The work of actors and writers has always been the mirror by which we see ourselves and our society.
Aristophanes, Shakespeare, Brecht, the Federal Theatre Project (a government program of the Works Progress Administration that employed 13,000 people and brought theater to more than 25 million Americans): all woven into the fabric of our understanding of the world and its political intrigue and interests.
So, those who express disappointment or outrage when actors use an awards platform to make a political statement, often declaring that it is “the wrong time and place” or “inappropriate,” are missing something fundamental. Or, perhaps, are attempting to compartmentalize something in order to maintain a comfort level that is the very antithesis of theater and its gifts to culture and society.
We watch in awe and respect as performers bare their souls to illuminate complex and difficult subjects — “Sophie’s Choice,” “The Deer Hunter, “Doubt,” “Kramer vs. Kramer,” “The Manchurian Candidate” — and who then turn and use those gifts to take us on a journey of laughter and release — “Mamma Mia,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Florence Foster Jenkins.”
Then we expect that someone capable of this genius, and responsible for delivering us to the doorstep of understanding, compassion, outrage and acceptance, should stand mute before us, and give only the most benign of thanks when being given a token of our appreciation for their gifts?
At the Golden Globes ceremony on Sunday, at which Meryl Streep was given a lifetime achievement award, she spent much of her acceptance speech talking about her dismay at the actions of President-elect Donald Trump. She said, among other things: “That’s why our founders enshrined the press and its freedoms in our Constitution.”
That’s inappropriate? That’s the “wrong thing to do”?
If you believe that — if you believe that actors or directors or singers or writers owe it to you to just shut up and entertain you — then I say this to you:
Shut up and cashier, or shut up and trade stocks, or shut up and sell insurance.
Do you see how ridiculous that sounds? Expecting someone, anyone, to stay in a little box you create for them so that you can maintain your own private zone of comfort is what you should be calling inappropriate or “the wrong thing to do.”
The expression of disappointment or anger toward Meryl Streep for saying, at a silly awards show, that “disrespect invites disrespect. Violence invites violence. And when the powerful use their power to bully others, we all lose” seems to me to be displaced. She owes you nothing after the final reel.
But if you choose to call her out for politicizing an entertainment event, then you better start crying out every time someone says “God Bless Our Troops” on the Country Music Association Awards, and remember to express your disappointment and outrage when our president-elect uses his Twitter account to slam an actor or deride a television show.
“ ... the King’s name is a tower of strength,
Which they upon the adverse faction want.”
Shakespeare, “Richard III”
Cheryl Ronning, of Minneapolis, is a producer.