I read with interest and amusement The Daily Beast's piece earlier this week titled, "Morgan Fairchild: Badass Foreign Policy Wonk." (To borrow a phrase from the author of the piece, Asawin Suebsaeng, "I sh-t you not." That is indeed its title and thesis.) I have acknowledged in the past my general disdain of Fairchild's efforts to paint herself as an intellectual and political activist. Since Fairchild has never really projected warmth or humanity, onscreen or off, I have always questioned her sincerity on such matters. She's barely sincere or believable in her recent TV commercials trying to hawk pre-paid burial plans, so it's even less credible when she tries to sell herself as an authority on foreign policy. It strikes me as an effort to improve her public image because she knows she'll never be respected in her own, proper field of acting. Even though the piece makes a case for reevaluating Fairchild as some sort of foreign policy expert, it never does enough to establish what exactly are Fairchild's credentials to be considered as such.
While I allow that Fairchild appears to have enough knowledge to have impressed the people quoted in the piece, who share their positive impressions of Fairchild, I am still curious to know what exactly are her qualifications to be called a "Badass Foreign Policy Wonk." Even though she has testified before Congress and participated in panel discussions with esteemed scholars and intellectuals, all of which she has lovingly documented on her own official website, that sort of activity seems to be de rigueur with being a celebrity these days. What I want to know is, what degrees (Associates, Bachelors, Masters or Ph.D.?) does she have? If she has any degrees, what subjects are they for? What scholarly pieces has she written? What organized research studies has she spearheaded? What think tanks and foreign policy institutions is she formally affiliated with in an official capacity?
Fairchild mentions having taken anthropology classes at UCLA in the early 1980s, during the time she was filming the night time soap "Flamingo Road," but she never discloses if she earned a degree for her studies, or whether the classes were taken for a degree program, or for UCLA Extension (where most classes allow for open enrollment so that virtually anyone can attend as long as they pay the requisite fee). The Daily Beast piece also overstates her celebrity credentials by touting her roles in the original CBS "Dallas" (where she guest starred in one episode in 1978), and "Mork and Mindy" (where she appeared in only three episodes in 1978-79). It's like referring to a temporary employee or consultant as if they were an executive of an organization.
To establish her credibility, the author mentions her tour of war-torn Bosnia in the mid-1990s while she was there making a film. However, she wasn't in Bosnia, nor taken on a tour of the region, because she was working in an official capacity with any government or non-profit organizations. Her celebrity status as an actress starring on location in a film, not any official title or function, was what gave her access to scouting the area. While her curiosity appears to be genuine, what did Fairchild do with the knowledge she purportedly gained from this experience? Did she publish pieces in scholarly journals analyzing the situation, or use her celebrity status to help bring attention and perspective to the destruction and human suffering she was witness to? Did she ever return to Bosnia, to continue her study and understanding of the situation there, or was that her only trip to that region?
The piece also mentions that Fairchild visited East Germany in the late 1980s before the Berlin Wall fell, and says the experience was "very scary" but I wonder if this trip occurred while she was in West Germany making the film "Midnight Cop" (1988)? Moreover, she mentions visiting Israel and Palestine around 1986 (most likely during the making of Cannon Films' low-budget "Sleeping Beauty," which was shot in Israel in May 1986 and briefly released in 1987) and makes the pat comment, "It was interesting to me to watch the Palestinian movement with Arafat, because he didn't seem able to govern...He could be a good terrorist leader...but he couldn't govern." Aside from these brief blips, Fairchild offers little in the way of substantive insight and analysis as to what she witnessed during these excursions. What did she base her opinion on Arafat's governing abilities upon? (And if her trips to East Germany, as well as Israel and Palestine, occurred because she happened to be on location making a movie, it affirms my point that her status as an actress and celebrity, and not any so-called foreign policy expertise, are her true calling cards.) If she is going to lay the foundation for her street credentials on these experiences, she has to give us more than that.
The Daily Beast piece links to a 1995 Spy Magazine article that covers the making of the movie Fairchild was working on in Bosnia. The author of the Spy piece glowingly describes Fairchild's "admittedly impressive grasp of the conflict," but the piece contains little in the way of substantive quotes from Fairchild to underscore this assertion. Instead, the reader is inundated with nearly a dozen photos of Fairchild posed fetchingly with uniformed military personnel, as well as standing in front of the ruins of bombed structures and communities. In one photo, Fairchild appears to be solemnly praying while attending a Croatian funeral. Nevertheless, in these photos, Fairchild rarely appears to be substantively interacting with the people from the region she has come to observe. She seems totally disconnected with what is happening around her, so that she comes across as little more than a tourist, or a fashion model on a photo shoot, safely ensconced in her ivory tower. Her hair and makeup and attire in these photos are as glamorous and attractively manipulated as ever. Fairchild appears completely conscious of the camera in all of these photos, and makes herself the center of attention, not the people nor the situation swirling around her.
As I've said before, Fairchild sounds like a shallow, gushing starlet--demonstrating absolutely no insight or humility whatsoever--anytime she discusses her trip to Bosnia. As she told the Washington Post in 2005, Fairchild recalls how she "got to go into . . . Serb-held territory, and stuff like that, which is always kind of fun...And so one day I said, 'You know, if you're going anywhere that I would be allowed to go, a refugee camp or anything like that, I would love to go.' And (the American ambassador) was very sweet and called up and said, 'Well, you know, I'm going over into this no-man's land today, there's a big meeting of generals and stuff, and we can go to a refugee camp, and I can show you a couple of cities.'...And this Polish U.N. guy comes over, and he speaks English -- 'Oh, Morgan Fairchild, we have your series in our country -- what are you doing here?' And all these press people, because it was a meeting of generals -- 'Morgan, what are you doing here?'...a lot of the other actors, when we're in Zagreb, you know, they'll be at the casinos every night, and I'm hanging out with the war correspondents to find out what's really going on. So you may not have seen the movie. I had a good time making the movie because I learned a lot." Anyone who can use terms such as "fun" and "good time" in the face of human suffering while describing her experiences visiting refugee camps in Bosnia should not be validated the way The Daily Beast has attempted to do.
It's one thing to be characterized as an "activist" advocating for a cause and expressing one's opinions (which is certainly within her right), it's another to build a case that someone is a foreign policy expert or "wonk" on the basis of being well-read and continually Tweeting articles covering a wide range of issues. Anyone can Tweet articles that interest them. The Twitter feeds mentioned in the Daily Beast article simply demonstrates Fairchild's purportedly wide range of interests, but offers very little in terms of original thought or insight. As I've said before on this blog, I always feel that Fairchild has so many "interests," she doesn't have time to be genuinely sincere or serious about anything. I look at her Tweets and I go, "So what?" Social media is a great tool to work with, but it has to be accompanied with a sound strategy for it to be of any real substance. Throughout the Daily Beast piece, Fairchild discusses the issues she is interested in, but the impression you are left with has little to do with the subjects themselves, than with the novelty that Fairchild appears to be interested in them. There are a lot of knowledgeable, deserving, unheralded people in Washington, DC who have spent their education and careers devoted to studying foreign policy in a full time capacity, people who are much more accomplished in this field than Fairchild could ever hope to be. However, the chances of a long Daily Beast profile ever being written about them is probably slim unless they also happen to be glamorous blonde starlets.
I think the reason why the Daily Beast writer who penned this piece, as well as the various people he quotes (such as David Corn of Mother Jones, Mark Hosenball of Newsweek and Ambassadors Peter Galbraith, who allowed her to tour Bosnia, and Samantha Power, who wrote the Spy Magazine piece) are impressed with Fairchild is because they are bowled over at the novelty of an actress who appears to be intelligent and well-read. The quotes attributed to each of them, and how they are blown away by Fairchild's knowledge, comes across as condescending to actresses in general, and Fairchild in particular. There are a lot of actresses who are indeed intelligent, well-educated people capable of doing more than playing characters other than themselves. However, many of them do not try to actively paint themselves as someone who is indispensable in the field of foreign policy. I'd be a lot more impressed with Fairchild if she stopped being a dabbler in these areas and really put her money where her mouth is and gave up her show business life to completely devote herself to the subject areas she claims to have a passion for. But she hasn't, probably because she'd lose whatever so-called "clout" she has.
In my opinion, Fairchild wants to have it both ways--she wants to continue her glamorous acting career, while at the same time hob nob with the DC intelligentsia. Fairchild is particularly laughable about her motives when she expresses false humility and says "I don't like to throw names around" at being asked what elected officials in Washington she has associated with. She doesn't have to. She already dropped the names of Dianne Feinstein, as well as Al Gore and Alan Cranston, with the Daily Beast, and her own official website shamelessly posts photos of her with political and news figures in a thinly-veiled attempt to have their esteem and luster rub off on her. Morgan Fairchild hasn't put her money where her mouth is and given up her acting career like other actresses who have found a higher calling, such as Dolores Hart (who became a nun); Constance McCashin (who became a psychologist); Shelley Hack (who worked as a media consultant in pre- and post-conflict countries and produced the first ever televised presidential debates in Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as worked as a registration and polling station supervisor in that country--she did more than just tour Bosnia like Fairchild did); Chris Noel (who runs a shelter for homeless American veterans of the Vietnam, Gulf, Iraq & Afghanistan Wars); Nancy Allen (who is now the Executive Director of weSPARK Cancer Support Center, a non-profit organization in Southern California dedicated to providing free-of-charge assistance and resources to cancer patients and their families); and Fairchild's former "Flamingo Road" colleague, Cristina Raines, (who is now a registered nurse caring for dialysis patients), to name a few. They walk the walk, while Morgan Fairchild continues to talk the talk.
I think the Daily Beast piece is representative of the worst aspects of our celebrity obsessed culture, and reflects the privilege and entitlement of starlets like Morgan Fairchild, rather than a genuine demonstration of a unique and substantial human being. The quotes from the people testifying on her behalf only serve to prove that even intelligent men and women can become dazzled in the presence of a glamorous, blonde starlet. I'm the last person in the world to pooh-pooh the importance of actors, stars, and celebrities in our culture. They provide a certain escape and distraction from the mundane aspects of our daily lives that cannot be underestimated. I also acknowledge how a celebrity activist can bring attention to an issue that needs to be addressed, such as how Elizabeth Taylor's commendable activism helped raise money--and bring attention and understanding--to sufferers of AIDS and the efforts to fight the disease. However, in discussing her AIDS activism, Taylor never made herself the central protagonist, but merely spoke of herself as a conduit to help bring the appropriate parties and resources together. The less-than-humble Morgan Fairchild never fails to drop names nor overstate her importance on all the issues she dabbles in. Personally, I would rather get my news and information from a proven individual who has both the intelligence and, perhaps more relevantly, the credentials to be able to discuss and analyze an issue. It's dangerous to give credence to a shameless, self-promoting dilettante on issues of vital importance, especially when the article which attempts to give her validity provides no genuine analysis as to whether she has any business to be dabbling in these affairs. The Daily Beast's "Morgan Fairchild: Badass Foreign Policy Wonk" isn't a piece of real journalism. It's a press release.