By Dick Polman
Bravo, Meryl Streep. Tell it, sister.
I know that people in the arts can sometimes be insufferable, like when they all wear ribbons to signify moral superiority or when they praise each others’ “bravery.” But every great once in awhile, someone with serious creds will articulate truths that need to be said. And here in the winter of ’17, as we gird ourselves for the rocky reign of a repugnant celebrity, it is only fitting that he should be challenged on the world stage, not in anger but in sorrow, by a respected celebrity.
At Sunday night’s Golden Globes, shortly after Streep shrewdly pointed out that “Hollywood” is not an alien planet, that its performers are actually “just a bunch of people from other places” – in her words, “I was born and raised in the public schools of New Jersey. Viola (Davis) was born in a sharecropper’s cabin in South Carolina, and grew up in Central falls, Long Island. Sarah Paulson was raised by a single mom in Brooklyn. Sarah Jessica Parker was one of seven or eight kids from Ohio” – she filleted Trump with a scalpel:
A vile performance There was one performance this year that stunned me. It 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. 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.
Streep haters, unleashed Naturally, Twitter was instantly afire. Typists vented their outrage about her “presumptuous” “out of touch” “hubris,” about her “partisan” “arrogant” “elitist” “liberal privilege.” Whatever. I just wonder whether the knee-jerk critics actually listened to what she was saying. I wonder if we’ve reached the point in this country when it’s “liberal” and “out of touch” to worry aloud about the role-modeling of bullying behavior. I wonder if we’ve reached the point when it’s “partisan” and “elitist” to point out that the instinct to humiliate the powerless is just plain wrong.
There are only two choices right now. Either people speak truth to power – using whatever forums afford them the opportunity – or they go silent and, in doing so, normalize what should, by any standard of decency, be deemed unacceptable.
And the best riposte to the Streep-haters was tweeted this morning by Republican pollster Matthew Dowd: “It’s OK for President-elect to daily tweet out bashing people, but not OK for actress to speak at an awards show?”
Speaking of bashing: The man-child with the eggshell ego bestirred himself this morning and, at 6:27, thumbed on his phone that Meryl Streep, the most award-nominated actress in Hollywood, is “one of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood.” (His ire at her exceeds his concerns about the Kremlin.)
It’s safe to assume that Streep cares not a whit about his assessment of her art. And it’s safe to assume that she had no illusions that what she said would sway a single Trumpkin – certainly not in this tribalist climate. But hey, so what. Sometimes there are things that simply need to be said.
Compound jerktweets By the way, early Monday morning, Trump’s follow-up tweets insisted: “For the 100th time, I never ‘mocked’ a disabled reporter…Just more very dishonest media!” It therefore behooves us to remember, for the 100th time, that he’s inviting us to deny what we witnessed. Tagging the press as “very dishonest,” for simply recording the truth as seen by the naked eye, foreshadows all the Orwellian outbursts still to come.
And Streep had something to say about that, too:
This brings me to the press. We need the principled press to hold power to account, to call them on the carpet for every outrage. That’s why our founders enshrined the press and its freedoms in our Constitution. So I only ask the famously well-heeled Hollywood Foreign Press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting The Committee to Protect Journalists. Because we’re going to need them going forward. And they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.
Dick Polman, former political writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, blogs at www.newsworks.org, where this column originally appeared.