Normally, I’m not a “shut up and sing” critic of others’ speech. Most “citizen journalists” — myself included — have had to overcome credentialism in establishing our own platforms for speech. No one told me to “shut up and call center” back when I started blogging, 14 years ago yesterday. (Well, Ted Rall did once, but clearly I didn’t take his advice.)
However, it would be nice if celebrities took the time to actually check their facts first — and refrain from using tragedies to promote their products, if not their agenda. For the latest example, we have Hollywood actress Jessica Chastain, star of the gun-control didactic flop Miss Sloane, flogging her film in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting:
Welcome to America, where you'll wait 6 months for an X-ray but hey, you can buy an AR-15 in 5 minutes flat.
— Jessica Chastain (@jes_chastain) October 4, 2017
Needless to say, this went over as well as one would expect on social media. Twitchy curated the responses, most of which centered on fact-checking the premise. The Federalist’s Bre Payton took aim at the self-promotion, calling it “just gross”:
Chastain, who played the lead role in “Miss Sloane” — an anti-Second Amendment movie which sold an average of 10 movie tickets per theatre during the first two weeks of the film’s box office debut — is apparently trying to hype up Blu-Ray sales of the failed movie with this tweet …
Chastain’s tweet, coming just days after the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history, isn’t just tasteless and exploitative. It also reveals how little the actress understands about how guns work and how they’re regulated in the U.S.
Apart from that, the only accurate part of Chastain’s tweet appears to be her name. She’s correct that an AR-15 is legal to purchase, as it’s a semi-automatic version of the military M16, meaning it fires one round at a time like all other legal weapons. As anyone who has actually gone through the process of purchasing a firearm knows, however, it takes longer than five minutes. In most cases, a purchaser has to go through a five-day waiting period. In Minnesota, a carry permit waives that waiting period, but a federal background check still has to be conducted, and that takes longer than five minutes. In some cases, it can still take a day or two.
Besides, in the case of the Las Vegas massacre, the perpetrator didn’t buy his weapons “in 5 minutes flat.” He passed all of the background checks as he bought the weapons over a year or more. Chastain couldn’t even get the details right on the tragedy she was attempting to exploit.
The second part of the comparison is actually less accurate. Chastain apparently is even more ignorant about medical services as she is about firearms purchases. Where did she get the impression that there is a waiting period for X-rays? Most clinics have their own X-ray systems; the longest I’ve ever waited for an X-ray can be measured in hours, and usually it’s as simple as walking from the exam room to the X-ray room. There are longer wait times for more complex tests such as MRIs and CAT scans, but in most PPO plans, it’s a matter of days, not months. It seems doubtful that wait times for an X-ray would take months even in single-payer plans, although the one operated by the US government — the VA system — had wait times bad enough that they covered them up.
I’ll eagerly await Ms. Chastain’s declaration against single-payer systems. I’m sure it’s coming soon.
Free speech is a wonderful part of the fabric of American political life. Everyone should exercise it within the parameters of law, including celebrities, athletes, call center managers, and even editorial cartoonists. In the aftermath of tragedy, though, perhaps the boundaries of taste should inform celebrities, as well as getting informed, period. And when they transgress those boundaries, the rest of us have the freedom to tell them so.