The Fix

Britney Spears voted world's sexiest woman, Heath Ledger on playing gay, and Wham! the musical. Plus: Cultural creatives grab their political power.

By Salon Staff
Published March 25, 2004 3:23PM (EST)

Afternoon Briefing:

Rock 'n' roll will never die: Rolling Stone is publishing three special issues to commemorate the 50th anniversary of rock 'n' roll. The first issue, out tomorrow, includes a rundown of the 50 greatest artists of all time. The voting was done by music industry types like Clive Davis; film types who love music, like Quentin Tarantino; and musicians themselves. The Beatles are No. 1 and the usual suspects are all there -- with essays by fellow artists. Steven Van Zandt on the Rolling Stones: "If it wasn't for them, I would have been a Soprano for real." (USA Today)

Move over, Sophia: The lads at laddie mag FHM have spoken, and they've decided that Britney Spears is the world's sexiest woman. Others who made the list include Beyoncé Knowles, Carmen Electra, Halle Berry and Jennifer Lopez. (Ananova)

If ABBA can do it ... A stage musical based on the story of Brit pop duo Wham! makes George Michael cringe, but he says he might get behind it for the sake of the fans. Said Michael, "I think [Wham! bandmate] Andrew [Ridgeley] was of the opinion that if the story was good enough, then it would be snotty not to do it." (BBC)

Naomi told me to: Heath Ledger says when he got the script for "Brokeback Mountain" and read that he'd be playing a gay cowboy, it scared him "for obvious reasons." His girlfriend Naomi Watts encouraged him to face his fears. He says the film "is an important love story for this generation. No one is breaking new ground with love stories. They just keep repeating familiar themes." (London Free Press)

-- Karen Croft

- - - - - - - - - - - -

They've been called cultural creatives, the creative class and cultural professionals. They're writers, filmmakers, illustrators, musicians, designers, publicists, publishers, architects and photographers. They make up anywhere between 12 and 30 percent of the working population. They've had books written about them, and are being courted by cities that want them. And now, they've got their very own political action committee.

Downtown for Democracy (D4D), a PAC formed last summer by a group of editors, P.R. consultants, gallery owners and designers in Manhattan, is creating a new model for dissatisfied creatives on the left: a savvy, engaged political organization. The group's main goal is to raise between $3 million and $5 million by next November and spend it on ads, voter registration drives, campaign contributions and voter mobilization in swing states, all with the aim of getting Bush out of office. The political strategy they've devised -- focusing on key swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania and singling out progressive candidates in other states for direct contributions -- is like some other such entities on the left. But it also has another aim, which is unique: trying to engage and mobilize the vast demographic of the creative class and to turn their skills into political capital.

Think of it as the arts and entertainment arm of

"If you compare it to other constituency groups -- labor unions and black churches -- this is a large, powerful, but mostly silent group, politically," says Erik Stowers, D4D's political director and treasurer. "We found that there was an incredible enthusiasm to get involved, but not many organizations are set up to engage this particular group of people."

On Thursday in Manhattan, Downtown for Democracy is presenting "Where's My Democracy," two back-to-back fundraising readings introduced by Jonathan Safran Foer. The authors involved include some of the best-known names in contemporary letters: Paul Auster, Michael Cunningham, Jennifer Egan, Dave Eggers, Jonathan Franzen, Gary Indiana, Jhumpa Lahiri, Joyce Carol Oates, Susan Sontag, Wendy Wasserstein and Colson Whitehead, as well as Lou Reed and other "special guests."

The list of authors was put together by Foer, who attended November's auction and was inspired to get actively involved. "I had had it in my mind to put such a thing together," he says. "I wanted to do something; I was very regretful looking back four years." Foer, 27, who has never been politically active on this level before, also says, "I used to be the kind of person who thought it was enough to be informed. I voted, of course."

This time around, though, he wanted to do more. "Campaign finance law is very convoluted, as is P.R., as are all the things that are necessary to raise money and give it away," he says. But those aren't the only ways to get involved. "I think everyone has the same responsibility to be vocal and determined, but there are different kinds of effectiveness. I'm a writer; this is the best way I know how to contribute."

D4D's inaugural event, an art auction held at New York's Phillips, de Pury and Luxembourg gallery last November, raised just over $150,000 and featured the work of artists as varied as Fred Tomaselli, Tats Cru, Vanessa Beecroft and Tom Sachs. According to their Dec. 31 Federal Election Commission filing (as a PAC, they're required to disclose their financial information quarterly), the group raised just over $200,000 and distributed $130,000 last year. While the money's not bad, more impressive are the event's statistics on bringing in newcomers: According to D4D, for more than 80 percent of art purchasers and 95 percent of ticket buyers, this was their first time giving money to a national political campaign. D4D hopes Thursday's reading will attract as many first timers.

That Foer was able to gather such a respected group -- he says it was easy to find people willing to be involved -- attests to Stowers' claim that the desire is there. One of the core concepts at work in D4D's organizing is to let the creatives do what they do best: come up with compelling projects in their own fields, and then use those projects to further the progressive, anti-Bush mission.

The group has a slew of multimedia events planned that span the continuum of cultural interests: Dining for Democracy, Design for Democracy, music and readings tours. On July 16, D4D will host a music event in Manhattan curated by Jesse Pearson of Vice magazine and hosted by David Cross.

Thus far, D4D has given money to a PAC started by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and will be contributing to the campaign of Illinois Senate candidate Barack Obama, whose startling primary win last week has made him into a rising political star.

But D4D is hesitant to talk about giving too much just yet. "In general right now we're more in a fundraising mode than spending," says Stowers. The fundraisers are intended to have a double effect: bringing in money and sparking the creative juices of the people who attend them. The group is watching the network expand, he says. "It's going viral."

-- Scott Lamb

Turn On
He's one of the most powerful members of the Bush administration, but also one of the most private. "Primetime Special Edition: Rumsfeld's Rules of War" (8 p.m. EST; ABC), is a series of interviews with and about the secretary of defense as he responds to criticism of the war in Iraq and talks about the thinkers who have shaped his worldview ... Seeing double: If you can stomach it, catch Ashton Kutcher first on "The Late Show With David Letterman" (11:30 p.m. EST; CBS) and then again on "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" (12:30 p.m. EST; NBC). [Special note: college basketball will push CBS's schedule back one hour in many parts of the country, letting those lucky viewers watch both interviews simultaneously.]

-- S.L.

Morning Briefing:

Flip flap: Simon Cowell denies that he subtly flipped the bird at Paula Abdul during Tuesday's broadcast of "American Idol," despite speculation circulating on the Web that the placement of his middle finger on the side of his face following a disagreement with his fellow judge was a deliberate public insult. "I certainly would never make a gesture like that toward Paula or on national television," Cowell said. "Sometimes I lean on my index finger. Sometimes a different finger. Sometimes two at the same time, or, God help me, even the whole hand. I never even thought about it until now." (Reuters)

All in the family, for better or worse: Republicans in Kentucky are hoping that George Clooney's fundraising efforts on behalf of his father, Nick Clooney, who is running for Congress, will backfire. They're dubbing the race "Hollywood vs. the heartland." (N.Y. Post)

That was fast: Bobby Brown, just released from jail in Georgia, where he was serving 60 days for a parole violation, has been sentenced to 90 days in the clink in Massachusetts for nonpayment of child support for his two out-of-wedlock children. Brown, who was reported to have dissolved into tears in court, will get sprung if he coughs up $63,000 for the kids. (N.Y. Daily News)

No dirrty wedding planned: Rumor had it that Christina Aguilera was engaged to be married to one Jordan Bratman, who works for her management company. But that rumor is apparently wholly untrue. An Aguilera spokesperson has denied it, but will not comment on whether the two are dating. (Rush and Molloy)

It is as it is: The Archbishop of Canterbury has denounced Mel Gibson for peddling crucifixion-nail pendants for $16.99 on "The Passion of the Christ's" Web site. "That's the danger of a blockbuster -- spreading cheap and shoddy merchandising," a spokesman for Rowan Williams told the London Daily Telegraph. (Rush and Molloy)

Raging bull? A new biography of Robert De Niro alleges that the actor's father, painter Robert De Niro Sr., was the gay lover of poet Robert Duncan and, possibly, Jackson Pollock and Tennessee Williams. (Page Six)

The tantric stuff was just the beginning: Trudy Styler told Howard Stern yesterday that she and Sting are into swinging "big time." Threesomes, strip clubs, you name it. "It's rock 'n' roll," she said. "Isn't that what we're supposed to do?" (Page Six)

Money Quote:

"Apprentice" contestant (and fan favorite) Troy McClain on Donald Trump's trademark bad hair: "I truly believe old D.T. -- I call him D.T. -- that he's got a sense of humor. It is a full head of hair; it's not a toupee. I think it's the only thing that humanizes him. It's an intentional weakness. Or it could be just his dry sense of humor." (USA Today)

-- Amy Reiter

Bookmark the Fix here. To send a hot tip to the Fix, click here.

Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------