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Hollywood And Its Politics Of Hypocrisy

How do we reconcile the disgusting tolerance of rape and sexual violence in Hollywood with the disgust prompted by ideological differences?

13/01/2017 04:58 SAST | Updated 13/01/2017 04:58 SAST
Mario Anzuoni / Reuters
Meryl Streep holds the Cecil B. DeMille Award during the 74th Annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, California, U.S., January 8, 2017.

At the Golden Globe Awards on Sunday evening, Meryl Streep used her acceptance speech as an opportunity to speak out against soon-to-be the 45th president of the United States, Donald Trump. In the days after, she has been lauded by her fans, as well as commentators and critics for her ability to capture the essence of what so many feel about the future of the United States with Trump at the helm.

Streep claims that "all of [the industry types] in this room, really, belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now," which is a bad joke at best, and an awful misunderstanding of the kind of 'power' she, and other actors truly possess at worst. She goes on to explain that Hollywood is filled with outsiders--by which she didn't exclusively mean immigrants, but people born in other other parts of the United States. She argued that "Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners", and if all of them are kicked out, as many fear could happen once Trump takes the oath of the executive office, people will only have "football and mixed martial arts, which are not arts."

However, Trevor Noah, the host of The Daily Show, thought otherwise of Streep's anti-Trump sentiments. He criticised her hypocrisy for calling out Trump's reliance on racism and misogyny without recognising the ways in which Hollywood is invested in similarly myopic narratives. "I understand what Meryl Streep was trying to do," said Noah on his Monday show, "but here's the thing I feel like we all could learn as people. You don't have to make your point by shitting on someone else's thing." Hollywood, as he claims, is one of the biggest peddlers of problematic tropes about Islam the Middle East in particular, that feed into a specific kind of worldview lots of Americans have.

"I thought it was a little weird last night," continued Noah on his show, "that Hollywood celebrated itself for being progressive but ignored how much they reinforce negative stereotypes. Think about it: In Hollywood, Middle Easterners are almost always terrorists. Black people are gangsters and slaves. It's not like there aren't other diverse stories to tell."

What if instead of doubling-down on the disbelief the election of Trump has produced, Streep used her platform as a tremendously successful and talented actress to question the Democratic party for promoting a corrupt and thoroughly unlikable politician as the presidential nominee?

Much unlike Streep, though, Noah's intentions have been questioned by the American media for straying too far from acceptable liberal ideological standards. Media outlets like The Daily Beast, which traffic in stoking the fires of moral outrage, were quick to question his political loyalties. They described his "surprising" take on Streep's speech as "fucked up", in what is a baffling and foolish reaction to Noah's insightful dissection of the hypocrisy of Streep and Hollywood.

Moreover, It's difficult to take Streep seriously, despite the very real concerns we all should have about Trump's fitness for office, when taking into consideration that at the Academy Awards in 2003, she enthusiastically applauded the French Director Roman Polanski, who fled the United States to avoid being prosecuted for using drugs to rape an individual, stemming from an incident in 1977 involving Samantha Galley, then just 13 years old. How do we reconcile the disgusting tolerance of rape and sexual violence with the disgust prompted by ideological differences, no matter how ignorantly formulated they might be?

Streep's comments are part of a broader tradition of celebrities and other influential public figures using their respective platforms to reach wide audiences about important issues. Throughout the recent United States presidential campaign, many celebrities and public figures urged their fans to get out, register and vote in the election. This type of voting awareness campaign has become a popular refrain in American politics, gaining lots of momentum in 2004 when George W. Bush ran for re-election through such events as the Vote For Change Tour.

Although these types of promotional campaigns are important for raising awareness about voter registration, I cannot help but wonder how enthusiastic Hollywood would be spreading the word to vote if their fan bases were made up of predominantly Trump supporters in particular, and conservative voters more generally. What if instead of doubling-down on the disbelief the election of Trump has produced, Streep used her platform as a tremendously successful and talented actress to question the Democratic party for promoting a corrupt and thoroughly unlikable politician as the presidential nominee?

Perhaps those in Hollywood like Streep, who feel strongly about the political climate in the United States, should use their platforms to engage politics in more thoughtful ways. There is a marked difference between tolerating the difference of opinion, and tolerating mediocrity because it's ideologically aligned with our beliefs. Hollywood is the perfect place to start pretending we can all get along.