“Stick to [chosen profession here] and stay out of politics!” is the typical refrain when a prominent actor, musician, or other personality voices their opinion—usually a liberal one, in my experience—on a “political” issue. Out of the many problems with that sentiment, along with the fact that it’s usually only applied to opinions one disagrees with, one stands above the rest: None of us can “stay out of politics.”
“Politics” isn’t some abstract concept; it’s the unavoidable foundation of our entire world. Almost everything we do is affected by politics every day. It’s hard to have an opinion that isn’t political, and everyone has some opinions. Also, our government is not just for the people but by the people; we’re supposed to vote for our elected officials. We’re all supposed to have an opinion, and those opinions are supposed to be reflected in the way our towns, cities, states, and country are governed.
That’s why it’s so infuriating to hear people tell anyone, public figure or not, that they shouldn’t express an opinion on politics. That’s not to say it’s always advisable to do so—plenty of opinions can result in backlash, warranted or not, but issue should always be taken with the content of an opinion, not having one in the first place. Likewise, it’s perfectly fine to disagree with a celebrity or artist’s opinion and stop supporting their work as a result. It’s also fine to explain to people why you disagree with their opinion or why their opinion may be flawed, but asking them not to express an opinion in the first place is absurd.
As you might’ve guessed, this was brought on by the reaction to Meryl Streep speaking her mind at the Golden Globes on Sunday night. While the knee-jerk reaction has been strong from supporters of Donald Trump, who she criticized during her Cecil B. DeMille award acceptance speech, and other conservatives, what is it that they’re really objecting to?
Here’s an itemized list of the content of Streep’s speech, in order:
-She opened with a joke about negative sentiment towards Hollywood, foreigners, and the press.
… Does anyone really not think those negative sentiments exist? Streep hadn’t even mentioned Donald Trump by name at this point, but one of his favorite topics is the “dishonest media,” his supporters are doing a great job of showing their animosity towards “Hollywood” in reaction to Streep’s speech, and Trump ran a campaign on building a wall on the Mexican border and banning Muslims from entering the country.
There’s also been a lot of anti-refugee sentiment floating around America lately, along with false assertions that refugees are barely vetted. Also, this is a joke that highlights some common negative sentiments in our society that exist whether or not anyone feels they apply to a specific person, party, or policy. If you think anti-“foreigner” sentiment, for instance, is bad and don’t want it ascribed to you, congratulations! You agree with Meryl Streep.
-She pointed out diversity of people’s backgrounds in Hollywood.
She’s just stating facts about artists in Hollywood to point out that they aren’t some homogenous monolith in a “liberal elite bubble.”
-She made a joke about foreign actor’s birth certificates as a way to highlight the ridiculousness of the “birther” movement.
The “birther” movement was and is indefensible, and Donald Trump’s assertion that he solved the nonexistent problem as opposed to stoked the fires was absurd.
-She joked that, without Hollywood and its artists, we’d only have football and mixed martial arts to watch.
I used to teach Tae Kwon Do for a living. I love martial arts. Streep’s comment that football and MMA are not part of “the arts” was just a bit of wordplay. To object to this joke is to assert that it would be fine if “the arts” disappeared while simultaneously being deeply offended that someone doesn’t appreciate the value what you like to watch or participate in. At no point did she say, or imply, that she wants football and MMA to go away. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that football, MMA, and “the arts” are all worthy of attention.
-She said that Trump’s (the first time she mentioned him specifically) public mocking of Serge Kovaleski, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times investigative journalist who has arthrogryposis, “broke [her] heart.”
This happened, no matter how many times Donald Trump and his “surrogates” lie about it. All Streep did was express how sad it made her. Even if you somehow choose to believe Trump’s actions were misconstrued, I don’t know how you can claim not to understand how someone could’ve seen them that way and been saddened by the whole thing.
-She said disrespect invites disrespect, and violence incites violence.
This is a call for civility, with no one “side” singled out.
-She said she doesn’t want those in with power and privilege to bully people.
Another call for civility.
-She said the press has a responsibility to hold government accountable, and that we should support protection of journalists and the truth.
-She even remarked on her own privilege and the responsibility it brings to try to make the world a better place.
-She finished with a call for empathy and a tribute to Carrie Fisher.
I don’t know how anyone could possibly object to the content of that speech. We can all agree that the things Streep decried are bad. No, I won’t pretend that I don’t know who Streep believes is to blame for many of the negatives she points out, but anyone who agrees that they’re negatives (as you must if you’re upset to have them ascribed to you) has already found the common ground.
We don’t have to be divided. We can listen to each other and try to reconcile political policy with personal morals. That’s why it’s absurd to complain about Meryl Streep’s speech—because to do so, you have to ignore the content and focus solely on complaining that she expressed an opinion on anything at all.
Likewise, if you still want to, I won’t tell you not to say that Meryl Streep shouldn’t express an opinion. That’s your opinion, but I believe I’ve explained why it’s a bad one, instead of just shouting over you that you shouldn’t have one at all.
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