Gavin Polone on Meryl Streep's Globes Speech and How Hollywood Can Learn to Live Under Trump
The actress' passionate anti-Trump remarks revealed the uncomfortable divide between bicoastal liberals and the rest of the country, where people "not only don't own a Tesla but their nannies don't even drive their kids to their Mandarin tutor in a Prius."
"How could this man be elected president of our country?!" That's a sentiment I've noted in some form or another in recent weeks. Since you're a reader of THR, I am sure you have either had a similar thought or heard it from friends. The reason for this sustained incredulity and its accompanying painful anxiety is simple: It is difficult to understand how Donald Trump could be elected president because, Ms. or Mr. Denizen of the entertainment industry, you think of the United States as your country. The problem is you're wrong. It's their country.
Being a vegan, atheist, mostly libertarian gun owner who thinks we should have much stronger gun laws, I don't ever remember feeling culturally identified with any group in this country, much less the nation as a whole. But those with whom I regularly interact or observe in Hollywood don't seem to see themselves as being as atypical as I do; and the result is the profoundly despondent feeling they have about America. This was most evident in Meryl Streep's Golden Globes speech, where she expressed her having "lost [her] mind sometime earlier this year" over the election. Given the tone of her speech, she was saying that it is incomprehensible that "we" (meaning herself and the rest of us Americans) should find ourselves in this woeful predicament. It also was clear, when she highlighted her public school upbringing in New Jersey, that she sees herself as a regular, average Josephine. Which is true, if you ignore that she grew up in an upper-middle-class home, her mother was an artist, she went to Vassar, got a master's degree from Yale and has been a rich celebrity for the last 40 years. As further evidence of her everywomanhood, she took a swipe at football and mixed martial arts, garnering applause. Because us regular Americans hate football, right?
Given our system of representative democracy, it is the majority that rules (taking into account the vagaries of the Electoral College, of course). And the truth is that the majority has a different perspective on culture and society than Meryl, me and probably you. The average American is white (77.1 percent), not a college graduate (68.8 percent), Christian (70.6 percent), prays daily (55 percent), attends a religious service weekly (35 percent), and believes that either God guided the evolution of the species (31 percent) or that humans were created in their present form without evolution (42 percent). More importantly, the median family income in the U.S. is $56,516. The average household income for readers of this publication is $416,000. So, when we are talking about the majority in this country, we are referring to people who not only don't own a Tesla but their nannies don't even drive their kids to their Mandarin tutor in a Prius.
How many of your peers attend church regularly? (No, Hot Yoga doesn't count.) How many don't have a bachelor's degree? How many make under $100,000 a year? How many voted for Trump? My answers to those questions would be one, zero, zero and zero. The point is that we in entertainment live inside a giant cake dome. But more important than the differences in culture and values is that most Americans feel financially vulnerable in ways we do not. They have not participated in the economic expansion of the past six years in the way the elites have. While they may care about the environment, the rights of those living a nontraditional lifestyle and poverty in other countries, those issues are obscured by the desire to improve their own standard of living.
During the primaries, there were two candidates who addressed the foremost concerns of the majority (84 percent listed the economy as their No. 1 issue): Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. The public voted for that message and against the perception that Clinton was aligned with the system-riggers, the New York bankers and the Hollywood fundraisers. That's it. They didn't vote for ogreishness, they voted for an ogre who promised them what they wanted — even though I'm pretty sure he can't deliver.
Streep is a true genius and most deserving of every honor that has been bestowed on her. But voters don't care about the political views of entertainers. If they did, Hillary's celebrity army, with George Clooney and Queen B at the vanguard, surely would have carried the day over Trump's small band led by Scott Baio and Gary Busey. As such, I am more than certain Streep's speech didn't change anyone's mind. While she was speaking, they probably were thinking, "Ugh, politics, why?" and "This show was funnier last year when the pudgy little English dude hosted it."
But I suspect Streep's choice of topic was just as much about trying to find a way to mend her "broken heart." And I get that. Not only with respect to Streep's speech but also with the actions of those who yell out their discontent at Senate hearings and on Facebook and Twitter. Still, there might be a better way to make yourself feel better that wouldn't push away those you want to draw into your way of thinking. I would suggest coming to terms with the economic and social differences between us in the entertainment community and those who live between the coasts. Maybe imagine that you had reason to move to Dubai for the rest of your life. You still would be able to enjoy a nice style of living, but you also would have to contend with a very different culture that doesn't subscribe to many of the same social freedoms and democratic processes that are important to you.
It's likely that you would go about your life, occasionally expressing disagreement in a respectful and understanding manner, keeping in mind that you are from a different culture with different values. You would try to effect change, where possible, without alienating your hosts. And if the change didn't come quickly, you wouldn't have a broken heart or go out of your mind; you would just accept the situation and keep trying, because, after all, it isn't your country.
Polone is a producer and a regular contributor to THR.
This story first appeared in the Jan. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.