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Pop culture politics

Analise Lipari | Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Save the dolphins. Save the world.

Well, that’s what “Heroes” star Hayden Panettiere might as well have said to the Japanese fishing authorities when they issued a warrant for her arrest.

The 18-year-old actress and her fellow surfers were protesting a centuries-old tradition of bottle-nosed dolphin hunting when they were stopped by a fishing boat. After heading straight for a coastal airport, Panettiere and her cohorts swiftly flew home to avoid any prosecution.

“But in the end,” she said in an interview with Fox News, “all we really worried about was the dolphins … We were so close to them and they were sky hopping, jumping out of the water to see us.”

I’ll admit that when I first read this story, I was kind of annoyed with Hayden and her surfer pals. If I’m looking for political activists after whom I’ll model my actions, I’m not going to turn to TV dramedies, and I don’t need the stars of said dramedies pushing their beliefs on me. Though if John Krasinski from “The Office” told me to write my congressman for organic napkins in the NBC studio cafeteria, I’d totally do it. But I digress.

It’s true that Panettiere and Co. have brought further media attention to what PETA and similar groups can justifiably argue is a cruel practice. But I was struck by her attitude in response to the arrest; in her mind, Japanese tradition was much less important than the well-being of the pod of dolphins.

“We can no longer hide [behind] out-dated, senseless cultural traditions,” she said in a recent statement to the media, “and lazy, bad habits that are resulting in the annihilation of our planet’s resources and the extinction of our species.”

Oh, you celebrities.

Hollywood stars and political causes are an interesting mix that just keeps coming. Every four years the celebs trot out their presidential plugs for the media and the American people to take notice – and unless you’re Chuck Norris, Arnold Schwarzenegger or the members of ZZ Top, that candidate’s a Democrat – and 2008 should prove to be no exception. Celebs right and left are going green for climate change, and Al Gore just won the Nobel Peace Prize for the Oscar-winning film “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Later in her statement, Panettiere justified her actions as protecting an innocent group of dolphins from what she believed to be cruelty.

“Because I am in the public eye, I feel the need to be a voice of worthy and important causes whose efforts impact the lives of every person on Earth,” she said. “These animals are being brutally and unnecessarily slaughtered – and who are we to say to they have less of a right to exist than we do.”

I’m sure that if you saw this news story on MSN or Google, you probably laughed to yourself and forgot about it, unless you were either passionate about the well-being of bottle-nosed dolphins or, like some guys I know, just passionate about Hayden Panettiere. But it’s interesting to think about what she’s saying, both in her statement and in her actions in Japan.

She disregarded Japanese law and culture, but for a cause that’s respectable. Does that make it okay? Does the law even matter if Johnny McCelebrity thinks his political beliefs are justified? And is it easier for the “pretty people” to do this than it is for Annie McAverage-American?

Sure, Panettiere can laugh off a Japanese arrest, but if the same thing happened to you, it’d probably be more serious.

In the end, what matters most isn’t the celebrity who attaches himself or herself to any particular issue (though if Lindsey Lohan starts promoting human rights, I’m pawning my TV and donating the money to her miracle-working rehab center), but the issue itself.

Maybe I still get annoyed with that smug self-righteousness that comes with feeling right – like an 18 year-old actress taking on a millennium of Japanese culture – but if it saves Flipper from uncertain doom, I’m cool.