There's a certain kind of hand-wringing unique to Hollywood award shows in the 21st century. Most of the assembled celebs are aware that the couture-and-caviar lavishness represented by awards season is emblematic of the worst sort of inequality and waste plaguing the world, and thus seems quite tacky. On the other hand, what are they supposed to do, not show up?
So the stars have to settle for an awkward compromise in which they wear outfits that cost more than many cars but include in their acceptance speeches nods to whatever cause has most recently been in the news. For Sunday's Golden Globes, that meant a lot of talk about the massive Australian bushfires, which are likely fueled in part by climate change. The most heartfelt message came from winner Russell Crowe, who was in his native Australia during the awards and didn't attend. But climate change was clearly on everyone's minds, including the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which served an all-vegan menu, reportedly thanks to Joaquin Phoenix convincing them to do so. The climate crisis even earned a mention during Laura Dern's speech, in which the actor bizarrely suggested that the bourgie drama Marriage Story was a "global look… at what divisiveness is and how we must all come together as one for the sake of something greater, perhaps our planet even."
But the weirdest bit of Globe-related climate activism probably came in the form of this tweet from sustainability-conscious designer Stella McCartney, in which Phoenix (who wears the designer's tuxes) is singled out for praise because... he is wearing the same suit more than once?
Phoenix has good intentions. But this is the teensiest, tiniest climate action possible. This is like choosing not to turn on the heated seats in your Range Rover so your butt is a little chilly during your commute. It's like paying a bit more for a nonstop flight across the country to cut down on emissions. This is like… deciding to make one of the many gourmet meals eaten at awards ceremonies plant-based. This is me sending out a press release because I've decided to ride the bus. If it seems like a pointless gesture in the wake of fires devastating a continent, that's because it is.
To which Phoenix might respond, OK, but what else are we gonna do here? Movie stars are rich and famous but they don't have the power to force government and business to fundamentally change the world. They could try to make their industry's on-set practices less wasteful, they could make more films and shows about climate change, they could—as Phoenix said in his speech—stop taking private jets to Palm Springs. They could get arrested at climate protests with Jane Fonda. (Many of them have.)
But really, celebrities are just like the rest of us when it comes to confronting the planet-sized immensity of the climate crisis. That is to say, they're like the woman from the Onion who bakes an American flag cake after 9/11 because she doesn't know what else to do. The prospect of a warming earth is terrifying, and the number of steps we need to collectively take to get the temperature under control is daunting whether you're an award-winning actor or just blogging about an award-winning actor. Joaquin Phoenix's suit-wearing habits are meaningless. A single vegan meal is meaningless. Happy new year. I dunno, we gotta do better.
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