Culture

Why Meryl Streep’s Real Message Has Fallen On Deaf Ears


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People often have a view of celebrities as overprivileged and out-of-touch with the issues facing “real America.” Many regard these vocal (and often liberal) celebrities as tourists who visit the real world when they want to give their public image a boost or make their heart feel full for all the wisdom, guidance, and help they offer to the little people.

It’s not that they’re bad people, though some probably toss them into that basket as well. But while those hearts may be in the right place, their feet aren’t typically near the mud, gravel, and quicksand that a lot of people find themselves standing on. So you can understand the “outsider” label.

Meryl Streep recognized the existence of that disconnect and tried to address it when she delivered a lengthy message in defense of Hollywood, people born outside the United States, and the press — three segments of the population that have come under fire from President-elect Donald Trump and his acolytes — during the Golden Globes.

With passion, Streep rightly pointed out that “Hollywood” (like America, of course) is a cultural melting pot and that it is filled with people who do good work and put a lot of themselves into it. Hollywood liberals are people (and Americans) too, was the valid point. But that message — and everything Streep said about the concerning example Donald Trump has set and the need to resist the pull to be disrespectful, violent, or a bully in the age of Trump — likely fell on deaf ears outside of Streep’s ideological bubble. Or rather, covered ears.

I get the why. There’s a lot of noise surrounding politics on both sides. People need to apply some kind of filter so they can get informed and get on with their lives. And as politics has become a big part of how we identify ourselves individually, it makes sense that we would tune out that which smacks against our preconceived notions.

It’s also completely understandable why we retreat to our base camp bubbles and either resist supposed enemy propaganda or reflexively attack those who put us on the defensive. But digging in our heels and putting up shields isn’t working. And the results of this war, with obstructionism, publicity stunts by way of legislation, inaction, and this one-step-forward/two-steps-back cycle (where one side switches from offense to defense every eight years) aren’t really beneficial either.

Maybe we need to actually listen to each other’s ideas and allow for the possibility that our differences aren’t always as vast as they seem (negative notions that are often reinforced by politicians and the factions within the media that serve as little more than hype men and women). Maybe.

This isn’t the first time I’ve rung this bell and it’s certainly a nice thought that I truly believe in. But it’s also possible that I, a straight white male from the suburbs, sound oblivious to what’s on the line in Trump’s America for people whose circumstances haven’t made them as unintentionally disconnected from the fear that comes from having been picked on or disenfranchised. After all, how can we give destructive thoughts a fair hearing when they exist to rob so many of so much?

All I can say is that I am aware that there are bad people in this world that use our collective differences and divisions to propose and push through bad laws and policies. And I know that there are people who champion those people and those bad ideas, willfully and not. (I have a few names and examples in mind and I’m sure you do too.)

Because of this, the question about whether those people and their ideas deserve a fair hearing gives me some pause. But then this whole concept comes undone, because to some, Meryl Streep fits that bill, Hillary Clinton fits that bill, and Barack Obama fits that bill. Which is insane to me, but nevertheless true.

There is such a thing as objective fact. And there is a clear difference between those that have good intentions for the many and good intentions for the few, but I can’t say “listen to all ideas, so long as they are the ideas that I agree with.” That argument would not be persuasive to anyone outside my bubble. And breaking through those bubbles is the point and something that requires patience and exposure to all kinds of ideas — even hurtful ones.

As a consequence of this ceaseless ideological war, we mostly bash each other over the head with little positive effect. The solution, however, isn’t to stop fighting. Instead, we need to re-train our focus.

It shouldn’t be about me vs. you, or our ideas vs. their ideas. It should be about all of us vs. bullsh*t — “The War On Bullsh*t,” to borrow from Jon Stewart. And that’s the filter we should use when we decide which messages to tune out. Never mind left or right, does it sound like someone is filled with hate? Then it’s bullsh*t. Does it sound too good to be true or like it’s completely delusional? Bullsh*t. Is the message filled with hypocrisy? Then it’s bullsh*t and we should dismiss it (and the repeat offenders) and move on to more substantial ideas from both sides of the divide. Perhaps ideas that we aren’t always privy to because we’re too busy running away (with ears covered) from ideas that fall out of the mouths of those that are the political opposite of us.

Of course, this stuff is subjective too and many people will still segregate their information and the voices that they let in in the same way as before, but it does have the benefit of at least asking people to listen (to actors at an awards show, politicians, the media, and people in general) before they make up their mind. In essence, use your ears and eyes (and mouth) in concert with your heart and mind, not in place of them.

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