Meryl Streep accepted the Cecille B. De Mille award, which is given in recognition for “outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment.”, at The Golden Globe Awards.  No sensible person would seriously deny her the award, as she is widely accepted to be the greatest actor of her generation, but her controversial acceptance speech caused a great deal of debate: not to mention angry responses from Donald Trump and many Republican politicians.

If you have only watched the small grabs of the speech on the news, or social media, do yourself a favour and listen to this most eloquent and passionate speech:

Artists have a dilemna.  Beyond the discipline of their chosen art, artists invariably find themselves challenged by the purpose of their pursuit.

At a forum entitled “Examing Artist’s Role as Citizen” hosted by the Julliard School in 2009, composer and department Chair, Ed Bilous said:

“It’s clear to me that young people at Juilliard are looking for ways to connect with their audience beyond just doing a great job performing. You’ve already got that part of it down.  The question to ask ourselves should not have to do with our technical prowess, but should rather be: “How can you make alive the great and transformative power of the arts in your communities, homes, and classrooms?”

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Annette Blum, respected activist in media, politics and social action in the arts persuasively wrote in the Huffington Post this year:

“The intersection of arts and political activism are two fields defined by a shared focus of creating engagement that shifts boundaries, changes relationships and creates new paradigms. Both activist and artist work in the challenges of the unknown and the unpredictable, never truly able to determine the outcome and forever questioning if there is more to be done. This experimentation also forms the essence of what can be the engine of success and motivation towards true change whether we are immersed in a specific social cause or a global peace movement, composing an original score, sharing a story by means of carving a sculpture, or using performance to highlight a critical message. Whatever our chosen palette, the practice of understanding the importance of our own creative engagement is a source of potential change on its own, and a space where valuable insight can be found through reflection and sharing.”

Barbra Streisand, who has long been a political activist, gave a speech for the Kennedy School’s ARCO Forum some years ago entitled “Artist as Citizen” in which she took the responsibility of the ‘artist’, and the ‘right of the artist’, a step further:

“The basic task of the artist is to explore the human condition, to walk in others’ shoes…Participation in politics is a natural outgrowth of what we do. It can and should be a responsible use of celebrity. We have the ability to reach people and influence opinions.”

The question becomes who decides on what is the responsible use of celebrity to change opinion, political or otherwise?

I would argue that what Meryl Streep said in her speech was not so much a direct, partisan political statement against Trump, or his party, but a call for decency.  Perhaps that would explain why she did not use Donald Trump’s name during the speech.

Perhaps the greatest irony in this focus on Meryl Streep using her star power to influence us is the realisation that arguably Donald Trump’s greatest success came as a star of his own television show.  Did he not use his celebrity to gain the White House?  Has it not been reported that he may well be the first president to actually use the office for his own personal gain?  Who needs to be more responsible? Donald Trump or Meryl Streep?

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John Bowles
John Bowles, having started his career on Australian variety television at the age of ten, had notched up 300 hours of live national TV by the age of sixteen. As an adult he has gone on to star in many theatrical productions such as ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘Cats’. He has produced, directed and written for television but admits his favourite role is as presenter, and he relishes the opportunity to talk to interesting show business people and tell their stories.