By Kasia Anderson
Susan Sarandon is known for rousing the rabble, both onscreen and off, and she has infused her public persona with her politics in a way that has made her a celebrity spokeswoman for a certain brand of lefty sensibility and a lightning rod for the right. She does give the impression that she’s well aware of what she’s doing and that she’s not particularly concerned about the vigorous blowback that some of her statements, deliberate or not, have provoked—including her most recent foray into spontaneous sociocultural commentary, which has brought scorn down upon her from the Holy See’s higher-ups.
The setting for Sarandon’s latest news-making monologue was the Hamptons Film Festival, where she mentioned, during a panel discussion with fellow thespian Bob Balaban, that she had sent a copy of Sister Helen Prejean’s book, “Dead Men Walking”—the inspiration for the movie that brought Sarandon her Best Actress Oscar in 1995—to the pope. However, she was quick to note that she was referring to the late Pope John Paul II, and not to his successor, Pope Benedict XVI. Here’s where she let fly with quite a zinger, invoking a highly incendiary blight upon Benedict’s pre-papal record: “The last one,” she said. “Not this Nazi one we have now,” referring to the young Joseph Ratzinger’s membership among the ranks of the Hitler Youth.
Enter Sarandon’s detractors, stage right. Among her most prominent critics this time was the ever-bombastic Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, who departed from the What Would Jesus Do? playbook and roundly judged the actress while commenting to E Online: “She’s a despicable person to make these kinds of despicable remarks,” Donohue said, pointing out that Ratzinger’s Hitler Youth phase was both brief and compulsory and adding, “it is very hard to find someone dumber than [Sarandon].” (Really?)
Conservative commentator Michael Medved chimed in Tuesday to the Murdochian concern known as Fox News, playing on the played-out theme of blah blah, objectification blah in slamming Sarandon’s cardinal offense to Fox 411: “Could Susan Sarandon be following a classic rule of public relations: When the world is increasingly ignoring you, try attacking the Pope? Why should anyone care what a fading Hollywood actress has to say about one of the most influential thinkers and religious leaders in the world?”
Only she knows for sure. Regardless, Medved may have sprung his own trap there by adding to the attention Sarandon’s getting—and by extension, one might note, drawing some of that attention to himself—by apparently caring enough to comment.
Actress Susan Sarandon makes an appearance in New York in January.