We don’t like intellectuals. You, the person reading this right now, and me, the dude writing, might have a fondness for them. But we, the lot of us living in North America, don’t have a whole lot of time for intellectuals. This is by no means a modern development. More of an essential American personality quirk going back a few hundred years. We like smart people, no doubt. Admirers and detractors alike in this country have always celebrated brilliant satirists and social commentators, from Mark Twain all the way up to Jon Stewart.
They make us laugh though, so they’re disqualified. Comedy often helps us forgive, and sometimes negate, intellectualism. Without it, though, we view dispassionate reason in matters of politics and ethics as weaknesses or haughtiness. This is especially true of liberal-minded entertainers. An actor and filmmaker doesn’t understand the common man’s values, the naysayers contend, so their intellectual approach to moral or political issues is invalid. Not with Ronald Reagan, though! But Reagan was no intellectual. There’s the catch. And that's why Matt Damon interests me.
Damon is an affable dude on and off screen, of course, but he’s definitively an intellectual. Over the past nine years, as he’s gone from Will Hunting to Jason Bourne in the eyes of the public, Damon’s been an extremely vocal critic of the United States government on issues ranging from global warming to the military entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan. When he speaks on issues like gun control, as he did during the promotion of “The Bourne Ultimatum” last year, he does so from a position of logic.
He’s just the sort of person we like to call a smug jerk and then dismiss. We don’t though. Hell, we love him, making his movies some of the biggest successes of the past decade. He’s no comedian though, so what’s the secret?
You can’t get much more unpretentious than Damon, which is really the key to his continued success and celebrity. He voices his opinions in public from a logical perspective, sure, but he never lords himself over the people that have made him famous. Even last fall, when he said that the concept of Sarah Palin being in office terrified him, he said it like someone you’d share a drink at the bar with. The sort of nonchalant indignance you expect from a real person, not a celebrity, intellectual, or politico, someone with a carefully manicured public persona. He’s a normal dude, and we, as a people, value normal dudes over all others, whether they’re intellectuals or dumbasses.
“The Informant!” is poised to open big this weekend. It looks like a clever picture, and it’s a decidedly different sort of character for Damon to play. Goofy mustache or no, liberal politics or no, people are going to pour out in droves to see it, just because he’s in it.
It won’t beat out “Jennifer’s Body” though. That has Megan Fox kissing chicks. That’s something we value over everything else.