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Sean Penn Is in His ‘Old Man Yells at Cloud’ Era

A still from the Simpsons showing a newspaper article that says "Old Man Yells at Cloud," edited to show Sean Penn's face.

Sean Penn is at it again, friends, and this time, he’s back with twenty percent more a-hole-ishness! On the one hand, I imagine if I had people recording every silly thought I ever said out loud since I was 22 years old, like Penn, I might think every inside thought I had needed to become an outside thought, you know, for the people.

However, I like to think I’m not an egotistical jagoff, so it’s pretty hard to imagine a situation, even if I had been famous for the vast majority of my life, where I’d say to a reporter, on the record, the things Sean Penn blathered on about in a recent Variety article. On the other hand, let’s give credit where credit is due: Celebrities are incredibly sanitized with just about everything they say nowadays, so it’s also a little refreshing to have an out-of-touch interview come out for us to dissect and revel in. So, let’s at least acknowledge Penn’s labor before we feast on his real “old man yells at cloud” energy, shall we?

Anyway, where to begin? The interview has so many jumping-off points around things Penn is big mad about, wants changed, or is incredibly out of touch on, but I suppose we should begin with how he’s ticked off that he got arrested for physically assaulting someone and Will Smith didn’t, because it sort of encompasses all three, doesn’t it? You heard me:

The era of good feeling passes. Penn gets angry. OK, f**king furious. He ignites over the Academy’s refusal to let [Ukraine Prime Minister Volodymyr] Zelenskyy speak at the Oscars in 2022, shortly after Ukraine was invaded by Russia.

“The Oscars producer thought, ‘Oh, he’s not light-hearted enough.’ Well, guess what you got instead? Will Smith!”

OK, first and foremost, I personally love false dichotomies, and that goes double for when people get worked up over a mental framework they created out of thin air. It’s hilarious because it’s nonsensical. Anyway, Penn’s rant continued:

His face is now crimson; a vein in his neck tightens like a rope pulled taut. “I don’t know Will Smith. I met him once,” Penn says. “He seemed very nice when I met him. He was so f**king good in ‘King Richard.’” He lights another in an unchained melody of American Spirit cigarettes. “So why the f**k did you just spit on yourself and everybody else with this stupid f**king thing? Why did I go to f**king jail for what you just did? And you’re still sitting there? Why are you guys standing and applauding his worst moment as a person?”

Look, there is so much wrong with this quote; we could be here all day simply picking apart the racism, egotism, and breathtaking stupidity. (As a reminder, Penn went to jail for punching an extra on his movie Colors. He was, literally and metaphorically, punching down.) I would rather just revel in Penn’s complete and utter belief in himself and, perhaps more astounding, the sheer hubris and validity that his opinions are inherent facts. I just want to ask him: What’s it like not to hate yourself, Sean? To not second-guess every single interaction and pick it apart for signs you were anything less than proper and perfect? Then it makes me wonder if anxiety is what’s keeping me from becoming a monster, but that is too deep a thought for an article about how Sean Penn is a weirdo curmudgeon with no shame.

Penn then doubled down with the false dichotomy with this beautiful statement:

“This f**king bullshit wouldn’t have happened with Zelenskyy. Will Smith would never have left that chair to be part of stupid violence. It never would have happened.”

Penn tells me he became convinced his only choice was to destroy his Oscars. “I thought, well, f**k, you know? I’ll give them to Ukraine. They can be melted down to bullets they can shoot at the Russians.”

To this I say, Zelenskyy has presumably never met Chris Rock. Who is Sean Penn to assume he wouldn’t find a reason to slap him, too?! Sean Penn, you are not a psychic. You cannot predict what could have been.

Moving on, we all agree this is giving big egotistical Mark Wahlberg “I would have stopped September 11” vibes, right? Like, of all the outcomes that night, to Penn, there were only two (another false dichotomy, love it), and had he gotten his way, the bad thing wouldn’t have happened. I’m fairly certain that’s not how life works, but Penn is a famous millionaire, and I’m writing words on the internet for Facebook commenters to make fun of me for, so out of the two of us, who understands how the world works better?

Also, not for nothing, but Oscars are primarily made of bronze, which according to some light Googling, isn’t really appropriate for bullets, Mr. Penn, but your point is made. I think? I don’t know. You’re basically just yelling at us.

Anyway, Penn isn’t happy to just rest on all that offensiveness, he turned his ire to A.I. and, well, you just need to read this for yourself:

Aggressive pop-offs are a Penn staple and not limited to global events. I ask him his thoughts on the Hollywood strikes. He is particularly livid over the studios’ purported lust for the likenesses and voices of SAG actors for future AI use. He has an idea that he is convinced will break the logjam. It starts with Penn and a camera crew being in a room with studio heads. Penn will then offer trade: “So you want my scans and voice data and all that. OK, here’s what I think is fair: I want your daughter’s, because I want to create a virtual replica of her and invite my friends over to do whatever we want in a virtual party right now. Would you please look at the camera and tell me you think that’s cool?”

You know how basically every time Bill Maher opens his mouth and says something, all the conservatives start screaming about how the liberals need to cancel Maher, and we, the liberals, collectively respond, “Yes. We know. We’re trying. He just won’t go away”? This is also how I feel about Sean Penn. Like, yes, A.I. is bad for art, but also, what the f*** Sean?!

Look, Penn is all in on Ukraine right now as his cause and has been boots on the ground for years making a documentary. It’s pretty remarkable. That doesn’t change the fact that he comes off like a raging self-righteous a-hole with some terrible takes in this interview. Genuinely, my only real takeaways from this entire thing are that Penn’s upcoming documentary on the war in Ukraine, Superpower, will probably be incredible and hard to watch; and that he is a man who loves a false dichotomy while trying to make his point. Just look at how he describes meeting Zelenskyy:

“It blew my mind he kept the meeting,” recalls Penn. “There were Chechen kill squads in the streets already.” Penn speaks of Zelenskyy’s poise that day in he present tense. “His brain is fully oxygenated. His eyes are clear and he’s warm. I knew I’m either going to feel nothing or I’m going to let myself love him.”

However, unfortunately, Penn is, well, still Sean Penn, and he says obnoxiously offensive things like this when trying to claim the moral high ground entirely for himself when arguing against the Western world supporting Ukraine against Russia:

“Don’t encourage these Ukrainians or support them to win this thing we all say we stand for because you might create problems for us that are nuclear,” says Penn with exasperation, paraphrasing the critic. He ushers in his second unfortunate analogy of our near three-hour conversation. “It’s saying, ‘OK, I’ll be your bitch. You want my daughter as your sex slave?’”

Who said anything about sex slaves, you weirdo!? Also, why are you so hung up on daughters, Sean Penn!? Stop!

Ultimately, Sean Penn is going to Sean Penn. As I said at the beginning of all of this, we should just be grateful there’s at least one celebrity out there willing to make an ass of themselves on full public display. It was almost 20 years ago Tom Cruise was jumping around on a couch screaming at Oprah about love, and frankly, I miss bonkers celebrity stunts like that.

(via Variety, featured image: 20th Television, Omar Marques/Getty Images, Photoshop)

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Kate Hudson (no, not that one) has been writing about pop culture and politics for five years, and is a Contributing Writer at The Mary Sue. With a deep and unwavering love of Twilight and Con Air, she absolutely understands her taste in pop culture is both wonderful and terrible at the same time. She has probably seen Cliffhanger more times than you. Team Edward 4-Eva.