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He’s Talkin’ to You

by James Lileks

When you see a headline that says Robert De Niro spouted off about climate change, you scan the article to see if Joe Pesci was also quoted about the need to increase battery efficiency for electric cars: ’Cause otherwise we’re sittin’ in the driveway like some frickin’ mook who can’t go nowheres.

Not that actors aren’t smart. You can imagine De Niro testifying on the impact of Uber on taxi drivers:

“Mr. De Niro, thank you for coming. About your remarks concerning the decreasing value of a medallion in the tightly regulated taxi industry — ”

“You talkin’ to me?”

“Yes, the chair recognizes you. Given the substantial investment some have made in their medallions, critics of so-called ride-sharing services have insisted that — ”

“You talkin’ to me? Because I don’t see anyone else here.”

“Actually, there are 14 other actors waiting to testify, but yes, we are talking to you.”

That would be fun! That would be acting, which we pay talented people like Mr. De Niro to do. But his comments were made in all seriousness. Actually, in Dubai. As the AP reported:

“Hollywood star Robert De Niro took aim at the Trump administration’s stance on climate change, telling a packed audience in the Middle East that he was visiting from a ‘backward’ country suffering from ‘temporary insanity.’”

In the accompanying photograph, Mr. De Niro looks well rested, suggesting he did not row to Dubai but availed himself of an airplane. As we all know, jets have a horrible carbon footprint, and unless we all stop taking jets, the polar bears will drown before they have the chance to evolve and sprout gills. But in the actor’s case, the carbon impact was offset by the act of talking about global warming — something that indemnifies one against criticism, even though the act of talking literally emits more carbon. If you really, really want to limit carbon output, you do not fly to Dubai and talk; you sit in a room with Skype and blink your speech in Morse code.

More: “De Niro received applause and laughs when he said the U.S. ‘will eventually cure itself by voting our dangerous leader’ out of office. He spoke Sunday at Dubai’s World Government Summit.”

Voting! What an amusing idea to mention in an emirate; no wonder he got laughs.

What, you might ask, is the World Government Summit? Turns out it’s another conclave of foreign officials who found time in their busy, busy schedule to go to a glistening city built by exploited labor and discuss the future in modern, air-conditioned, Jew-free auditoriums.

From the conference’s website:

“4:45pm: Ohood Al Roumi, Minister of State for Happiness and Wellbeing, joined Dr. Deepak Chopra on the stage for a Q&A and asked what is the secret to happiness. Dr. Chopra said there is a lot of research on happiness that shows happiness is a result of how we perceive the world.”

If I perceived the world as a place that paid me a lot of money to talk obvious twaddle, I’d be happy, too. Give Dubai credit: Ohood Al Roumi is a female cabinet member, which is inclusive and all that. But having a Ministry of Happiness is a tad creepy. If the Trump administration wanted a cabinet-level Department of Being Nice, Very Nice, this would be regarded as a horrifying Orwellian attempt to encourage emotional obedience to the state, which must be #resisted at all costs.

Unless Obama had done it. That would have been awesome and, y’know, kinda sweet.

Also on the program for World Government: “A discussion by the world’s first cyborg, Neil Harbisson, on why governments are recognising new ‘identities’ and ‘abilities.’” Who? Help me, Wikipedia, you’re my only hope: “Neil Harbisson is a cyborg artist and transpecies activist based in New York City. He is best known for being the first person in the world with an antenna implanted in his skull.”

Well, except for that guy who fell off the roof while hooking up a TV in 1951.

The antenna “has been permanently attached to Harbisson’s head since 2004 and it allows him to feel and hear colours as audible vibrations inside his head.”

Wearing loud plaid around him would be considered assault with a deadly weapon, perhaps. He also has a button and small vibrator embedded in one of his teeth, so he can communicate in Morse code with other people similarly equipped.

Or, you know, you could just send a text.

In short, another confab of the Eloi, snoozing through earnest lectures from the Indian minister of regional outreach and leaning forward with faces shining when they see that guy who starred in a great movie about a guy who punched other guys in the face. Speaking of which: What was the panel De Niro was on?

“A discussion of ‘rising tides: preparing for the new normal.’”

Last year, De Niro petitioned the Hamptons governing boards for the right to tear down his house and replace it. Current regulations, according to the AP, “usually require homeowners seeking redevelopment to move the home farther from the water because of the ‘heightened awareness of sea level rise and the importance of coastal resiliency.’” But as a local Hamptons website reported, “the property faces the ocean, and one of the two variances Mr. De Niro sought was to be a tad closer to the dune than the town code allows.”

But perhaps the seas will not rise to engulf his home. After all, he spoke out, which raises consciousness. And then he bowed nicely to the monarchs, put on some sturdy shoes, and began the long walk back to the United States, wondering what his next speech would be called.

“Raging Bull,” perhaps.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at www.lileks.com.

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