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Uncle Sam, and Ashton Kutcher, want you

Smile, laugh, love ... somebody's got to do it

January 23, 2009|JOEL STEIN

WRITING FROM PARK CITY, UTAH — I hadn't thought through that "yes we can" and "we are the change we've been waiting for" stuff. Now that Barack Obama is president and serious about this, though, someone might expect me to actually do something. I just didn't expect that person to be Ashton Kutcher.

Here at the Sundance Film Festival, Kutcher asked celebrities to make a "presidential pledge" of what they'll do to help the country. I figured their pledges to start million-dollar foundations, donate hundreds of hours of service or build schools for girls in Africa would fill me with so much guilt, I'd go to see some documentaries.

But when I watched Kutcher's celebrity-packed video on MySpace, I saw Demi Moore promise "to smile more." Eva Longoria said she'd "laugh more," and Jaime Pressly will "love more." Though I was totally behind the Pressly part, this was not the level of sacrifice I was expecting.

Alyssa Milano said, a bit too eagerly, that she'll "be the voice for those who have no voice," which seemed a little cocky because most people without a voice would probably hold out for Angelina Jolie or even Judith Light. Cameron Diaz, who has never been seen not smiling, will "give neighbors a smile," and Dakota Fanning, who is 14, vows "to never stop learning and growing each and every day," something she could not prevent unless she put herself in a veal box.

When Obama talked about us fixing the nation, I don't think he meant we should all make super-vague New Year's resolutions.

Sure, the video directs people to USAService.org, which offers volunteer opportunities at AmeriCorps and the Red Cross, but I want more sacrifice from my celebrities. Yes, I appreciate that Jason Bateman will only flush when absolutely necessary, and that P. Diddy/Puff Daddy/Sean Jean will turn the lights out behind him, but even if he gets three more nicknames, that's still only one light.

So I went to the MySpace Cafe at Sundance, where I've spent the week committing Ashton Kutcher-level sacrifices, such as carrying free drinks back for people, and made my own pledge video, which you can see at celebrity.myspace.com in the "rising star" section. To get on the rising star page, I may have told the people at MySpace that I'm in a movie here. The Sundance badge system is not all that clear.

I considered pledging $2,000 to Partners in Health, or mentoring another kid -- and this time not suggest the kind of essay that would get him a C in English class. But then I came up with a far bigger sacrifice.

In my video, I pledge to listen to whatever celebrities tell me to do.

Because, while they might come off as stupid because of their stupidity, famous people haven't steered us wrong. When columnists, academics, pols and Council of Foreign Relations members told us to go to Iraq, celebrities begged to keep our troops home. They were right about global warming and Darfur. About Obama. And flushing.

So, OK, Demi, Eva and Jaime, I'll smile, love and laugh as freely as an actor in a movie about a mentally disabled person. I pledge to stop making fun of movie stars' naive earnestness and uneducated confidence and overall Bono-ity. If you want me to hold hands across America, this time I will do it.

Because, although Kutcher's MySpace video seems self-important and hollow, it got more than a million views on its first day. Sure there's backlash, but speaking out works. Having people paying attention is power, and using that power to try to improve the world is a kind of sacrifice -- because they look like such jerks doing it.

--

jstein@latimescolumnists.com

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