Shirley MacLaine: a fool’s paradise

Back in 1975, as we saw yesterday, Shirley MacLaine released The Other Side of the Sky, a staggering whitewash of a documentary about China, which she’d visited a couple of years earlier.

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Shirley MacLaine

Before going to China, she’d told reporters that sexual equality was “an official fact” in China and that America hadn’t achieved it yet; in China, far from waking up to the fact that she was a guest of a totalitarian terror state, where interviewees had to parrot the party line or else, MacLaine believed everything she was told. China, she insisted, was without social friction; everyone there shared a feeling of “brotherhood” and a “commitment to working for the common good”; during her visit, she later wrote, “it slowly dawned on me that perhaps human beings could be taught anything.”

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Deng Xiaoping at the White House

All nonsense, of course. But guess what? The documentary was taken seriously. It was nominated for an Oscar. Yes, for an Oscar. At a time when China was still a great unknown, it helped sell many Americans on a massive lie about the reality of life there.

In 1979, the Cultural Revolution finally having ended, China’s new leader, Deng Xiaoping, visited the United States at the invitation of President Carter. At a state dinner, Deng was seated near Shirley MacLaine, who, according to one report, 

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Buddhist statues being burned during the Cultural Revolution

gushed that she had visited China during the Cultural Revolution and that everything had been wonderful. She was particularly struck by a professor who told her how grateful he was that the party had decided to send him and his fellow academics to the countryside. Deng looked at her scornfully and said that “he was lying.” Professors should be teaching university classes not planting vegetables.

Deng, eager to put China on the road to prosperity, had no interest in preserving the disastrous fabrications and delusions of the Cultural Revolution. Meanwhile the starry-eyed Shirley, ignoring all reports to the contrary about the terrors of the Cultural Revolution, had remained in her fool’s paradise.

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Cultural treasures being burned during the Cultural Revolution

This is, needless to say, a woman who in interview after interview over the decades has presented herself as a proudly independent artist and intellectual, a thoroughgoing and defiant individualist, answerable to no person and no institution. But she had no trouble whatsoever wholeheartedly embracing the idea of a government with the power to force people out of their own beloved occupations and ship them out of the city to work on collective farms. A government that burned books and films – and executed countless artists, actors, authors, and other creative people like herself.

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Beijing rally during the Cultural Revolution

There’s no record of how MacLaine replied to Deng that evening. One thing’s for sure, however: his answer sure didn’t teach her a lesson. In the more than three decades since that state dinner, she’s continued to be a useful stooge for tyrannical regimes, promulgating cockamamie theories about international events and comparing the U.S. unfavorably to any number of unfree nations. As recently as 2011, she told an interviewer that, after World War II, the U.S. government, in cahoots with Nazi scientists, pushed a fear of Communism onto the American public in order to “keep control” over them. In other words, it’s not Communist governments that “keep control” over their subjects through terror; it’s the U.S. government that does so, by inculcating a (presumably unwarranted) terror of Communism.

She’s a useful stooge of the first water. And yet she still reaps applause everywhere she goes. Which is also the case with another star we might mention – her younger brother, Warren Beatty. How could two such ridiculous tools of totalitarianism have been born into a single family? We’ll continue pondering that question next time, when we move on to him. 

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