Generally speaking, I don’t like when celebrities preach their politics to me. I want them to stick to what I pay them for: entertaining me with their movies and their music.
On the other hand, when most of us have something important to say, we have a limited audience of friends, family, and Facebook acquaintances. Very few of us have the kind of platform with the potential to reach millions. If you are fortunate enough to have such a platform, wouldn’t it be a waste not to use it for greater good?
That’s what I believe Meryl Streep did. Rather than use her Cecil B. DeMille Award acceptance speech at the Golden Globes as an opportunity to gloat and congratulate herself, she used her moment in the spotlight to address the actions of our President-elect, a topic that concerns all of us, whether we voted for him or not. And while I am certainly no Donald Trump supporter, reading her speech for myself, I didn’t find much that was problematic about it. Unlike the tweets from Trump himself, Streep didn’t attempt to shame him, nor did she call him names. She didn’t scorn the people who voted for him.
There was one performance this year that stunned me and sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good. There was nothing good about it. But it was effective, and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter — someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back.
It kind of broke my heart when I saw it, and I still can’t get it out of my head, because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life. And this instinct, to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose. … We need the principled press to hold power to account, to call him on the carpet for every outrage.
Granted, I am biased, but I find it hard to criticize a speech that was essentially a call for empathy. Conservatives found a way, though. I was quite surprised (although I’m not sure why) that one such criticism came from Bob Waliszewski, a writer for Focus on the Family’s entertainment blog Plugged In.
Rather than use Streep’s speech as an opportunity to build a bridge of common values between the religious and the secular, Waliszewski wrote,
“Where Streep missed it by a country mile is when she somehow failed to see how hypocritical she, by virtue of being a powerful person in the entertainment industry, actually is too.”
He went on to quote a column written by Piers Morgan for The Daily Mail:
If Trump was mocking a man’s disability then I agree it was disgraceful. Let’s move to what Streep said next: ‘Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.’
At this point, I laughed out loud with incredulity. Not at the words themselves, which are laudable. No, it was at the hypocrisy.
You’d be hard-pushed to find an industry that encourages more disrespect and violence than Hollywood.
I cannot believe this needs to be pointed out to a thinking adult, but Hollywood, if it ever “encourages” violence and disrespect, does it in front of the camera, not in real life. Hollywood exists as an entertainment outlet, not necessarily a guide to life. Anyone who looks to movies for moral guidance is probably too immature to watch them.
Piers goes on to say of Hollywood,
“[It’s a] place where rich powerful people make billions of dollars by regularly pandering to the lowest common denominators of sexism, racism, homophobia and misogyny. And happily exploit ever more hideous, graphic violence to make a fast, easy buck.”
What does any of that have to do with Donald Trump? Is Morgan — and Waliszewski, by extension — unaware that Hollywood creates fiction? The sexism, racism, homophobia, and misogyny on-screen, when it exists, serves a plot purpose, nothing more, and it’s acted out by consenting adults who are being paid for their roles. Donald Trump mocked a real person with real feelings out of spite; he wasn’t acting out a role with lines that were written for him. Donald Trump bragged about assaulting real women, not actresses who chose to portray victims of assault on screen.
But it doesn’t surprise me that an uber-evangelical group like Focus on the Family, founded on complementarian teachings that men are the “head” of the family, has trouble understanding consent.
Waliszewski concludes his piece by critiquing a scene from one of Streep’s movies, It’s Complicated:
“When I saw that film, I remember thinking to myself, I wonder how many people will start smoking marijuana because both Streep and Martin make it look so cool here?”
Really, Waliszewski? As if movies render one incapable of making their own informed choices? As if smoking pot in a fictional setting is in any way comparable to real-life bullying, racism, and assault?
It is galling that a Christian group could find such faults in a speech that echoed the values Jesus preached in the Sermon on the Mount.
But this is coming from an organization that believes all sin is equal; that smoking pot is just as wrong as sexual violence. Talk about “missing it by a country mile.”
(Screenshot via YouTube)