educate herself automatically an act of hypocrisy?
Warren Buffett, one of the most successful and richest men in the world, has used that power to give back, and his son Howard Buffett has been an outspoken supporter of the 99 percent in Zuccotti Park. Using Sarandon's remarks to attack the Occupy Wall Street protest and its supporters is in some ways as questionable as the comment itself.
If you're going to call Sarandon ignorant, prejudiced, and obscene, then do the same for all the others who throw Nazi and Hitler around, and use that to start a movement against treating Holocaust references as go-to political commentary.
And if you're going to take that statement and use it to attack Sarandon's politics, calling her a media liberal using Occupy Wall Street to bolster a fading career, you might to make sure the actress in question hadn't spent much of her life, before and throughout her fame and fortune, fighting for economic, civil and political equality, in protests here and around the world.