Recently I had a conversation with someone who was quite upset about Meryl Streep’s acceptance speech at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards. He said that celebrities, artists and actors had no place making political statements. He explained that he was a Trump supporter and that now that Trump was president everybody should fall in line.
I couldn’t help but disagree with him because, as much as he’s entitled to his opinion, his opinion was wrong. His opinion was wrong because Donald Trump is a reality TV star and celebrity, and that places him in the dubious position of being in the same category and subject to the same criticism as Meryl Streep. Maybe that is what he and his supporters want? No, “The Dumpster” is trying to silence the media because it hurts his feelings. But let’s not go there.
Oh… okay… YES, let’s!
Culture vs Entertainment
The difference between the Dumpster and Meryl Streep is best defined by establishing what an artist is to culture and what an entertainer is to entertainment. We live in a pluralistic society and the Yin and Yang of our lives is best represented by this comparison. I, like many people, live on that edge between the two hoping to find a respectable balance. Call me “middle class”, even if it is only in the modern definition of the word, which, to me, is someone who is trying to be respectable and happy while working and existing in increasingly shrinking domestic circumstances.
I remember Canada back during the free trade negotiations of the early 80s. At the time I was an artistic director of a small theatre company and I found myself arguing, as many artists of the day did, about what the free trade agreement actually meant to the future of Canada’s cultural fabric.
Up until that point in history, Canada’s cultural infrastructure, like that in many western nations, contained socially responsible objectives. In order to get grants, a project had to enrich the community on some level and provide for better collective understanding. That word “collective” of course, is loaded because it suggests group thinking which is, in America, uncomfortably associated with Socialism. But, I covered that mine field in my last post.
Proponents of the free trade agreement argued that funding the arts was an unfair barrier to trade. It became apparent to many of us that the American idea of culture had been perverted to become entertainment sometime around the mid 70s when the American government started dismantling it’s arts funding infrastructure.
Whereas culture stimulates debate in the community around socially relevant issues, entertainment acts as a diversion, mostly to sell products, but also to instill a specific consumer ideology through immersive propaganda and isolationism. It is not in the interests of the free market to allow artists to present creations that may question the wisdom of materialism, greed, self aggrandizement and consumerism in general. The business world argues that government should not stand int he way of commerce because it is through commerce that jobs are created.
The Dubious Shrinkage of Government
The biggest shift to come out of the 80’s was a change in what government actually represented. I have always believed that government was there to provide a buffer between the general public and unbridled corporate advancement. Protecting the people from unfair business practices while investing in industry that could create more prosperity. As Reaganomics and Thatcherism took hold, anything that might impede the growth of capitalism was systematically ridiculed. The role of government was reduced, unionization vilified and education made less accessible.
After 40 years of Neo liberal attitudes and unregulated free market activity, we now live in an age of “symbolic annihilation”, where the issues we should be aware of, we are not aware of because the media chooses not to focus on those issues.
To acknowledge very real and potentially unmanageable problems goes against everything that the entertainment media represents. In order for the media to operate it must sell advertising to anyone who wishes to buy it, no matter how environmentally destructive or socially debilitating the product is.
The era of privatization and the shrinkage of government meant that corporations were given the right to be self regulating. We were told that the responsibility rested in the hands of the businesses creating the product to make certain that it was not detrimental to the physical or psychological welfare of the population at large.
As governments deregulated the marketplace and reduced the amount of oversight by independent organizations to maintain some degree of social responsibility, we discovered,on many occasions, that some of these corporations were simply not capable of making business decisions that were in the public interest. If anything, a good business plan is about making as much money as you can by convincing people that the product they are buying is a good one whether it is or not.
The result of this was an increase in manipulative advertising, additives to foods to make them taste better, and psychological manipulation that seemed to indicate if you didn’t have the latest and the greatest thing you were out of touch.
I was so proud of Meryl Streep for the statement that she made. An actress born in another era who maintained, with grace, dignity and determination, the values that artists stand for. I expect it is why she won that lifetime achievement award.
If I Had A Million Dollars
As to the idea that rich people shouldn’t pass comment, I offer this. As an actor I know that if I had $10 million I would do what I could to make the lives of people better, (except buy you a real green dress, because that’s cruel). Making life better for everyone around me is something I have always strived to do and, while I do what i can without money, having money would certainly go a long way to realizing some of my long term social ambitions.
Of course, I would make my own life better and provide a larger house to my family and some conveniences that we’ve never had and hope that my friends and fans could see the reason behind this. We are not excessive people and have found happiness in simplicity, mostly because we have been forced into reduction by the business society that functions around us. Business operators have incrementally removed value for labour from the market place so as to increase profits. The result is that we eat less food, live in extremely small houses, travel less and can’t really plan any further than the next day.
Actors become rich because their fans buy tickets. The fans buy tickets because they like the work. Meryl Streeps performance in “Sophie’s Choice” won her the Best Female Actor Award in 1982. When it comes to the political content of a film such as this, the artist must be on board to undertake such portrayal. To suggest an artist should just act and sing and shut up seems to defy the very nature of art itself, which is what artists pursue, by the way.
Unless you are an entertainer, then I guess staying product neutral is essential to your livelihood. It becomes okay to endorse something with your presence, directly or indirectly, that may have negative implications on society because, hey, at least YOU are getting paid, and that’s the most important thing, right? If you don’t want to listen to what the artist has to say, stop buying the tickets, stop watching the shows.
To me, art has always been the expression of the pursuit of the human condition. Life is never easy, even when you have money. I believe that the artists are here to help us try and make some sense of this mad world that surrounds us.
We are here to put things in perspective so I don’t have any intention of shutting up about what I believe any time soon.
Watch my video “Confusion” to better understand how this issue make me feel.