It's rare to hear anyone say anything negative about someone who has just died, but when the deceased is a Hollywood luminary, the tributes take on a most reverential and syrupy tone.
Case in point: the eulogies of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who I must admit was probably one of my favourite actors of all time...which makes using him as the focus and example of this blog post somewhat difficult.
That said, Hoffman's status as an "actor's actor" elicited the usual torrent of (well-deserved) high praise, mixed with profound sadness and remorse. In Entertainment Weekly, stars on the order of George Clooney, Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore expressed condolences using familiar terms such as "devastating loss," "fortunate enough to have known and worked with [him]," "no words" and "grief and regret." What saddened me most is that it all sounded so interchangeable, and so much the same old same old.
Then I read Aaron Sorkin's devastating tribute in Time magazine, the cold, hard truth of which shattered the decorum of the usual Hollywood status quo.
Like the others, Sorkin heaped high praise on Hoffman as a man, a colleague and especially as an artist. But as a recovering drug addict himself, Sorkin had the guts, or foolhardiness, to walk down a dark place others would not...or perhaps could not. After bestowing a most magnanimous compliment on the actor, Sorkin grimly stated that Hoffman
"...did not die from an overdose of heroin--he died from heroin."
And before the reader had a chance to process the previous sentence, Sorkin trumped it:
"We should stop implying that if he had just taken the proper amount, everything would be fine."
There's more--including the strange death wish designed to "maybe scare someone clean"--and I urge you to read it all here, but this is not about poor Philip Seymour Hoffman or Aaron Sorkin.
It's about how what a shock it is to people's systems when they encounter the truth.
When I read Sorkin's Time missive, it stopped me in my tracks. So much so, that I had to re-read it; not once but twice, because my first reaction was "How did the editors ever let this slip through?" Never did Sorkin disparage or denigrate Hoffman; he just shocked with frankness.
There's so much pandering pap, Machiavellian crap and factory-processed opinion swirling around the worlds of business, showbiz, politics, sports, medicine (stopping now, as I can go on for days) these days that when one encounters a fragment of truth, it is shocking and heart stopping.
Put another way...
We encounter way too much spin...and not enough drilling.
Even if people would be about truthful why they can't tell the truth, it would be a step in the right direction. Last year, I met a Quebec political leader who said--point blank, in front of dozens of witnesses there to hear him expound on his party's platform--that he makes decisions based not on his own political or personal convictions, but on what voters in the outlying areas of the province want to hear. Sad...but true.
Sorkin's piece sparked all I needed to learn this week, namely:
THE TRUTH IS A DESTABILIZER.
It's a powerful weapon, not only in politics and magazine eulogies, but in business. Trust me, you want people to buzz about your product, service, or cause? Then turn the bullshit generator off and tell it like it is.
Just tell the truth. And then hold on for an unprecedented reaction.
Maybe there's a reason the truth is so rare. Maybe Colonel Nathan R. Jessup, Jack Nicholson's character in the film A Few Good Men (written by Aaron Sorkin) was right. Maybe we can't handle the truth.
But you know what? Given the alternative, I'll take the risk.
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