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Hate the Rich
On Alec Baldwin and his ill-wishers
A tragic gun misfire took a woman’s life on a film set the other day. By itself, this might have made news, but not the kind of news it’s currently making, for the sole reason that actor Alec Baldwin was holding the gun.
No doubt the investigation will pin down more details. Clearly, someone somewhere along the chain of responsibility blundered horrifically before the gun was placed in Baldwin’s hands. Conditions around the low-budget film appear to have been uniformly dismal, with crew quitting over broken promises and previous prop gun misfires not given due seriousness. Halyna Hutchins, the young cinematographer killed, was reportedly in tears as her union camera team packed up to go, replaced by non-union strangers. The story is tragic and depressing enough, but every new detail just compounds the tragedy—it wasn’t just a deadly freak accident, it was a deadly freak accident on the set of a B-grade film that nobody really wanted to make, where the victim wasn’t even happy doing her job. It doesn’t get much darker than that.
The hot takes have come thick and fast, many in joke form. Republican representative Lauren Boebert, screencapping an old tweet where Baldwin had pitched a “Hands up, don’t shoot” T-shirt idea, wrote “.@AlecBaldwin are these still available? Asking for a movie producer…” Under a new statement on Baldwin’s account, Michael Malice asked “Any word on who you want to murder for the sequel?” On his own wall, milking the karma for all it was worth, Malice retrieved one of Baldwin’s old swipes at the Cheneys: “@RepLizCheney talks and seems so much like her father. I wonder if she’s ever accidentally shot a good friend of hers in the face.” Baldwin, of course, was famous for these swipes—they were something of a signature.
Sanctimonious moralizing is not my style. I’m not here to pretend Alec Baldwin is a lovely guy, or that there isn’t some grim cosmic logic in the fact that an accidental shooting should be the instrument of his humbling. Still, I tweeted that I couldn’t see the point or the fun in these kinds of jokes. There seemed little to joke about in such a miserable situation for every human being concerned with it. Rod Dreher chimed in to agree, with a striking recent close shave of his own: “Yesterday I was driving dog home from vet. His leash got tangled up, I looked down to free him so he wouldn't choke. It was only 2 seconds, but in that time, I veered into the next lane. I could have killed someone. We are all close to doing what Baldwin did.”
Naturally, Twitter promptly proceeded to prove my point in replies. The worst have disappeared, from accounts which already appear to have been shut down within the day. But one stuck in my head, something to the effect of “He spent his whole career mocking the plebs. Now the plebs are mocking him back. It’s justice.”
I’m not convinced it is justice. And I’m quite sure it’s not mercy.
I note that Baldwin’s misfortune seems to have inspired the sort of reactions that routinely seem to follow the tragic misfortunes of much-hated famous rich people. A milder example of this is the leering and snickering that tend to accompany any celebrity divorce (Bill and Melinda Gates being only the most recent example). One gets the unpleasant feeling that for a sufficiently loathed celebrity, absolutely no misfortune would be so awful that nobody with a soapbox could instantaneously turn around savage jokes about it. Meghan Markle’s baby could drown in a swimming pool tomorrow, and seconds after the news broke someone somewhere would be tweeting that they hoped that would finally shut the bitch up for a while.
One follower made the astute psychological point that some of this may be cope for the unsettled feeling we all get when we read of random tragedy in the news—that fleeting flutter of the heart when we briefly think God, something stupid like this could happen to me. That’s not a good feeling. So, naturally, we make a bad joke about it.
I think this is right, but I also think there’s the more basic—and baser—motivation of pure envy. How dare Alec Baldwin be that obnoxious while also having good looks and money and fame? How dare Meghan Markle be that obnoxious while also having flawless skin and designer clothes and designer babies? It’s not fair. Maybe it’s about time something stupid happened to shake things up, even the score a bit.
I unsettle myself with this kind of ventriloquism, but I really don’t think I’m far off. And that really depresses me, even more than a young woman’s senseless accidental death. The death of the body is a terrible thing. The death of a soul, or souls in the collective, is more terrible.
More than anything, I’m moved to reflect on Jesus’ closing words after instructing the crowd to love their enemies, that they may be like their Father which is in heaven: “For He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” Maybe this present rain will make Alec Baldwin a better man, a humbler man, a more humane man. Maybe it will even make him a good man. It’s not given to us to know. What we have been given is a choice—the choice to curse or to bless. May we choose well, in this moment and in all moments like it.