I’m not sure it rises to the level of a confession, but I’ll freely make the admission that I’ve always had a problem telling John Lewis and Elijah Cummings apart.
If you don’t follow the national news as obsessively as some of us do, you might not know that the two are congressmen, Lewis from Georgia, Cummings from Maryland. Both are black, bald, slightly plump older men who, at least to my eyes look enough enough alike to pass into has-anyone-ever seen-them-together-in-the-same-room territory.
Upon doing a little research, I was surprised to learn that Lewis is in fact 11 years older than Cummings, but both have enough years on me that I feel comfortable calling both “older.”
I also found enough photos of the two together to confirm that they are not the same person.
Further, I found I’m far from the only person who has a problem differentiating the two.
A couple of years ago, CNN used a picture of Cummings on the air to represent Lewis and later had to correct themselves. While this is embarrassing on multiple levels, it was made worse by critics of the network trying to spin it as, “CNN thinks all black men look alike.”
While “all black men look alike,” would be despicably racist, I don’t think anyone would say, “Two older, bald, slightly plump black men look alike” is.
Indeed, there’s more than physical appearance at work here. Lewis and Cummings also resemble each other politically. Both are slightly liberal Democrats with a history of civil rights activism.
It’s like Orrin Hatch and Jeff Sessions. Both are conservative Republican, snowy-haired, older, pixie-faced white guys who served together for years in the Senate. It’s almost impossible not to get them confused.
Thinking further, I realize that there are numerous pairs of celebrities who, because they look alike, or sound alike, or became famous at the same time, are somewhat interchangeable. They fill the same ecological niche.
The classic example is Bill Pullman and Bill Paxton. The two may not look that much alike, but they have similar names and had parallel-enough careers that when Paxton recently passed away, I’m sure I’m not the only one who had to check to make sure which one was gone.
Renee Zellweger and Reese Witherspoon are both short, cute, blonde, vaguely southern women with similar names and similar careers.
I defy anyone to name a role played by Matt Damon that couldn’t have been done by Leonardo DiCaprio and vice-versa. The two are interchangeable.
Jennifer Chastain and Bryce Dallas Howard are both tall, attractive red-haired actresses who became famous roughly simultaneously.
Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell are growing apart, but for a long time I thought of them as doppelgangers.
The main thing that differentiates Jesse Eisenberg from Michael Cera is that Eisenberg is the older brother of the cute little girl who was in a multitude of Pepsi commercials almost 20 years ago.
It takes a great deal of effort to maintain the realization that Dylan McDermott and Dermot Mulroney are in fact two separate people and not an elaborate typo.
Sometimes the celebrity pair expands to more than just two.
I’ve enjoyed movies over the years featuring Rosario Dawson, Zoe Saldana, and Thandie Newton, but I’m never entirely confident as to which one I’m watching.
The same can be said for Javier Bardem, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Benicio Del Toro.
Probably the ultimate expression of this celebrity confusion occurred on a recent Saturday Night Live when guest host Chris Pine opened the show with a number explaining that he, Chris Pratt,
Chris Evans, and Chris Hemsworth are all different people.