Actor Sean Penn gave Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky his Oscar trophy as a keepsake to hold on to during the war. So much symbolism here to unpack and I’m going to try.
Zelensky is a former actor. Here we have one actor giving what he calls a “symbolic silly thing” to another actor. If it is so symbolic and silly, why travel across the globe to give it to a politician who is leading his country in war? It seems to highlight Zelensky’s past as an actor rather than a politician. As in “this is something you once aspired to.” Is that intended?
Penn says that leaving it with Zelensky will make him “feel better and strong enough for the fights.” What fight does Sean Penn have exactly?
The visits to Zelensky by high-profile American actors seems only to reinforce the notion that American support for this war is based on propaganda. We are being invited to believe that Zelensky is a heroic figure by people who act for a living and live in fictional worlds. That is punctuated when Penn says, “When you win, bring it back to Malibu.” As if an Oscar statue is a talisman of virtue and triumph that ordinary people cannot touch. In Malibu.
You can be inspired by this act if you choose. That is clearly the aim. Or you can ask: What am I being asked to feel here? What is meant by juxtaposing war with celebrity that might serve to minimize the real human cost of the war?