“Men are moved by two levers: fear and self-interest,” Napoleon Bonaparte once aptly surmised.
Indeed, it seems that fear and self-interest dominate our shopping lists this year, one marked by a pandemic that seems to never end, bitter political conflict, and an unforgiving “cancel culture.”
But looking at my time in the entertainment industry, I realize how well-versed I was in these two motivational qualities: They are the twin pillars upon which that industry is built, no matter how carefree and avant-garde the inhabitants may appear publicly.
The ugly truth of the matter then, as it is now, is that no matter how secure someone in front of or behind a camera might think they are, they are, in fact, only a few unfortunate circumstances away from having it all taken away.
Recently, the comic actress Melissa McCarthy got an abject lesson in this equation.
While promoting her upcoming film “Superintelligence,” McCarthy and the film’s streaming service, HBO Max, highlighted 20 charities as part of a promotional “20 Days of Kindness” campaign. Twenty different charities that were all in the business of promoting kindness would be getting $20,000 each. Who isn’t for more kindness in this world?
What could possibly go wrong then? Unfortunately for McCarthy, a lot.
It turns out that she was in for punishment once the press discovered that one of the 20 charities chosen was a Christian organization engaged in saving women from the plague of human trafficking — a horrible crime tantamount to modern-day slavery. Sounds like an unlikely source of controversy, right?
Sure, until the cancel culture’s Policy Control Department for Approved Thinking began its mandated background check and discovered the head of this organization had gone on the record defending the Christian view of marriage, meaning it being between one man and one woman. There were accusations that this person said some other rather nasty things, but I could not find them.
But those allegations notwithstanding, the position that marriage is a sacred bond that can exist only between a man and a woman was all the evidence this court of public opinion needed for conviction. And in our current cultural matrix, guilt by the mildest association justifies punishment of the strongest measures.
As it turns out, even the most seemingly simple and egalitarian initiative found a way to turn on McCarthy and the film’s producers in a way they could not have seen coming.
The film’s marketing team went into crisis management overdrive, an operation that required McCarthy to go very public with a very sincere apology. The apology is online and it is gut-wrenching to watch. The fear in the actress’s eyes was no performance. She obviously understood, as she repeated over and over, how she would never, ever knowingly approve of an organization that would say something so offensive and exclusive about marriage — and that her professional life was on the line.
It was the Bonaparte quote all over again. This woman was afraid, very afraid — and thus highly motivated. It was as if she was seeing her career going up in flames before her eyes. She had been a hugely successful television sitcom star and had pulled off the very difficult transition to successful comic movie star. And now, it was all in jeopardy.
If she could not convince the nameless, faceless masters of the cancel culture that she was truly contrite, things could have gone very south for McCarthy.
Fortunately for her, the world moved on, the tempest turned out to be confined to the interior of a teapot, and Melissa McCarthy is going to be allowed to make more movies. But think about it: This actress had to publicly apologize for something found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Sacred Scripture begins with the creation of man and woman in the image and likeness of God and concludes with a vision of ‘the wedding-feast of the Lamb’ ” (CCC 1602).
For us Catholics, the times of fear and self-interest are coming soon. When they do, may we find courage and strength and unapologetically defend the truth.