Twilight’s Robert Pattinson, celebrity Buddhists, and you

Twilight’s Robert Pattinson, celebrity Buddhists, and you October 5, 2012

Every day for nearly a week now there has been a new “news” story about the Twilight star Robert Pattinson – turning to Booze and Buddhism after his break-up with Kristen Stewart.

Today’s is from the examiner:

Robert Pattinson world’s sexiest man transforms from vampire to drunken Buddhist (Video)

Click on it and you’ll notice they misspelled Buddhist (as Buddist) in the original (of course I want to call him Robert Patterson for some reason…).

And from the Hollywood Hills, where apparently it’s all glamor, and no grammar:

Robert Pattinson Reportedly Gone Buddhism Over Kristen Stewart Scandal

There are many more, but the best analysis of it all comes from Rod Meade Sperry of the worst horse:


In a very short (appropriately so) post he gives two reasons to ignore the whole thing:

1. Buddhism’s precepts discourage us from engaging in gossip, as part of our efforts to maintain and model Right Speech.

2. There’s pretty much no real content there. Like, at all. I mean, maybe he is or one day will be a Buddhist, but you can’t really glean that from one alleged drunken conversation

So why repeat it all, only to say “ignore it”? Well, to be honest I probably would have ignored it if not for the worst horse post. As Rod states, there’s really nothing to see; apparently Pattinson talked at a party to a radio DJ about “booze and Buddhism” and she mentioned it  on her site and now… And secondly, yes, this does feed in to our unskillful propensities to gossip. So while I recommend seeing the worst horse’s post, I’d also suggest ignoring the others (except perhaps for noting the ever-developing story line and one-upmanship in the titles).

Well, for some scholars, this kind of thing is actually grist for the mill. Scott Mitchell of “The Buddha is My DJ” is just one such scholar. You can read an excellent recent paper from him discussing the media representation in the Tiger Woods sexual scandal (oh dear, there’s that word) here: “Christianity is for rubes; Buddhism is for actors”: U.S. media representations of Buddhism in the wake of the Tiger Woods’ scandal.

I think the Pattinson coverage is something of a miniature version of what we saw with Tiger Woods and I somewhat doubt any of the big talking heads in the media will pick up on it (though I have been surprised by the fact that it has continued, day after day, for a week now, especially, again, as there is no substance to the story). As someone interested in the development of Western Buddhism, the story itself is the story: why does an actor dropping (supposedly) the very term “Buddhism” get so much attention? If he had talked about returning to church or taking long hikes or dropping acid twice a day, I doubt it would have gathered quite this much attention.

In fact I wonder if the Buddhist-ness of the Tiger Woods scandal itself has altered the media landscape? As Scott describes, the Woods scandal began to break around Thanksgiving 2009. But it wasn’t much a religious story per se until January 3, 2010 when Brit Hume (of Fox News) said:

Whether he can recover as a person… depends on his faith. He’s said to be a Buddhist. I don’t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So my message to Tiger would be, Tiger… turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world (Hume 2010). – Mitchell p. 66

From there the discussion morphed into a conflict between liberals and conservatives, with Buddhism batted around in the middle. One interesting aspect that could be explored is how much of a role blogs played then, as well as now and in the future. The day after Hume’s comments, USA today wrote an article bolstering the idea that Buddhism is forgiving: Buddhists to Brit Hume: We forgive you.

Kyle Lovett, blogging as The Reformed Buddhistwrites [link now defunct]:

Could Hume get away with saying something like this about Jewish people or Black People or the Muslim Faith? You betcha he couldn’t. Why should he be able to skate away scott free when speaking about Buddhists?

If I remember correctly, Kyle’s remarks bounced around the media for at least a day or two and, as Danny Fisher noted, were quoted on MSNBC by Pat Buchanan. The media then found itself calling on well known young Buddhists such as Ethan Nichtern and Danny Fisher himself to discuss the scandal and Buddhism.

From the practitioner’s perspective I agree with Rod’s assessment at the worst horse. But as an academic I’m still intrigued by it, especially after reading Scott’s paper. Because as small a thing as Woods’ Buddhism was then, as now, it wasn’t his religion itself, or even the sex scandal, that threw Buddhism into the spotlight nearly two years ago: it was just one  offensive remark by one talking head. The mere mention of celebrity Buddhism in the media isn’t terribly uncommon, as in the recent cases of Bill Clinton (which I briefly wrote about) and Ed Milliband (UK’s Labour Party Leader, which I didn’t write about because it seemed so specious, but was covered here and here).

But what do you think? As blog readers, bloggers, Buddhists, etc yourselves? Do such things only play on prurient interests? Is examining media coverage of Buddhism too ‘meta’ for you (as in too far removed from any real daily concerns)? Or can understanding this play a part in your own self-understanding and practice? We are all “children of mass media” in some way, right?

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