iron man intoleranceI am reasonably certain that Robert Downey, Jr., is not a conservative—at least not in any serious sense. What with the drugs, the girlfriends and wives, and the successful movie career, it is highly doubtful that the man behind Iron Man is harboring a library filled with the works of Edmund Burke or even William F. Buckley, Jr. Not that I care particularly. One does not expect someone who lives and makes a living in Hollywood fantasyland to spend a great deal of time thinking about reality and trying to conform his life thereto.

The truth is, I know almost nothing about Mr. Downey’s personal life or politics; and that is about what I care to know. I simply assume that an actor is a liberal in his politics and a libertine in his personal life and move on; if such turns out not to be the case, well, good (even heroically good) for the actor. But such knowledge has no bearing on my viewing habits. I take it as part of the “lifestyle” of playing pretend for a living (and even more of pretending that one has captured “the human condition” by so doing) to give oneself license to lead the life of a perpetual adolescent, and to think one is being virtuous by arguing that everyone else should as well. Thus, for example, I fully expect Leonardo DiCaprio to take his private jet around the world to lecture people on their carbon-emitting sins against Gaia. The problem lies, not with the man-child, but with people who care what he thinks about, well, pretty much anything.

As to Mr. Downey, I doubt he cares what I think of him, and it has no bearing on our “relationship”—which consists of my watching his movies when they strike me as potentially entertaining and not too terribly harmful to my soul, or that of my teenage children. I watch most of his movies, these days, because Iron Man and Marvel movie characters in general, at least to this point, range from harmless to downright heroic, with the usual caveat concerning premarital sex—a subject on which my children and I have had sufficient discussion that I am not too worried at this stage at their being corrupted by what they see in a movie.

Mr. Downey has, however, chosen to learn something from the trials and tribulations of a life spent in Hollywood. He even dared to say of himself, at one point, that “you can’t go from a $2,000-a-night suite at La Mirage to a penitentiary and really understand it and come out a liberal.” Normal people would look at such a quote and realize what it means: Mr. Downey was mugged by reality and had the good sense to re-think some of the common platitudes about individual autonomy, the need to coddle and resist punishing anyone, and so on. Would that make him a conservative? Certainly not; unless Mr. Downey went through a much deeper “conversion experience,” concerning the meaning of life, the need for social order, and the roots of any decent life in the natural order of existence, he is not really a conservative. Sorry if this leaves some of you, my dear readers, out of the club, but then it really is not a terribly powerful, profitable, or even entertaining club in any event. If you want those things, go become a libertarian.

robert-downey-jrI bring this up, not to criticize Mr. Downey—again, his politics hardly matter to me—but to point out the extent to which leftist intolerance has not just taken over our public life, but descended into a kind of naked intolerance requiring that even a slight veering from orthodoxy opens one up to shaming and the potential destruction of one’s career. A reporter named Krishnan Guru-Murthy (hardly a household name, I know) hectored Mr. Downey about his six-year-old comment on La Mirage and the penitentiary during an interview putatively concerned with the new Avengers movie (which I will happily be viewing on its release). I doubt Mr. Downey will “suffer” for this silly interview by a silly leftist in a silly country (Britain). Indeed, if anything, Mr. Downey probably is worried about all the conservative commentators leaping to his defense. In Hollywood such “defenders” could constitute a real problem.

My concern is not with Mr. Downey, who hardly needs my help. My concern is with the temper of our age. Have we really gotten to the point where someone who makes a remark about how his drug addiction and its personal, legal, and penitential (in the sense of penitentiary) aftermath led him to rethink a few things about “liberalism” can follow him around for years and lead to a concerted attempt to “out” him as one of those evil conservatives?

Of course we have.

In the event, Mr. Downey gamely tried to deflect the political hectoring by denying that he even knows what a “liberal” really is. Only when the questions turned to his previous drug use and got frankly creepy did he decide it was time to leave. Provided he does not choose to add to his previous sins (his remark about not being a liberal and his friendship with Mel Gibson—who helped him overcome his drug addiction seem chief among these sins) there is no reason Mr. Downey’s career should not continue to flourish. He is, after all, a very talented and “bankable” actor. But he will occasionally be reminded of these sins, lest he relapse and, perhaps, in case the next activist reporter sees the chance to succeed in “outing” him as one of those intolerant “right-wingers.” Mr. Downey is a big enough star to survive a few errors, but he had best not relapse into heresy if he wants to continue working in the People’s Republic of Hollywood.

In a sense none of this is surprising. Given the ouster of a would-be chief at Mozilla for a private campaign donation, the busting of tenure for a Marquette professor who dared call out an overbearing, intolerant teacher, and the attempted destruction of businesses from the giant Chick-Fil-A to the tiny Memories Pizza, not to mention the potential firing of any California judge who dares violate the standards of professionalism by (gasp!) serving with the Boy Scouts, we can only marvel at the tolerance of Hollywood for Mr. Downey. Well, at least we should be thankful that, for now at least, Iron Man has kept his job. As for the rest of us, we would be foolish to expect tolerance for our own deviations from the Progressive party line.

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