Monday 10 December 2018

Streep loses the battle in America's class war

Cartoon by Jim Cogan
Cartoon by Jim Cogan
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

Meryl Streep and I would be on the same page as regards most of the great issues. We are about as "progressive" as people can be without actually passing ourselves out on that road to a pluralist paradise.

So it grieves me to be calling her out on her Golden Globes speech - indeed, I have noted that our side is doing a lot of "calling out" in general these days, and I don't like it, because on the whole I feel we had enough of that "calling out" vibe from the bishops.

But call out Streep I must, on this exceptional occasion, due to the egregious nature of her errors of judgement as she casually dissed "football and mixed martial arts, which are not "the Arts" - unlike "Hollywood" (which is where we find her first error: her apparent unawareness of the fact that for the most part Hollywood these days is creating little more than clumsily-drawn cartoons, with much of the art, as such, coming out of television).

Still that is the lesser offence, an understandable lapse in a room full of "Hollywood", of the Good Americans. The really worrying bit, was the almost unbelievable carelessness with which she denigrated football and mixed martial arts, which just happen to be rather popular among the denizens of that lost tribe known as "blue- collar America" - a tribe that was lost at least to Hillary Clinton in places like Wisconsin, home of the renowned Green Bay Packers, four-times winners of the Super Bowl.

There is a civil war going on in America, a war of cultures in which every nuance, every signal of your allegiance however slight, becomes a matter of some significance. And here was Streep - a person one had assumed to be deeply sophisticated, sensitive to every note - somehow letting slip the fact that she looks down on that other culture way out there beyond the mansions of Beverly Hills. Here was Streep unwittingly revealing that the conflict of America is not just about race or gender, but about class.

There were powerful responses from the head honchos of mixed martial arts, pointing out that "of course it's an art… these fighters, these men and women are so talented…saying something stupid like that is like saying… [Streep] is not a talented actress, which she is."

As for those fans of the Green Bay Packers whose support will be desperately needed to get rid of Trump in the next election - if there is a next election - the Packers were playing last Sunday and winning, so they were probably too happy to care. But we may be sure that Streep's dismissal of their great obsession will not bring them any closer to a change of heart next time the Good Americans come looking for their votes back.

How could Streep not have seen this? In crafting that speech with the exactitude she brings to all her work, how did she not realise that she was dumping on the recreations of what used to be known as the working class, that in cherishing the multi-racial nature of her own community, she was somehow letting out this horrible note of pure old-fashioned snobbery?

Indeed she was so widely praised for attacking Trump, it seems that the majority of that community to which she is so proud to belong, those Good Americans, are not seeing it either.

Which may help to explain this juvenile insistence that Clinton really "won" the election because she got more votes overall - a consoling notion, which I look forward to embracing if Liverpool come second in the Premier League, but score the most goals.

Except I would be mocked for this, whereas supposedly serious people in Good America are still clinging to such balderdash, pointing to their "win" perhaps to take their minds off all the things they have lost. To distance themselves from the fact that, if anything, their failure to win an election in which they got the most votes, merely confirms the scale of their ineptitude and their alienation from the only voters who can win it for them for real. (That would be the sort of men and women whose favoured forms of entertainment are apparently so inferior to "the Arts").

And Trump is winning here too, with the Good Americans so consumed with loathing of his grotesque character, they are forgetting the urgent need for self-loathing, the need to call themselves out for whatever they did to enable this monstrosity to happen.

I watched in awe recently as the brilliant writer Joyce Carol Oates (as Good an American as it is possible to be) exchanged tweets with other intellectuals on what they considered the hilarious topic of the ideal film director to capture the essence of Trump. "Fellini," she suggested. "Bunuel!" "Tarkovsky!" "Herzog!" came the cries.

It was straight out of some Woody Allen scene at a Manhattan dinner party with various aesthetes jousting on the great issues of "the Arts" - Fellini! Bunuel! - oblivious to the mob roaming through the streets below.

It was all the more alarming because Oates has written wonderfully about boxing and about Mike Tyson in particular, she has been in the company of the working poor.

So I would say to her, and to Meryl Streep, and to all Good Americans, enough with the Fellini and the Bunuel. Check out the Packers for a while.

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