Posted in Communicating for Social Change, Role Models

Making a Difference: Meryl Streep

My daughter-in-law sent me an email this morning to tell me that my 5-year old granddaughter saw Meryl Streep on the news and said, “Grandma is on TV.” I have to admit, I grinned at this – not because I pretend to any physical resemblance to the beautiful, graceful Ms. Streep, but because I aspire to the courage and dignity with which she spoke last night at the Golden Globe Awards. I hope that is the resemblance my granddaughter saw.

The full text of Meryl Streep’s speech is available in The New York Times. It is powerful in its entirety. Still, as a person who has been coming to terms with a physical disability myself during the last year, I was most moved by this section:

But there was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good; there was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh, and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it, and I still can’t get it out of my head, because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life. And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kinda gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others we all lose.

What I really want to applaud, though, is how Meryl Streep used the platform she had to call out and counter dangerous, hateful speech by inoculating the audience against efforts to make dangerous speech seem acceptable and injecting counterspeech (Benesch, 2014; Countering dangerous speech, 2014). This is precisely how we resist the normalization of such speech.

Donald Trump’s response? More childish bullying, of course. He disparaged Meryl Streep’s competence as an actor (apparently, his hurt pride overrides 19 Academy Award nominations). It seems he really cannot resist his “instinct to humiliate.” Here’s a thought experiment. How might a mature, competent President of all the American people have responded?

References

Benesch, S. (2014, Feb. 11). Countering dangerous speech: New ideas for genocide prevention. Working Paper for U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved from http://dangerousspeech.org/resources/2014/countering-dangerous-speech-new-ideas-for-genocide-prevention

Countering dangerous speech, protecting free speech: Practical strategies to prevent genocide. (2014). Report of the 2014 Sudikoff Annual Interdisciplinary Seminar. Washington, DC: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved from http://www.ushmm.org/m/pdfs/20150512-sudikoff-report.pdf

Victor, D., & Russonello, G. (2017, Jan. 8). Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes speech. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/08/arts/television/meryl-streep-golden-globes-speech.html?_r=0

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