Murphy: Finding Our ‘Morale Compass’

Of all the movie stars who trek across the red carpet every year during the Academy Awards, few are admired for their looks and sex appeal, and respected for their talent and versatility.

One of the few actors who has managed to secure a place on that A List is Leonardo DiCaprio.

Even though he’s 42 and has been handling leading roles for 20 years now, he still seems like a young male heartthrob. Yet in 2016 he scored the “serious” actor’s trifecta: The Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role; the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama; and the Academy Award for Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, all for starring in “The Revenant.”

(The bear that nearly killed DiCaprio in that film’s signature scene? He never even got a nomination).

Along with his star turn last year, DiCaprio has portrayed several iconic characters in his career, including billionaire business mogul and Hollywood producer Howard Hughes (“The Aviator”); Jay Gatsby, the fictional bootlegger-turned millionaire playboy (“The Great Gatsby”); real-life stockbroker/conman Jordan Belfort (“The Wolf of Wall Street”); legendary FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (“J. Edgar”); and of course, his breakthrough 1997 role as Jack “You Jump, I Jump” Dawson in James Cameron’s self-described greatest epic ever in “Titanic.”

Like many super-wealthy superstars, DiCaprio has leveraged his celebrity status to embrace the cause of environmental activism, most prominently through his eponymous nonprofit, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. As stated on its website, the foundation “is dedicated to the long-term health and wellbeing of all Earth’s inhabitants. Through collaborative partnerships, we support innovative projects that protect vulnerable wildlife from extinction, while restoring balance to threatened ecosystems and communities.”

According to Fortune magazine, DiCaprio has funneled some $20 million into the cause of dealing with climate change, which these days is pretty much the paycheck he gets for signing a contract to star in whatever movie he appears.

All well and good — until we get to a blatantly self-serving promotional video that’s recently been getting a lot of social media exposure.

Misinformation Central
The Facebook post is titled, “Leonardo DiCaprio is trying to save the world, again … with veggie burgers.” During the clip, in which the actor never speaks — although there is a gratuitous shot of him chatting with President Obama — the misinformation piles up higher than “the list of people I need to thank” that actors roll out when they win an Oscar.

For instance: “Livestock causes 51% of all greenhouse gas emissions.” “66 billion animals are slaughtered for food.” And the clincher, “Shifting from animal meat to plant-based meat developed by Beyond Meat is one of the most powerful reasons someone can take to reduce their impact on climate change.”

Talk about a shameless plug.

DiCaprio, of course, just a couple weeks ago announced that he was investing in Beyond Meat, joining a group of celebrity and corporate investors that includes Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Twitter co-founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams and the meat and poultry processor Tyson Foods.

“Leo is serious about climate change,” Ethan Brown, Beyond Meat CEO, told Fortune. “He’s a really good ally for us.”

I’ll bet.

Later in the article, Brown added that, “This is not a celebrity deal. [DiCaprio] is someone who genuinely believes in what we’re doing and wants to help grow it.”

Nice try. DiCaprio’s contribution is no different than you or me writing a $50 check to some local charity we support, and then saying, “It’s not about the tax deduction. I genuinely believe in what they’re doing.”

Along with the video, the Facebook page contained a number of fawning comments, pretty much what you’d expect from veggie believers/celebrity-mongers. However, one comment in particular provoked a serious reaction.

Sara C. wrote, “This is completely false [referring to the stats displayed in the video]. Animal agriculture is only responsible for 2.5% of all U.S. emissions, according to USDA. Plus, the amount of jobs he [would be] killing with this idea. It is disgusting that we rely on Hollywood to be our morale compass.”

Yes, that was a typo, but I love the Freudian implication.

Those of us who consume an omnivorous diet, and do so without fanfare, are often overwhelmed by the volume of media coverage of the vegetarian movement. At least, that’s how I often feel.

The 95% of Americans who include animal foods as part of the “varied and nutritious” selection of foods we’re all encouraged to consume don’t normally go around boasting about their diet, and how it supports millions of jobs (unlike Beyond Meat’s test-tube system, which, should it ever get up to scale, will be run by robots in concrete factories) and maintains productive use of millions of acres of range and pasture land.

We need a morale compass, because we’re heading in the right direction; it just rarely seems like that, thanks to the celebrity-chasers in the media.

As Sara C. properly observed, Hollywood should never be our morale compass.

Nor where we turn for moral guidance, either.

Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.



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