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Coming to the defense of Bale, Phelps Making mistakes is how people learn and grow.

Alec Baldwin wanted to thank Christian Bale on "Saturday Night Live." And well he should. As Baldwin said, he's no longer the movie star with the worst public tantrum subsequently banished to cyber-detention in TV's "tsk-tsk" land.

There's a standard disapproval process these days, whether we're talking about Christian Bale's F-word strewn meltdown at a cinematographer on the set of the next "Terminator" movie or Olympic swim monster Michael Phelps photographed bonging his way to nirvana at a party (there's always somebody somewhere to harsh your mellow -- right dude?).

Somebody lights the fuse on the Web, then it explodes all over TV and print. There can be variations in the order of the process but the end result is the same -- a viral plague of disapproval of famous behavior.

It would be nice to be terminally high-minded about the triviality of all this if the primal source of intellectual journalism in the English language weren't Richard Steele's "Tatler" founded with Joseph Addison in 1709 to do just that -- tattle on people's peccadilloes in London's coffeehouses. And too, admitted Steele, the "Tatler" was intended to tell coffeehouse chatterers "with strong zeal and weak intellect" what to think.

So the channels of infotainment tell those of us of strong zeal and weak intellect about all the celebrities deserving of our disapproval. Scarcely anyone says "boo" or "whoa! Hold on just a minute here."

So, just to give you an example of how things get slanted in TMZ-world, I'm going to offer a defense of both Bale and Phelps.

The whole Phelps thing is, in most people's private view, ridiculous. He's at the age where you're supposed to live it up a tad, especially if you've just set the Gold Medal record at the Olympics. Making mistakes is how people learn and grow. What's criminal is that the poor kid has to pursue his God-given post-adolescent right to make private mistakes in a world where cell-phone cameras are turned on him everywhere but the bathroom (and who knows what happens there?).

As for Bale, the history of American movies ever since "The Godfather" has been a kind of slowly percolating war between actors and cinematographers on film sets. Self-absorbed actors think that their creative process is all that matters and self-absorbed cinematographers can become on-set tyrants taking so much time to set up lights and such that actors feel like machines to be turned on only when everything else is ready, no matter how long that might take. It's no wonder, then, that a rehearsing actor whose concentration is blithely ruined by a heedless cinematographer might explode a little.

If you hear the tape of Bale's F-word tirade -- or read a transcript of it -- Bales' explosion was indeed excessive which is no doubt why whoever recorded it gleefully let it out into the world. The trick with losing it is to get your composure back the minute resistance stops. Bale, instead, sounds as if he's unloading on every monarchic cinematographer on every film he's ever been on who made him wait forever just to do his job -- or who ruined his best take with a camera problem etc. Bale just went on and on and on shaming and abusing the poor fellow, obliterating all possibility of apology.

If you just listen to it cold, it sounds spoiled and horrific. If you understand it in the context of film sets routinely being covert battlegrounds between actors and cinematographers over whose contribution is more important, you kind of understand where Bale was coming from -- even if someone probably should have stopped him at some point, tapped him on the shoulder and said, "uhhhh, Christian, I think you made your point."

That's why a few filmmakers (Darren Aronofsky, for one) went out of their way to say words in Bale's defense. But then in the back fence global village of "tsk tsk" and TMZ, they seldom matter.

It's more fun to agree that "these spoiled Hollywood idiots just love to rave on and on and on in a way you never could."

e-mail: jsimon@buffnews.com

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