First things first: I confess that I would pay money to hear Meryl Streep read the ingredients off the side of a cereal box and she could choose the accent she used. I'm a fan. However, to continue my confessions, my reaction to the Twitter storm about her Golden Globes sermon (text here) is rather mixed.
Any reader of this blog knows that I am with her when it comes to cheering for the press to play a watchdog role with the Powers That Be. I would back that argument no matter who is in the White House, not just during GOP (or whatever Citizen Donald Trump is) administrations. As a First Amendment liberal, I would also like to see her cheer for freedom of speech, freedom of association and the free exercise of religion.
But here is my main question, after reading some of the press coverage: Is Streep actually on Trump's payroll?
She could not have given a speech that helped Trump more and, perhaps, hurt the mainstream press more than the one she gave last night. As a #NeverTrump (and #NeverHillary) voter, this has nothing to do with protecting Trump. No, Streep poured more gasoline on the old Hollywood values fires, a fact explored -- kind of -- in a massive Los Angeles Times reaction package on Hollywood, values issues and Trump (and to a lesser extent, Trump voters).
What does this have to do with religion-beat coverage?
Absolutely nothing, in this case. That's bad.
You know that whole "Does Hollywood get the religion market" thing? Don't expect to read about that in this tsunami of digital ink. Maybe there is some thoughtful material in there on entertainment colliding with faith, morality and culture issues, but I couldn't find it before the Times firewall shut me down.
The key statement can be seen in one bold headline: "The notion of a liberal agenda in Hollywood is absurd." Here is the context for that statement, in an essay by Mary McNamara, complete with mandatory "blacklist era" shout out:
THERE WAS A LOT OF SOUL-SEARCHING in the weeks following Donald Trump’s election, especially among those who fill our various screens with news and entertainment. Accusations of elitism and bias among the news media quickly spilled over to Hollywood.
Long considered a bastion of pathological progressiveness and wanton liberalism (Remember the blacklist? The one not starring James Spader?), film and television were accused of obsessing too much about things like transgender rights and how many black actors got Oscar nominations and not enough worrying about the concerns of “real Americans”: Rust Belt unemployment, devotion to guns, fear of porous borders, disillusionment with government, feelings of personal alienation and a general sense of a world run amok.
And, and, and? Oh well. Whatever. Nevermind. Let's continue.
How, many wondered, could the creators and arbiters of popular culture have been so out of step with the viewers and moviegoers they serve?
The answer is they weren’t and aren’t. Because there is no notion more thoroughly absurd than that of Hollywood’s liberal agenda.
Let me stress that there is much in this Times package that is totally accurate and worth thinking about, when it comes to Hollywood stereotypes about what is strong and what is weak, what "winning" looks like in "real" life and the role of power, money and glamour in our society. In mass-media classes, I have long noted that Hollywood's primary messages are (1) You do not look like this and (b) you do not own enough of this.
The Times package does talk, some, about Hollywood and the middle and lower classes in flyover country. Dig into this and you'll find interesting thoughts on Hollywood's failure to get what is really happening in pick-up truck America. But how about people in pews and pulpits? Not so much. Maybe that was in this piece on "The Middle," which the firewall would not let me see. I mean, you know about Patricia Heaton, right?
Contrast the stories the Times team steered into this package with one of the first comments that someone in that newsroom (kudos for this candor) decided to pull into the editorial mix:
Many of my friends are faithful Christians from large families with stay-at-home mothers who do their best to shield and protect the innocence of their children from the radical forces of secularization at play in our country. We are concerned especially about pornography on the Internet and cellphones, and we want our children to develop healthy relationships with others of like mind. The Hollywood culture seems to have no role models of people that heroically try to live a life of self control and sacrifice (Obi-Wan Kenobi), and there are almost no good male role models anymore.
-- Edward Wassell, reader
But on the positive side of things, the Times team did a good job of showing how Hollywood archetypes almost certainly helped Donald "High Noon" Trump more than Hillary "Tracy Flick" Clinton.
That's the big idea in this Kenneth Turan essay: "How the movies gave us Donald Trump." You really will need to read it all, but here is a sample or two, after the standard paranoia overture:
For it turns out that the election and the choices it offered voters fit snugly into models the movies have created, archetypes infused so deeply into our culture and our way of thinking that they shape how we view the world, influencing us even if we haven't seen the films.
I don't think it's too much to say that the movies were key in creating the cultural forces that made voting for Donald Trump seem like a fine idea.
Hollywood movies and the dream-factory visions they create are so potent that they've influenced elections overseas. In 1989, when Poland held its most significant voting since World War II, the striving Solidarity party used a picture of Gary Cooper as Marshal Will Kane in "High Noon" with a ballot in his hand and the Solidarity logo on his vest as its central campaign image.
The result was a strong showing for the party and the beginning of the end for Poland's dominant Communists. That movie-inspired poster, Solidarity leader Lech Walesa said, "has become the emblem of the battle we fought together."
There's more, of course:
As far as understanding the mood of the voters headed to election day, look no further than Peter Finch's fed-up newscaster Howard Beale in Paddy Chayefsky and Sidney Lumet's prescient 1976 "Network," encouraging everyone to open their windows and scream, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore."
So who were voters in this unhappy mood going to select? On the one hand there was Hillary Clinton, immediately recognizable in Hollywood terms as the nerdy girl, the butt of innumerable jokes, the smart person no one likes who can't get the respect she deserves.
One example out of many here is Alexander Payne's "Election" and its prototypical overachiever Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), a capable student so disliked that a teacher (Matthew Broderick standing in for WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange?) is willing to go to any lengths to derail her.
On the other hand, Donald Trump's campaigning skills allowed him to pose, against all reason, as Jimmy Stewart's crusading Jefferson Smith in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," the hero who stands up against the system, who dares to speak out when others are silent, battling special interests to his last breath. The image was so seductive, and made voting for Trump emotionally appealing in a way Clinton's candidacy never managed, that a lot of voters felt no need to look any deeper.
Moving on. Stop and think about this one: Did the male-dominated Hollywood raunch of the whole "Knocked Up" and "Sausage Party" world make it easier for ordinary Americans to buy Trump's just-one-of-the-guys stance on his sexist sins? (We won't ask about Bill Clinton at this point.)
But the big idea here is solid, if flawed by what is left out: How well does Hollywood deal with real issues in the lives of real people in real America? Or, better yet, how does Hollywood deal with the ordinary issues (many of them life and death) in the lives of ordinary, statistically, Americans who live in ordinary America?
At some point, you need to deal with Saturday night and Sunday morning. The same is true with news coverage, of course, but -- dang it -- some editors just don't GET THAT.
I don't know, but religious and moral issues have to be in there somewhere or you are not dealing with reality. Of course, since when did real reality produce hits in Hollywood. Right, Citizen Trump?
Please let me know -- in the comments pages -- if the dreaded Los Angeles Times firewall blocked me from content in this package that takes seriously the morals and faith components in this discussion.