The unofficial psychology blog from Paul Hutchings

Sean Penn: Stupid AND dangerous

From reading the press I must be in the minority with regard to actually liking Sean Penn’s films, particularly those he has directed. However, the ludicrous statements he has been making recently on a visit to South America don’t just smack of niaivety, they are actually endangering innocent people’s lives.

Over the last couple of days he has made some wonderfully bizarre statements regarding colonialism, giving Argentina rights with regard to resources in the Falkland Islands, the deployment of Prince William to the islands, etc. (for a flavour take a look at The Guardian and The Daily Mail in their own inimitable style). Now it would be very easy to put it down to another Hollywood type not knowing what they are doing and sticking their oar in where it doesn’t belong – but this is far more dangerous.

Sean Penn is well-known, particularly in America – the Falkland Islands issue isn’t. So, like it or not, his words will carry to people who wouldn’t normally have a view on such a topic, and pressure will be put on the UK by outside forces. That’s what Sean Penn wants, and I don’t actually have a problem with that – it is often the way the world works. But this isn’t a case of a celebrity getting involved in an issue where they may do some good but can’t really do any harm (apart from wasting some money which could be better spent, but that is another issue) – the Falklands issue comes with possible extreme negative consequences, the sort of consequences that come with bullets and bombs attached. It risks people’s lives, be they Islanders, Argentinian or British.

It isn’t just a case of Argentina wanting resources – there is an island and its people which also come into the equation. There is also a little matter of the United Nations Covenant covering self-determination (take a look Sean – it’s point 1 of article 1 in part 1 – you don’t even need to turn the page). Does anyone really think that Mr. Penn would be so fast to jump to the defence of the UK if there was an Argentinean enclave off the coast of Ireland? Has he jumped to the defence of any African governments that have threatened the self-determination of groups of people? Of course not – so why now?

Being uncharitable (my speciality) it pretty much looks like a pretty sick publicity stunt – let’s face it, if Sean Penn arrived in London it is almost guaranteed that a visit to Number 10 to hobnob in front of the press with the PM wouldn’t be on the agenda. Conversely, attacking the UK isn’t exactly going to do his films much harm here because no-one is particularly interested in him anyway. But the chance to meet Cristina Fernandez and Hugo Chavez? Huge ego and publicity boost! Sell those films all over South America, so what if we have to stir up people’s hatred to do it.

So, a publicity stunt – but at what price? What if his words help to exacerbate the situation to the point where weapons are fired and lives are lost? Will he feel that he has got blood on his hands? He should, but of course he won’t – by the time that happens he’ll be schmoozing to promote his latest film, or have moved onto his next pet project. And this is the problem; having an impact without having to shoulder any of the responsibility, and not having the insight to recognise this, is what makes people like Sean Penn both stupid and dangerous – and that is one of the most dangerous combinations there is.

So I’ve got an offer for Sean Penn (yes, I know he isn’t going to read this, but he wouldn’t have the balls to take this up anyway so why not!):

You get to say whatever you like, and take whatever stance you like, on one condition – if the situation does escalate to the point of conflict you leave whichever Hollywood party you are attending, put on your kit, pick up your gun, and you go and stand on the front line – you even get to pick sides, British or Argentinian, I don’t mind and it doesn’t matter – but you get to directly experience the pain and suffering that your words create for other people. Because, as ex-military, I think I’ve got the right to give a message to a person who cannot see the problem in enflaming a situation that involves other people’s lives – put up or shut up!


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