Animal Rights Advocate: Another Reason To Be Bonkers About Baldwin (Alec, That Is)
By Duncan Strauss
Host, ‘Talking Animals,’ at NPR affiliate station WMNF-FM, Tampa, Florida; online at www.talkinganimals.net
Mention Alec Baldwin to ten people, and you'll likely receive upwards of ten different responses.
All favorable-in fact, typically, wildly enthusiastic. People love this guy, and the work he's done in an acting career spanning 30-plus years-but exactly what they love about Baldwin varies considerably, eliciting an enchanting twist on the Rashomon effect. Now, admittedly, I'm a little light on empirical evidence about this phenomenon, but I'm brimming with anecdotal evidence. Freshly collected.
In September, Alec Baldwin was a guest on "Talking Animals," and when I announced the interview a few weeks beforehand, it triggered an avalanche of responses, with the comments tumbling fast and furious, as though everyone weighing in had somehow convened a quick meeting where they politely agreed to disagree on why they found this exciting.
The first person I heard from gushed about Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross as the crudely menacing corporate executive, Blake, sent to light a fire under the real estate salesmen in the office, and doing so with a blowtorch of invective; perhaps the mildest version of which involved Blake screaming at his charges, "Always be closing!"
The next person started talking about Baldwin-in at least as rapturous a manner-as the consummate guest host of Saturday Night Live, having now racked up as many SNL stints as all-time record-holder Steve Martin (with whom he co-hosted the latest Oscars, which more than a few people also swooned over), citing several famous Baldwin-starring sketches, including the public-radio spoof, "Schweddy Balls." Curiously, no one mentioned where Baldwin's Glengarry Glen Ross and SNL work intersected—when he hosted a Christmas episode, and in a Santa's Workshop sketch, was barking Blake-like at elves "Always be cobbling!"
Yet another respondent, perhaps of a certain vintage, recalled being transfixed by Baldwin, in the 1992 Broadway revival of A Streetcar Named Desire, while more than few others—of various vintages—came across as officers of the 30 Rock Fan Club, singing the praises of Baldwin's work as TV network honcho Jack Donaghy, work for which he's received two Emmys. Still others, who live in New York City or tune into WQXR-FM, the city’s only remaining classical music radio station online (www.wqxr.org), Baldwin is recognized as the voice of the New York Philharmonic, whose often witty notices of the orchestra’s next performance (“a double dose of Webern on this program…”) air frequently through the week (he also participated in the station’s recent fund drive, recording a pitch in which he urged listeners by all means not to contribute to the only place left on the metropolitan dial to hear great classical music in NYC when they might just as well be watching television, “the dominant communications medium of our time.” It may have been the most effective counter-commercial in radio history.).
Other awards he's won or been nominated for seemed to parallel a path traveled by still other Baldwin enthusiasts, including his Oscar-nominated turn as brutal casino boss Shelly Kaplow in the 2003 flick The Cooler.
And so on. What struck me as interesting is that while a sizable assortment of people rattled off this sizable assortment of Baldwin roles that meant the most to them: I'm a huge, longtime fan of Alec Baldwin's acting work myself, but perhaps my favorite role of his is as...animal rights advocate.
Alec Baldwin addresses PETA in advance of speaking to Congress to urge the enforcement of the Humane Slaughter Act. Warning: This video includes graphic footage of animal slaughter.
He's been a longtime supporter of, among other organizations, People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), and the Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine (PCRM). As a frequent contributor to The Huffington Post, a hefty percentage of Baldwin's posts deal with animal issues and saluting the efforts of animal activists.
Over the years, his writings and his work on behalf of these and other organizations-on behalf of animals, really, when you get right down to it-has made it crystal clear that Alec Baldwin is no celebrity dilettante in this realm. Far from it. He's a whip-smart guy, an author, a man with deep political interests (some say serious ambitions; others say serious prospects), an educator on a variety of levels....
And an animal guy. These constitute most of the reasons I wanted to speak with Alec Baldwin. OK, another reason is that he's, uh, Alec Baldwin.
Indeed, part of our conversation involved his acknowledging the way celebrity presence-namely, his-is a pivotal gambit employed by animal welfare organizations he strongly supports, such as PETA, PAWS and PCRM, and how he's happy to oblige in generating media and other forms of attention for these groups that even their veteran, high-profile leaders (Ingrid Newkirk, Pat Derby & Ed Stewart, Dr Neal Barnard, respectively) could never hope to match.
"(For) all these organizations, their most naked program, their most naked gambit that they play involves celebrity activism, if you will, in order to attract the press," Baldwin explained early in the interview.
"Which is an unfortunate thing, that if someone who is as accomplished as Pat Derby, or someone as dedicated as she is, or someone who's as smart and informed as Neal Barnard—if they stand up on their own and do a press event about abused circus animals, or Neal would talk about childhood obesity statistics, them standing there alone might not draw all the press attention that they want.
"I mean, that's an unfortunate reality. So where you work with them, you fill that celebrity component for them. I don't mind doing it-it's unfortunate that it has to be that way, but I don't mind doing that for them, if it's going to result in something good."
While he went on in our interview to discuss a number of complex issues, like meat consumption in this country ("We're very rapidly approaching an abjectly two-tier system, where there are people who can afford to buy food and have the time to prepare food, or sit in an expensive restaurant and have someone else prepare food for them...."), his explanation of what the celebrity quotient can mean sounded like a no-name savvy politico analyzing the impact of having an Alec Baldwin on board, not Baldwin himself. That's miles from the more common entertainment figure who briefly steps into the spotlight for an event to quickly rack up the brownie points that his publicist will be pitching hours later.
Our man Alec ain't cut from that cloth. The Baldwin camp would never tout these efforts, and there are a lot of them. Far as I know, he doesn't employ a publicist. Some of his biggest fans, when I did hear from them about the interview, were deeply surprised to learn he's been an animal rights advocate for decades, and in most cases, quite thrilled.
Still more reasons, I'm thinking, to be bonkers about Baldwin.