By now, everyone knows about Meryl Streep’s magnificent Golden Globes (2017) speech. I’ve tweeted about it myself. So that’s not what this brief post is going to be about. Instead I’m going to call your attention to that snippet between the two most memorable parts of her speech: the rousing call to action to protect journalists and the Carrie Fisher quote (Streep starred in Postcards from the Edge, which was written by Fisher, so she wasn’t just hitching a ride on the ‘love-carrie’ gravy train).
Here it is.
“Once, when I was on the set one day, whining about something … Tommy Lee Jones said to me ‘isn’t it such a privilege, Meryl, just to be an actor?’
“Yeah, it is. And we have to remind each other of the privilege and the responsibility of the act of empathy.”
The audience sat in silence for a split second, as if unsure whether to applaud or not. The message, I suspect, sort of flew over their heads. So let’s break it down.
Tommy Lee Jones was bringing Meryl up short, while she was acting like a brat, by reminding her how privileged she was to be acting for a living.
As far as earning a living goes, a person could do much worse than being an actor. An actor gets to follow his or her passion, all the while being granted access to experiences other people can only dream about. And when the actor becomes a celebrity, oh the doors that open! A person in those circumstances certainly has no call to whine about missing dinner or working late once in a while, eh? And Streep got the message.
The message, of course, shouldn’t be considered as applying only to one such as her. Here in the Philippines, even actors who have not an iota of Streep’s talent and dedication to craft are routinely handed celebrity status by the star-making cabals of television/movie studios and media. And all too often, the ease with which they achieve celebrity shows in how shitty they are in real life, to real people from whom they don’t stand to gain anything other than the price of a movie ticket.
But Streep took Tommy Lee Jones’ reminder a step further. Don’t forget the responsibility, she said, of the act of empathy.
Empathy is the stock in trade of the actor. With empathy, the actor can inhabit a character; and a good actor can make the audience feel as the character does. And that ability is power. It is the power to move people to action, the power to stoke the fires of outrage or to inspire love and reconciliation.
Having that power means actors must also remember that they bear a massive responsibility to use their talent for empathy, and the celebrity conferred upon them (whether by virtue of their skill or simply because they’re the freshest face around) selflessly.
Taking off from Tommy Lee Jones’ gentle reminder to her to be more grateful, Streep sounded a clarion call to actors to get their heads out of their privileged asses, to recognize that their status gives them the power to bring positive change, and, most importantly, to use that power purposefully and for good.
Such a timely message, isn’t it?