Check your actor privilege, Meryl
What is there to say about Meryl Streep’s speech at yesterday’s Golden Globes that hasn’t been said by someone else already? Probably nothing, but bear with me anyway. One of the old definitions of irony is a literary technique first used by ancient Greek dramatists, by which the full significance of a character’s words is clear to the audience but remains unknown to the character. By that definition, Meryl’s speech was full of irony, not because she is a tragic character or an unintelligent person, but because she, like most of her friends and industry colleagues who applauded her in person or in print, remains strangely ignorant and unaware of realities outside her Hollywood bubble. So let me count the ironic ways:
1.Meryl was accepting the Cecil B DeMille award for contribution to the world of entertainment. Unlike Streep, or 90 per cent of her peers, DeMille was a hardcore Republican and a tireless fundraiser for conservative candidates and causes, once again giving a lie to the self-serving progressive furphy that great creativity and great art are somehow incompatible with centre-right views, beliefs and sensibilities.
2.As Meryl said in her speech, “an actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like”. You only had one job! By that definition, the speaker and most of the audience at the Golden Globes are absolutely hopeless at their job as actors, because they have been for decades now singularly unable to enter, empathise and understand the lives of at least half their audience and their fellow countrymen and women who don’t share their privileged liberal coastal outlook. Hollywood does not portray these people, it caricatures and mocks them. So much for “the privilege and the responsibility of the act of empathy.”
3.Again, to quote Streep, “you and all of us in this room, really, belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now. Think about it. Hollywood, foreigners, and the press.” Well, boo-effing-hoo, I say. You poor victims. You know who the most vilified segment in American society right now really is, rightly or wrongly? The Trump voters. The left never tires of telling us how the racism and prejudice are an exercise of power – white people have all the power, ergo they are racist vis-à-vis everyone else; the minorities have no power, therefore if they hate the whites it’s not racism but an understandable and justified reflection of social, economic and historical realities. So be consistent, dear left; Hollywood and the press are the institutions of immense wealth, power and influence, and you think that you are victims of vilification by the people who live in trailer parks in Mid-west and juggle three cleaning jobs to keep heads above water? Please.
4.It is the “middle America”, the people of the Flyover Country; the Rustbelt, the Mid-west, the South, that Hollywood and the press have been vilifying for decades, shitting from their Olympian heights of Beverly Hills and Midtown high-rises on the common people and everything they value and hold dear: religion, patriotism, small town values, hard work and enterprise, tradition and community.
5.As for the vilified foreigners, Streep spent a few paragraphs of her speech illustrating how wonderfully cosmopolitan and multicultural her audience was. And good on you all. But once again you seem not to realise that people don’t really care that Ryan Gosling is Canadian or Natalie Portman an Israeli. For that matter, most people actually don’t care about “foreigners” per se. What they might care about, however, are foreigners who enter their country illegally and/or take advantage of welfare and social services, take scarce jobs and drive down wages, and commit crimes; you know, like my countryman Roman Polanski, whom Meryl cheers on. So contrary to Streep’s strawman – “Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners. If you kick ‘em all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts” – and putting aside the fact how insulting it is to everyone in America on so many different levels, no one wants to kick out the foreigners from Hollywood. As long as they continue to be law-abiding and productive taxpayers and contributors, they can do whatever the hell they want, including enjoying the hard-won freedom to insult, patronise and vilify half the country they live and work in. Hard-won not by Hollywood, that is, but by the ancestors of those very people insulted, patronised and vilified.