President Obama giving a speech at the United Nations; Official White House photo by Samantha Appleton, courtesy White House flickr stream
So that’s two wars and one peace prize.
Like many others, I was shocked to find that our president had won the Nobel Peace Prize this morning. I like the guy and all, but isn’t it a little soon in his administration to confer such an estimable honor? Isn’t there chance of ironic folly in the near future as he stands on the brink of escalation in Afghanistan and Pakistan while still unable to extricate troops completely from Iraq? And who’s to say what global conflict and nuclear proliferation lurk in his remaining three (or seven) years.
Most importantly, didn’t this Nobel surprise deny the award to a movie star, musician or pseudo-celebrity who truly deserves it?
Of course, Bono has been mentioned for ages as a possible contender. But the U2 frontman has long campaigned for myriad social causes, especially for the poor in Africa, while hanging out with world leaders at tedious summits and agitating for the release of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi (herself a Nobel laureate).
But what about the do-gooders and their personal assistants who never get the credit they deserve for generating international goodwill and awards show goodie bags? Here are a few of those heroes the Royal Swedish Academy cruelly overlooked Friday:
Neil Patrick Harris
Pros: Facing the specter of declining ratings and a tense night at the Prime-Time Emmy Awards, Mr. Harris not only brought together cable executives and their network brethren in one magical night to celebrate small-screen accomplishments, he managed to help the show to its highest ratings in years. And with his actor boyfriend of many years, Mr. Harris shows he loves his fellow man.
Cons: As Doogie Howser, Mr. Harris’ signature character was rather insular in his medical practice, always treating people in that same American hospital. Couldn’t there have been a very special episode in which Doogie flew to Africa to help a village cure its malaria outbreak?
Pros: Exposed the world to the plight of the poor during several seasons of “The Simple Life” — one of them incidentally entertaining in addition to its cultural value. While her cohort, Nicole Richie, used the moral excursion as an excuse to flirt with everything that moves and to assail billiards tables with bleach, Ms. Hilton treated it as a path to benevolent enlightenment: She learned that Wal-Mart doesn’t sell just walls; that making onion rings at a fast-food restaurant can be super-hard; and that she would have to milk approximately 2 million cows to fund one of her afternoon Prada shopping sprees. Along the way, she elicited depths of empathy for those in middle states who don’t have their own tanning beds or personal chefs.
Cons: Contributes to global noise pollution with her “music” catalogue, as well as instilling fear in the hearts of suffering, sweatered purse dogs everywhere.
Pros: He won an Academy Award for his 1982 portrayal of Gandhi in the film of the same name. That’s more than Gandhi himself got. Despite being one of the names most associated with the goal of world peace over the past century, the Mahatma never took home the big prize despite five nominations. He was like the Susan Lucci of the Indian Independence Movement. A win for Kingsley would help atone for this slight. But that’s not to say Mr. Kingsley isn’t deserving on his own accord, as he helped highlight the struggles that method actors from Robert DeNiro to Meryl Streep go through to get so deep into character that most people probably picture Mr. Kingsley when they think of Gandhi.
Cons: Played a cunning, violent sociopath in “Sexy Beast” — a very unGandhi-like character. And eating at four-star restaurants is no way to pay homage to Gandhi’s famed hunger strikes.
Pros: Is trying to end the plight of orphaned children — by adopting them all herself. Like a septuagenarian recluse who can’t fathom the notion of stopping at 100 cats, Ms. Jolie continues to travel the world looking to add to her collection. All the while she looks fabulous, appears in films alternately tear-filled or action-packed and lives a life of tabloid excitement with husband Brad Pitt, himself worthy of at least a nomination for examining the paradox of strong men who are weak of soul in “Fight Club.”
Cons: Has yet to adopt any paralyzed or limbless children to show her support of those with disabilities. Underwhelming domestic box office for “Changeling,” despite an Academy Award nomination.
Pros: The British rocker calls attention to the struggles of drug users by selflessly insufflating, injecting, inhaling, ingesting and imbibing any substance that may get one high — thus stimulating the economies of Afghanistan, Thailand and other drug-trade nations. He also showed how drugs can bring people together when he dated model Kate Moss, who was involved in her own cocaine scandal.
Cons: Looks like a lightweight next to fellow Brit Amy Winehouse, who we hear is a dark horse for the 2010 Nobel for her long, brave fight against rehab.
But then the Nobel doesn’t always go to the most noble when you’re up against the most powerful man in the world. One with charm, movie-star looks and his own script-writers. Hmmm, perhaps celebrity did win out, after all.
Colin Powers is a Madison, Wisconsin-based editor and graphic designer. He has more than a dozen years of newspaper experience, including a stint as Life and Arts Editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer before its demise in March.