During the Golden Globe Awards, Meryl Streep took the stage to accept a lifetime achievement award. What followed was a moving speech in favor of diversity and journalism, against bullying, and perhaps most importantly against the president-elect’s attitude.
Or in the words of MTV reporter Anne T. Donahue, “imagine you were such a fuck up that Meryl Streep used a lifetime achievement speech to tell the world how shitty you are.”
“…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,” Streep said, referencing the time Donald Trump mocked a disabled reporter. “Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”
Of course Trump, who two years ago said Streep was one of his favorite actresses, took the time to return fire.
“Meryl Streep, one of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood, doesn’t know me but attacked me last night at the Golden Globes,” he tweeted. “She is a Hillary flunky who lost big. For the 100th time, I never ‘mocked’ a disabled reporter (would never do that) but simply showed him ‘groveling’ when he totally changed a 16 year old story that he had written in order to make me look bad. Just more very dishonest media!”
Never mind that nearly everything in this tweet can be proven false or misleading. Streep has won countless awards, Clinton won the popular vote handily. There is video suggesting he did in fact mock a disabled reporter and the reporter in question did not change a story to make Trump look bad. Trump has done that himself.
Some Trump supporter comments are equally disturbing. Many still deflect back to Clinton or assert that this criticism of Trump is because his opponent lost. Some ignore the legitimate criticism that Streep brings forth. They also say that Meryl Streep, a millionaire, is out of touch with average America, yet seem to think a billionaire living in a gold-plated apartment is working in their best interest. But even worse these people who voted for a melodramatic reality TV star are telling an actress that she should shut up and just go back to entertaining them. That, they seem to assert, is her only right.
This is understating the importance of not just Meryl Streep, but acting and the arts in general. It is indeed true we need businessmen and engineers. They help provide the material goods we need to survive. But it is artistic expression that gives our world both the color and meaning we need to live. It is not simply just “entertainment.”
Acting in particular provides us temporary shelter from a turbulent world. Imagine a place without Netflix, one without movie theaters, cartoons, funny commercials or even video games. Actors are pivotal to all these things.
And yet, it also provides us a glimpse at other worlds. Take it from Jordan Yates, who affirmatively answered on Quora that some actors do indeed “make a significant contribution to society worthy of their salary and celebrity”:
“Consider how much we learn about the struggles and lives of others through that art.
I didn’t understand the pains of the AIDS epidemic before I saw Rent or read Angels in America.
I didn’t know the fear of being gay in America until I was in The Laramie Project, about Matthew Shepard.
I didn’t know well the story of our founding fathers and the lives they lead until I saw Hamilton.
That’s acting. That’s what acting can teach us. The stories we will never experience for ourselves. It opens our minds to the lives of others, the trials and tribulations that lead a person through life.
Art is the humanity that science lacks.
We need art.”
In addition to opening a window into the lives of others, actors hold up a mirror and tell society to look at itself. We need relief, yet also to be challenged. Meryl Streep simply did it via a speech instead of a movie here. This is the reason society has had actors as long as they have had scientists and statesmen. Without acting, it would only be a matter of weeks before the country became completely numb, collectively insane or both. Somehow, we would be even less empathic and more isolated.
Acting is not so simple as memorizing lines. One must utilize imagination, empathy, memorization, expression and logic to understand the motivations of their character and play them well. A good, marketable actor can learn everything their character would know and feel. These are unique skills that help fulfill our constant demand for good stories that help us make sense of the world and ourselves. Successful actors touch the lives of millions. Consequently, a select few actors earn what many erroneously consider an obscene salary.
So, just as Trump is allowed to spew nonsense on his Twitter for the world to see, so too is Meryl Streep allowed to exercise her First Amendment right on a national platform. Sure, perhaps she may have been tone-deaf in her criticism of martial arts and sports– arts and athletics are not mutually exclusive. But to try denying an actor the right to self-expression is more than just cruel. Trying to silence their unique insight into society is to attack humanity itself.