Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Meryl Streep’s Speech

At play in the fields of Anti-Trump kitsch
Meryl Streep’s Speech

Did you see Meryl Streep’s speech at the Golden Globes Awards? They gave her a (well-deserved) award for lifetime achievement, and she took the opportunity to talk about how brave Hollywood is, “vilified” by much of the country, and what an ass Donald Trump is. Here’s her speech in toto:

Please sit down. Thank you. I love you all. You’ll have to forgive me. I’ve lost my voice in screaming and lamentation this weekend. And I have lost my mind sometime earlier this year, so I have to read.

Thank you, Hollywood Foreign Press. Just to pick up on what Hugh Laurie said: 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.

But who are we, and what is Hollywood anyway? It’s just a bunch of people from other places. I was born and raised and educated in the public schools of New Jersey. Viola was born in a sharecropper’s cabin in South Carolina, came up in Central Falls, Rhode Island; Sarah Paulson was born in Florida, raised by a single mom in Brooklyn. Sarah Jessica Parker was one of seven or eight kids in Ohio. Amy Adams was born in Vicenza, Italy. And Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem. Where are their birth certificates? And the beautiful Ruth Negga was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, raised in London — no, in Ireland I do believe, and she’s here nominated for playing a girl in small-town Virginia.

Ryan Gosling, like all of the nicest people, is Canadian, and Dev Patel was born in Kenya, raised in London, and is here playing an Indian raised in Tasmania. So Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners. And if we kick them all out you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.

They gave me three seconds to say this, so: 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. And there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that. Breathtaking, compassionate work.

But 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, 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 kinda gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others we all lose. O.K., go on with it.

O.K., this brings me to the press. We need the principled press to hold power to account, to call him on the carpet for every outrage. That’s why our founders enshrined the press and its freedoms in the 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 gonna need them going forward, and they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.

One more thing: Once, when I was standing around on the set one day, whining about something — you know we were gonna work through supper or the long hours or whatever, Tommy Lee Jones said to me, “Isn’t it such a privilege, Meryl, just to be an actor?” Yeah, it is, and we have to remind each other of the privilege and the responsibility of the act of empathy. We should all be proud of the work Hollywood honors here tonight.

As my friend, the dear departed Princess Leia, said to me once, take your broken heart, make it into art.

I don’t strongly disagree with anything Streep said in the speech, aside from her praising her own colleagues for their virtue, and the fact that Trump almost certainly did not mock a disabled reporter for his disability. For the record, I didn’t vote for Trump (or Hillary), and think he’s a pluperfect ass.

But did people really need to hear one of the world’s great actresses use time that she might have reflected on her art and her craft to instead gripe about Trump, however much he may have deserved it?  Actress Patricia Heaton didn’t think so, and tweeted:

Immediately she drew criticism on Twitter for being insufficiently woke. According to Twitter, to wish a great actress being rewarded for her great acting had used her time in the spotlight to talk about acting instead of Trump is to side with the enemy. It was astonishing how they jumped on her for this. It looks as if we are becoming a culture where if you aren’t 100 percent in favor of something, then you are ipso facto the enemy. It reminds me of Milan Kundera’s writing about “kitsch” in The Unbearable Lightness of Being:

Whenever a single political movement corners power, we find ourselves in the realm of totalitarian kitsch. When I say “totalitarian,” what I mean is that everything that infringes on kitsch must be banished for life: every display of individualism (because a deviation from the collective is a spit in the eye of the smiling brotherhood); every doubt (because anyone who starts doubting details will end by doubting life itself); all irony (because in the realm of kitsch everything must be taken quite seriously); and the mother who abandons her family or the man who prefers men to women, thereby calling into question the holy decree “Be fruitful and multiply.”

… In the realm of totalitarian kitsch, all answers are given in advance and preclude any questions. It follows, then, that the true opponent of totalitarian kitsch is the person who asks questions. A question is like a knife that slices through the stage backdrop and gives us a look at what lies hidden behind it.

Patricia Heaton offered no opinion on the content of Streep’s speech, only that she wished it had been about acting. But Heaton’s failure to immediately declare the speech brave and necessary, or whatever, revealed that there was only one possible correct stance toward Streep’s address: 100 percent whistling-and-stomping in favor. Otherwise, you empower the Enemy of the People. You might even be an Enemy of the People yourself. More Kundera:

Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass! It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch.

Two tears flowed in quick succession in that room last night. The first tear said: How nice to see Meryl Street praising us and denouncing Donald Trump. The second tear said: How nice to be moved, together with all decent-thinking people, by Meryl Streep’s praise of us and denunciation of Donald Trump. It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch.

My opinion is that Streep’s speech in this context was inappropriate. It doesn’t make me mad or anything, but it was another example of celebrity moral preening and virtue signaling. Hell, Meryl Streep could have used her Golden Globes time to appeal to all viewers to come to Jesus and buy Rod Dreher’s books, and in this context, I still would have thought it an unfortunate waste of time at best.

But me and my molto pretentioso invocation of a Mitteleuropäische postmodern novelist have nothing on this guy Nick Searcy, who got the gist of what was so irritating about the Streep speech, though:

UPDATE: From reader Alan Cross:

I guess that I just tend to focus more on content than all of the other things like setting, time, place, etc. Because of that, this is the section that really stood out to me and I hope that it is heard by everyone and applied everywhere, no matter your politics or whether you are on the Right or the Left or in between:

“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 kinda gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others we all lose.”

After a few years of battles over pizza places and photographers and wedding cakes and florists and speech on college campuses in the public square, a wise approach might be to take these words coming now from Hollywood and other bastions of the Left and say, “You know, you are right and this is what we’ve been saying. We will apply this to you if you apply it to us so we can all respect one another, get along, and not use our power to punish those who disagree with us – or with you.”

Perhaps we are at a moment where, before things get worse, we can be gracious and say that this appeal by Streep and others is fundamentally true and is worth being lived out by all of us and we should listen to it – all of us. It should be applied to those in power and those without power and through it, perhaps we can have a more civil and free society.

That was the part I focused on and I was thankful to hear it from her, as I am whenever truth comes from any source. I think that we have an opportunity here to bring peace and to forge a way forward in the culture wars that could benefit us all – if we could see it. Just a thought.

Like I said, I agree with most of what Streep said, minus the self-congratulatory Hollywood guff, but as reader Kgasmart explains in his comment, context is everything:

We are going to endure 4 (or maybe 8) years of this, “resistance” speeches from the left lamenting the “hate” of those who dare to vote inappropriately, etc.

But the question I’d ask is this:

Who was actually converted by what Streep said last night? How many laid-off workers in Ohio or Michigan actually re-thought their political position based on the emotional plea from this old liberal white woman who absolutely marinates in a privilege they will never know?

The flip side of this is Fiat’s announcement that it will invest $1 billion in Michigan and Ohio, creating 2,000 jobs. This, just after Ford announced it was scrapping plans to build a facility in Mexico and instead reinvest in Michigan.

We can argue how much Trump had to do with any of this, but the timing, at least, is very convenient for him.

And I suspect the impression that Trump did this, that his election is behind industry’s seeming sudden interest in reinvesting in America, will change **far** more minds, and votes, than anything said by Streep.



Become a Member today for a growing stake in the conservative movement.
Join here!
Join here