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On Life

Ruminations and provocations.

Filtering by Tag: Van Gogh

Samuel L. Jackson just made struggling artists feel like shit

Stephen H. Provost

I’m a fan of Samuel L. Jackson’s work, and that’s probably not going to change. I enjoy his acting. I’m also a critic of Donald J. Trump, and that certainly ain’t gonna change. I don’t enjoy his play-acting as president.

But what Jackson said in repudiating Trump stuck in my craw: “I know how many motherfuckers hate me. ‘I’m never going to see a Sam Jackson movie again.’ Fuck I care? If you never went to another movie I did in my life, I’m not going to lose any money. I already cashed that check.”

Emphasis mine.

Here’s the point: Jackson can afford not to care. Most actors, writers, visual artists and musicians can’t. Jackson doesn’t have to choose between his integrity and his bank account. Gee, that must be nice.

He goes on to say he does care about health care, but not because he wants the best for his loved ones. Because he wants to protect his bank account(!): “Some of this shit does affect me, because if we don’t have health care, and my relatives get sick, they’re going to call my rich ass.”

Ask me if I feel sorry for him.

Somehow, he’s got enough money not to care about pro-Trump haters, but not enough money to care more about whether his relatives get good health care than the prospect of having to for it.

Actually, I agree with Jackson on this issue, too. The prices for hospital stays and prescription drugs are obscene; the system is broken, and it’s causing people to lose their homes, their cars and their retirement savings. But let’s be clear here: That’s not going to happen to Jackson if one of his relatives gets sick.

Say, for example, one of them had to stay a month in the hospital. At $30,000 a day, that would be $900,000. Yeah, that’s a lot of money. Now say it cost another $900,000 for surgical procedures and meds. Let’s round up to the nearest million. That’s $2 million. Yes, that would break most people. But Jackson? His net worth, as of 2019, is 111 times that much: $220 million. It’s a drop in the bucket for the man who made the 2011 Guinness Book of World Records as the highest-grossing actor of all time.

Gimme mine

Maybe Jackson’s just trying to be funny. He has, in fact, donated money to more than two dozen charities, including $1 million for the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture. But in spite of this, his latest comments come off as gloating. I’ve got my $220 million, and I’m gonna keep it.

And why shouldn’t he? He’s a good actor. He’s worked hard, and he deserves what he’s got. No argument there.

But there’s a flip side to his comments: A lot of people work just as hard and are just as good at what they do, but they struggle to get by. Vincent Van Gogh, famously, sold just one painting during his entire lifetime. He died a pauper. He killed himself. There are thousands of good – even great – artists, writers, actors and musicians you’ve never heard of who are in the same boat. Yet the notion persists that how much you have in your bank account defines your value as a person.

Bullshit, motherfucker.

Economic entitlement

In a world increasingly sensitive to attitudes of race- and gender-based entitlement, the concept of economic entitlement remains largely ignored. Health-care and education reforms are stymied. Sure, there’s talk about a $15 minimum wage, but that’s not even a living wage for most people. And indexing it to the cost of living? You might as well try planning a trip to Jupiter. Anyone who suggests leveling the playing field is accused of (gasp) socialism and de facto thievery.  

Because economic hardship isn’t always tied up in things like racial and gender identity, it’s assumed that those who don’t have money somehow deserve it. They’re a bunch of lazy good-for-nothings leeching off society because they’re allergic to hard work or don’t produce something of real value. Art? That’s dismissed as a “luxury.” But Jackson can’t very well say that, because he’s an artist too.

The work he produces is extremely valuable, but so was the work Van Gogh did. And he never complained about having to support a sick relative, because he never even had that option: His brother was the one supporting him.

This is why it’s so jarring to hear a rich actor issuing such a complaint, even if it’s to highlight the inequities of a broken health care system. Regardless of how talented he is or how many charities he’s supported, this is how it comes across: I’ve got my $220 million. You can’t have any of it.

Ironically, this is exactly how Trump thinks. He’s got his, and nothing else matters. Jackson is a Trump critic, yet he comes across as sharing the same attitude – unless he was just joking, in which case it’s not very funny. Because the joke is on creative folks who aren’t worth one one-ten thousandth of what he is.

I applaud Jackson for criticizing Trump. I share his views. But he doesn’t deserve any special pat on the back for voicing them when he has, by his own admission, no financial stake in the game. The people who do deserve props are the struggling artists who could lose a sale by speaking out – but do so anyway. The unknown Vincent Van Goghs of our time who might just, one day, change the world.