Sunday, February 24, 2019

Celebrities and Platform

Recently, at an awards show, Meryl Streep won a lifetime achievement award and used her time on stage to go on a, for many, cringeworthy rant against President Donald Trump.  I would add to other criticisms of her speech that a woman who implied that no great cinematic art comes from other countries is somehow worried that sports fans are philistines.  I would add in response to other people's commentary that cinephilia and award show watching do not necessarily go hand-in-hand.  Cue the conservatives saying that she should stick to acting and celebrities should shut up about politics.  Should celebrities shut up about politics and other topics unrelated to their fields?

Who among us, if we had the opportunity to be heard by millions, would necessarily refrain from promoting a cause that is dear to us or saying something controversial?  Celebrities are just doing what many or most of us would do if we had such a platform.

When people say "Celebrities should shut up, " they usually mean "Liberals should shut up."  How many of these same people love re-posting quotes from  Tim Tebow, Chuck Norris, or the Duck Dynasty family?  Heck, the Republicans just put a reality television star with no political experience in the White House.

On the other hand, when people say celebrities should speak up and be politically conscious, they usually really mean vocally liberal.  In fact, they often take it for granted that politically conscious means liberal.  If some of these celebrities who have been attacked for "staying on the sidelines" last presidential election had come out as Trump supporters, liberals might prefer they had stayed on the sidelines after all.  "You have to choose a side... Also, it better be my side."

Do people have a moral obligation to be vocally political?  I am not sure.  I think a lot of celebrities may be insecure about what they do and its value, perhaps a somewhat healthy response to the outsized praise, attention, and money they often get.  It may seem unnecessary to remind people that art and entertainment have value.  Celebrities that don't go political can be a reminder that life has more layers than partisan politics.  Also, if a rich person is already discreetly giving money to a cause, they may have less impact as a vocal supporter of said cause who has alienated their audience and thus revenue stream.  What's more valuable, one's voice or one's money?

Is America's celebrity culture shallow?  Yes.  Is it shallow that we pay outsized attention to the opinions of entertainers?  Yes, but we gave them this platform and, as I mentioned before, they are only using it the same way anyone else would.  The shallowness of celebrity adulation can, and perhaps should, even be used to serve much good.

What do these celebrities really know?  Sometimes more than we might guess.  What are the odds that the foremost authority on any given topic or cause also just happens to be an A-list entertainer?  Almost zero.  On the other hand, as much as we don't want to validate shallow celebrity culture, respect for truth means we have to grudgingly admit that these celebrities might know something from time to time.  Some have become very educated on their causes.

A lot of great art over the years has had a political viewpoint.  Art can reflect on pretty much anything.  I am amazed at how shocked people are that creators of politically-charged art would dare express a political consciousness outside of their work.  It's also weird that no one minds that a movie with an underlying political message won an award, but if someone who worked on that movie restates its thesis explicitly on an award show stage, so many are up in arms.

People's sour grapes over liberal celebrities have led to reverse-snobbery and condescending attacks on the legitimate profession of acting.  Acting is a "real job" and as legitimate as any other honest day's work that pays the bills.  On rare occasion, it can even make you incredibly rich.  If these people are out-of-touch, that probably stems more from being rich than from being actors.  When it comes to folks in the acting profession, I have met all types, including people who have made it quite far in "real" jobs.  For those who say the world doesn't need actors, you can quit watching fictional film, television, theater, etc.  For those who claim that artists have their careers at our pleasure and patronage and therefore should know their place, this could be said of any profession.  That's how a free market economy works.

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