What’s with Sean Penn?

seanpenn4.jpgIt would be almost an insult to state the obvious and call Sean Penn a great actor: his work speaks for itself. In one of the more curious actor-related events of this past summer, however, Penn strode off to Venezuela, where he visited poor neighborhoods and had a meeting with the country’s leader, Hugo Chavez. Penn is no stranger to controversy, as his previous visits to Iraq have evidenced, and he has an often valuable record as a troublemaker. Why, though, wasn’t he savvy enough to see that his meeting with Chavez would be used for propaganda purposes? Or was he aware that that’s exactly what would happen, and welcomed the possibility? And did he want to show us that Chavez, far from being the demonic dictator portrayed in the American media, is actually a man of principle who is popular in Venezuela and in most of Latin America for standing up to George W. Bush?

In their meeting, Chavez read part of Penn’s open letter to the White House, in which the actor describes President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Secretary of State Rice as “criminally obscene people.” By this point in the botch-up of the Iraq war and assault on civil liberties, millions of Americans would agree. But I wish Penn had grasped the fundamental lesson of the Dixie Chicks’ controversy of a few years back: you’re a lot more persuasive when you criticize your own country’s leadership at home than by doing it abroad. I won’t comment any further on Penn’s Venezuela sojourn, since he went there as a journalist and will be publishing his report sometime in the near future: perhaps around the time his latest directorial effort — a feature adaptation of the best-selling book “Into the Wild” — hits the screen on September 21. You can view the trailer for the film here.

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