I have great respect for Mark Wahlberg. Although, I am not a huge fan of his acting career. He has roles in some films I thoroughly enjoyed like Three Kings and The Italian Job. However, it's been a few years since I have been excited to see one of his movies (2013's 2 Guns which was a disappointment) and since then it seems most of his work is either based on recent true events like Deep Water Horizon and Patriots Day or cash grabs like the Transformers sequels. Over all, his on-screen work doesn't impress me. But in his personal life, he seems like a decent guy. He's a devout catholic and a devoted dad who is teaching his kids that they're lucky. In an interview with USA Weekend, he said he wants his kids "to know that not everyone is as fortunate and how important it is to work hard and give back." Wahlberg is also active with charities benefiting youth and homeless women.
He might be a model citizen now, but he wasn't always a saint. His teen years were marred by drug use, violent crime, and gang activity. He harassed and assaulted minorities in racially motivated attacks and spent some time in jail after being charged with attempted murder.
With his wayward younger years behind him, Wahlberg is deeply religious and adamantly liberal. He was a supporter of Obama's reelection campaign in 2012, donated money to several candidates for the Democrat party, and has been vocal in his support of same-sex marriage. Last November, he was interviewed by Task & Purpose Magazine where he said that celebrities shouldn't talk about politics. In recent weeks (since Meryl Streep's speech at the Golden Globes), a quote from the Task & Purpose interview has been frequently shared through social media - predominantly (and ironically) by people who skew to the conservative end of the political spectrum.
There is a lot of irony here. A celebrity that is vocal about his political ideals claiming celebrities shouldn't talk about politics. A person who lives in a bubble accusing others in Hollywood of living in a bubble. An actor criticizing others for how they earn a paycheck even though his paycheck is earned in the same manner. The words of a die-hard liberal being passed around by conservative voters as if it was from the voice of God.
Yet I understand what Wahlberg was trying to say. The interviewer was asking him about the surprising results of Trump's election and Wahlberg's answer was an attempt to explain how so many of his peers don't understand the typical American. He was providing a rationale behind the grandest of ironies - how a populace tired of coastal elites who are out of touch with society voted for a coastal elite who is out of touch with society. Those who live in a bubble have a hard time understanding what life is like outside of the bubble.
The magazine interview contained more from Wahlberg that clarified his perspective. Because of his tough past, he understands what the real world is like for the common person. Thanks to his successful career, he also understands what life is like inside the bubble of Hollywood. He has lived life both inside and outside that bubble. Not everyone has had the same opportunity. Many of Hollywood's biggest stars were born into either fame or wealth. Many of them have been pursuing their dreams since they were kids or got their breakthrough as a child star. Their lives are contained within the 30ish square miles of Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and Malibu. The closest some of them have been to a Midwestern wheat field or a slum apartment was on a soundstage. For most people, it is easy to look at famous faces and see that they don't understand what it is like to be us.
Wahlberg has a valid point, but it brings up some other concerns. If we truly believe that celebrity opinions don't matter, then why should we give any credence to Wahlberg's opinion? Is this a case of confirmation bias? Do we only care about celebrity opinions when they align with our own? Not all celebrities were always celebrities, so at what point do their opinions cease to be important? Are their opinions less valid the day after they find fame than they were the day before? What makes my beliefs and experiences of any greater value than a professional athlete, musician, or movie star? What if famous people have just as much right to possess an opinion as the average citizen? What if you and I have the same rights to voice our opinions as celebrities?
I have met a few famous people. I've had conversations with authors, artists, film producers, comedians, and rock stars. In all those interactions, one thing was apparent: they are just as human as any other person walking the face of this planet. Like anyone else you encounter on a day to day basis they have hopes and aspirations; they have fears and pet peeves. They might eat at more expensive restaurants, live in bigger houses, and wear fancier clothing, but they are as capable of experiencing joy and sorrow as anyone. The biggest difference between them and me is the size of our platforms. If I share my thoughts, it will reach 100 people. They share their views and millions will hear. I am allowed to speak my mind. Freedom of speech demands celebrities be afforded the same liberty, even if I don't like what they have to say.
Most celebrities might not be able to understand what it is like to be me, a single father and part-time writer. Yet I don't understand what it is like to be them. I will never know what it is like to spend a thousand dollars on drinks at a swanky Los Angeles nightclub - my eyes double in size when I see that my mojito cost eight bucks. I'll never attend a party in the Hollywood Hills - my idea of a good time is a game of Quelf with a few close friends. I can't imagine what it would be like to pay hundreds of dollars in a boutique for a single pair of shoes - most of my wardrobe was purchased at a thrift shop. Hollywood A-listers might not be able to relate to me because they live in a bubble, but I can't relate to them because I live in a bubble too.
In fact, we all live in bubbles. Mine is suburban life; I have lived most of my days in the suburbs of Seattle, Boise, and Spokane. I wouldn't have a clue to what life is like for a celebrity, but I would not understand what life is like for a kid growing up in inner-city projects either. Or someone who has lived and worked on a ranch for their entire life. Or someone who lives in a community dependent on one or two factories on the brink of closure. Or in a mining town. Or a city along the Mexican border.
We all live in bubbles. Someone who has never left the five boroughs of New York City will only understand life inside their urban bubble. They wouldn't begin to understand what it is like for the kid who grew up in a cornfield outside Yankton South Dakota. And the kid from the farming bubble doesn't know what it is like to live and work in the resorts around Aspen Colorado. And the ski bubble resident doesn't know what it is like to rely on catching lobster along the coast of Maine. We all live in a bubble and the only way to understand what life is like in someone else's bubble is to get out of our bubble.
The best explanation I have heard to explain how Trump got elected is the belief that those in the bubble of Hollywood elites and liberal media are out of touch with the American heartland. So middle America voted for an absurdly wealthy man who lives in a literal gilded bubble.
Maybe Trump isn't the problem. Maybe he is the logical conclusion of issues that existed long before he ever announced his candidacy. Maybe the biggest dilemma is how we don't understand each other. All of our racism and xenophobia and hatred is a result of spending too much time in our own bubble. We came to believed our fear of others was justified. We fed our fears and created enemies out of people who are just as much American as we are.
I don't think Mark Wahlberg's quote from Task & Purpose was a condemnation of everyone in Hollywood. He was demonstrating how he's more uniquely aware of life outside of of fame. How? Because he grew up in the bubble of a rough neighborhood on the south side of Boston. He spent time in the bubble of prison. He sorted through his troubles in the bubble of a Catholic parish. And he has worked and thrived inside the bubble of Hollywood. Wahlberg understands both the life of luxury and what it is like to struggle. He knows because he left his bubble.
If we want to heal the divides in America, if we want to survive the next four years of Trump's presidency, if we want to elect better leaders, we should probably follow Wahlberg's example. We need to burst our bubbles. We need to spend some time outside of our little worlds. We need to get out of our comfort zone and experience other slices of American culture.