Haiti Relief: A Sean Penn Story
Two-time Academy Award winner Sean Penn is most notable for his superb acting and filmmaking skills, including work on such hit movies as I Am Sam and Milk. What many do not realize is that Penn is now also notable for being an activist. In his earlier years as a celebrity, Penn was notorious for his aggressive and outrageous “bad boy” behavior. More recently, however, Penn “has generated a different type of controversy with his left-leaning political views and activism,” especially as a “vocal critic of the George W. Bush administration and the Iraq War” (“Sean Penn”). Penn’s formative years, though, had more to do with show business and acting than activism. He grew up a wealthy child of privilege in Los Angeles, California, the son of actor and director Leo Penn and actress Eileen Ryan. James Wolcott describes Penn’s childhood as a “show-business milieu where life is a sunny back lot and time is a tracking shot” (“Sean Penn”). Some critics suggest Penn tries to counteract this materially affluent upbringing in order to prove his authenticity as an actor and as a person, often playing the part of misfits and rebels such as juvenile delinquent Mick O’Brien in Bad Boys or the iconic surfer-pothead Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. In real life, Penn now channels any rebellious nature into being a leading activist, particularly for obtaining relief for Haiti after the earthquake. What constitutes someone being an activist? Different people have different definitions in answer to this question. Author Paul Loeb describes his views on what constitutes activism in his essay, The Real Rosa Parks. He believes an activist is part of group that works together with a team to enact change. In Loeb’s view, true activists are no flash-in-the-pan heroes, just everyday mortals working in a deliberate and incremental manner to achieve a goal. Loeb elaborates further, writing that a common misperception about activism is that “anyone who takes a committed public stand, or at least an effective one, has to be a larger-than-life figure—someone with more time, energy, courage, vision, or knowledge than any normal person could ever possess” (Loeb). According to Loeb, the problem with this scenario is that this false image of activists creates a standard so impossible to meet that the everyday person may thus be dissuaded from getting involved. While I understand and agree with some of Loeb’s contentions about what constitutes an activist, I disagree with others. I believe that there is no one correct response to this question. Activism is personal, not something defined with absolutes or by others. To me, an activist is somebody who stands up for an injustice. It is not someone who stands and waits for others to take charge, but instead takes charge themselves. When something is not the way they think it should be, they attempt to change it right way. An activist does not take wrong events lightly, and works hard in an effort to help the people or issue involved. Sometimes an activist acts alone and other times there is a great supporting cast of people to aid in the effort against injustice. Contrary to Loeb, I believe that there is no wrong or right way to be an activist. What matters is making the effort, any kind of effort, to combat injustice and enact change. Sean Penn is someone who fulfills my ideal of what constitutes an activist. Penn saw a need to attain help for the Haitians left homeless and starving in the streets from the earthquake and personally stepped up to take charge of leading and increasing the relief efforts. Penn did not take this life-changing event for the people of Haiti lightly and has worked hard to correct the injustice of the Haitians not receiving enough help or support to correct their devastating situation. He has tried to effect change not only through donations, but also through legislative speeches to lobby for more assistance and funds and to...
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