Meryl Streep on Honor

"Yes, I am the most overrated, over-decorated and currently, I am the most over-berated actress ... of my generation," she said to laughs.

She noted that she wished she could simply stay home "and load the dishwasher" rather than take a podium to speak out - but that "the weight of all these honors" she's received in her career compelled her to speak out.

"It's terrifying to put the target on your forehead," she said. "And it sets you up for all sorts of attacks and armies of brownshirts and bots and worse, and the only way you can do it is if you feel you have to. You have to! You don't have an option. You have to."
Leaving aside the particular political questions -- including whether or not her opponents are properly described as "brownshirts" -- her remarks about honor are themselves interesting. What compels her to speak is honors, she says: in other words, just because so many people have said nice things about her or presented her with awards admiring her work as an actress, her voice in politics is important and needed in the public debate.

At first it seems as if this might be a sensible thing to say. After all, one is honored for excellence; she has received many honors; therefore, she must in some sense be excellent. Politics should in theory benefit if it draws excellence. Certainly Aristotle and Plato both argue that political roles are best filled by those with excellence. Our English word "virtue" is from the Latin, but the Greek word is arete, which really does mean "excellence."

Thus, it seems as if a woman of proven excellence really ought to play an outsized role in politics -- just as she says, the honors she has received prove that she has a greater capacity than most, and that implies a duty to exercise that capacity for the common good. Politics needs people like her.

Well... maybe that's not quite right.

The problem is that there are two different things going on, and Streep is conflating them. As an actress, she is highly honored (and has therefore outsized duties, presumably). As a citizen, however, she is properly the equal of any other citizen. It is wrong to claim that she has an outsized role to play in a sphere in which she is properly only the equal of all other American citizens, not their superior.

Her celebrity gives her a louder voice, so to speak, but she is reading her warrant the wrong way. Rather than her honors as an actress making it imperative that she speak publicly, they ought to disincline her to do so -- and this is true for all such celebrities, regardless of their political views. Knowing that the attention they will receive will drown out others to whom they ought only to be equal, they should be circumspect about their political views.

Certainly that does not mean that celebrities should not participate in politics, which they have an equal entitlement to do. They should just take care not to use the honors they have received in the fields of arts, or sports, to 'talk over' their fellow citizens. That is what honor really requires here.


Cassandra said...

One of Thomas Sowell's themes on "the anointed" is that, having achieved in one specific walk of life, they seem to feel that their narrow expertise extends to *every* area.

Unfortunately, it remains unclear how having an PhD in (for instance) psychology in any way translates to expertise on the finer points of law, foreign policy, cybersecurity, etc.

It is even less clear how a mere actress, accomplished though she may be, should possess special expertise that would make me take her opinion seriously :p Acting involves a lot of pretending.

Not sure how that translates to real world expertise on much of anything.

Cass, bored to death with testing said...

Speaking of actors/actresses:

Is anyone here watching Black Sails? (or as I like to call it, "the Piratey Goodness"?

Texan99 said...

I'll have to check out Black Sails, which I've never heard of.

Agreed about Streep: I'd love to hear what she has to say on the subject of acting. Don't need to know what she thinks about, say, electrical wiring.

Eric Blair said...

I don't care that Streep has an opinion on politics, it is, as is noted, that she's got a taller soapbox and a bigger megaphone than the rest of us.

Abuse of the position, as far as I'm concerned.

Anonymous said...

I was willing to listen to Clint Eastwood, because he had been a mayor.


Tom said...

At least with a Ph.D., the theory is that, in the process of getting it, one has learned how to learn anything. Of course, it doesn't mean one has actually made any effort to do so.

MikeD said...

I'm of two minds about it. Yes, she's got a bigger microphone than the rest of us. But it's the approval of her fans that gave her that microphone. If she wants to risk their approval by publicly speaking against a political figure, that's totally her right, and she'll be rewarded or punished by her fans accordingly (ask the Dixie Chicks about the potential consequences of their choices... except that they seemed to believe that being punished by their fans was a violation of their free speech; no one said they were particularly bright). Most folks seem upset that she spoke out against the President (which is their right to be so upset), and they want "famous people to stay out of politics". Fair enough, but how many folks who believe that were upset at Joy Villa and want her to "stay out of politics"?

For those who don't know, Joy Villa was the singer who wore this dress to the Grammys:

Now, if the standard is "famous people should shut up about politics" then it would follow that Joy Villa was equally inappropriate. But I don't actually believe that is the standard people actually want. People actually want famous people to shut up if they have bad things to say about "MY politics". And that's a whole other kettle of fish.

So I ask the Hall, were you upset that Meryl Streep used her "outsized platform" to speak on politics (in which case it follows that you're just as upset at Joy Villa) or are you upset that she used it to speak negatively of your politics. Because this is one of those "mote/beam" moments.

Oh, and for my personal opinion. I could give a rats ass what an overpaid actor has to say on anything other than acting (and I care very little for what they have to say about that), positive or negative.

Grim said...

I'm not in point of fact "upset" about either case. Streep drew my attention because she wanted to talk about honor, which is of interest to me.

As I said in the body of the post, this principle should apply to all celebrities regardless of their views. I suppose that includes even fairly minor ones, like this woman who is probably more famous for wearing the Trump dress than she ever had been as a musician.

Texan99 said...

I admit I didn't mind hearing Clint Eastwood defy expectations--not because he'd been a mayor, but because it was such an unusual message coming from Hollywood, and for once one of them agreed with me.

I thought Streep was unusually ridiculous in first affecting to feel too humble to talk about something she obviously has no expertise in, then explaining that she was compelled to do so because people had honored her acting prowess. Typical muddleheaded nonsense combined with factitious modesty. "Oh, I have a responsibility to share my pearls of wisdom, even though I'm far too virtuous simply to be exploiting the chance to focus attention on myself."

Cass said...

So I ask the Hall, were you upset that Meryl Streep used her "outsized platform" to speak on politics (in which case it follows that you're just as upset at Joy Villa) or are you upset that she used it to speak negatively of your politics. Because this is one of those "mote/beam" moments.

In general, I think it's inappropriate and rude for celebs (or anyone) to hijack awards ceremonies or other occasions, whose purpose is NOT political analysis/commentary to talk about their political beliefs.

To me, there's a difference between making a political statement on your own time, or responding to an interview question, and grandstanding during a social or other occasion having nothing to do with politics.

I'm not a Trump fan (or a Trump hater). I thought Villa's dress was an attention getting stunt that required little/nothing from anyone else. They're not stuck listening to her hijack an awards ceremony. I would put that twit who bravely sported a tiny pink anti-Trump button on a pink dress in the same category. No one had to pay attention to it unless they wanted to.

Streep's actions seem in a different category to me.

Texan99 said...

I've never minded a brief message. I'll always remember Sally Fields's quick message at some awards show or another, "God bless the very brave people of Poland," back when Solidarity was still a very iffy proposition. The lectures are tedious, and really, preserve us from celebs who ruminate at length on camera about why their role is so very important. Maybe it's important and maybe it isn't, but almost none of them has anything intelligent to say on the subject. Their skills aren't intellectual, with rare exceptions. Their main claim to being special is that they find it easy to get the cameras focused on themselves. In that way, they're actually a lot like Donald Trump.

jaed said...

So I ask the Hall, were you upset that Meryl Streep used her "outsized platform" to speak on politics (in which case it follows that you're just as upset at Joy Villa) or are you upset that she used it to speak negatively of your politics.

Joy Villa didn't attack anyone. That's one significant difference. (The slogan she put on her dress is "Make America Great Again", not "Liberals Are Idiots".)

Wearing a dress with a slogan doesn't hijack the awards ceremony the way making a political speech does. That's another.

(I could live without the slogan on the dress. It strikes me as unnecessarily provocative, as well as making the dress ugly. But then I'd feel the same way about someone wearing a Che t-shirt to an awards ceremony, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if someone's done that in the past with no one hyperventilating over it.)

Cassandra said...

I don't think famous people should "stay out of politics", any more than anyone else should.

I don't think much of performers who charge for tickets and then berate the audience for not sharing their political opinions, but if they do that, they'll have one less paying customer. It's a free country, but I think it's inappropriate and dumb.

I do think everyone (famous or not) should have some sense of situational awareness - there's a time and place for everything. In particular, saying anything inflammatory/insulting has been considered rude/boorish for as long as I've been paying attention.

I must be getting seriously old :p I would never dream of doing what Streep did (or Villa, for that matter, though I think that's different in degree from Streep's little exhibition). But then I don't hold forth about Trump or Obama at family dinners, either. Or social occasions. Or parties.


Grim said...

I'm in a worse mood about government agents than celebrities, but the same issue applies to them. I'm not suggesting they should 'stay out of politics,' but if you take a position as an employee of the state, you're not supposed to use the powers of that position to advance your partisan agenda. If you want to do that, you should run for office. Otherwise, be circumspect about staying within the lines proper to a citizen when exercising your politics.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

There is just a lot of muddle-headedness in her statements.

She has had honors, but they are not especially related to her politics or her citizenship. The people giving her these honors have not, even by implication, asked her to speak for them. Were she honored for something political it would be different. I find Michael Moore odious, but he would have a better claim to this behavior. His audience and his honors have been related to his politics. He can claim some right or even obligation to speak for them.

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have had honors. (And we all recall how they carried New England for Trump in 2016, don't we?) Would Streep think that they have an obligation to speak out politically because they have gotten sports prizes? I am suspecting not, not only because their politics are opposed to hers, but because she sees herself as one of the intelligentsia, one of the Arts & Humanities Tribe that informs all good societies more than those who are in mere trade, or the military, or sports. It may actually be some sort of noblesse oblige in her mind.

She has also confused simple criticism with danger. Brownshirts, and being a target and (oh the horror!) even bots. Will the fiends stop at nothing? There is a hint here, unrecognised by her, of "If we were doing this to you it would be to destroy you." While she may have received threats - it's possible - most of her critics are simply saying "Don't be an ass," "what the hell do you know?" "you suck as an actress anyway." Every middle-schooler endures worse at one time or another.

Tom said...

I found this bit from the All-Knowing Wikipedia amusing:

For three years in a row, Villa has worn an attention-getting outfit to the Grammy Awards:

For the 2015 Grammy Awards, she wore a see-through dress made entirely out of orange construction-fencing material, designed by Andre Soriano. The dress was called "unusual" and "a first."

For the 2016 Grammy Awards, she wore a similarly see-through dress consisting mostly of fabric spikes. The Huffington Post named it as one of its "Most Outrageous Looks From The 2016 Grammys," and E! noted it as "a show-stopper."

At the 2017 Grammy Awards, Villa wore a blue dress, again designed by Soriano, promoting President Donald Trump, featuring his campaign slogan "Make America Great Again" and the name "Trump". The publicity from the dress resulted in Villa's album I Make The Static hitting #1 among digital downloads on, and near the top of the rankings on iTunes.

Of the three, the Trump dress is by far the most tasteful.

Grim said...


She has had honors, but they are not especially related to her politics or her citizenship. The people giving her these honors have not, even by implication, asked her to speak for them.

I should point out, in fairness to Ms. Streep, that this is not altogether true. On this particular occasion she was being awarded the "National Ally for Equality Award" from the Human Rights Campaign (which is a gay rights group). Thus, she was being celebrated for her politics and contributions to citizenship, and being asked to speak for them as an "ally."

Assistant Village Idiot said...