The hours since Meryl Streep's speech at the Golden Globes on Sunday have felt right out of a John Hughes film, with the jocks expressing outrage against the theater nerds, aka the "Hollywood elite." But those sports fans on Twitter who feel slighted by the actress's words have missed her point entirely.
In accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement, Streep noted the goal of acting -- to help us understand our common humanity. "An actor's only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like." She made an impassioned plea for empathy in a political climate that has elevated the efficacy of bullying. She brilliantly called out the president-elect for mocking a reporter with a disability onstage at a campaign event before calling on her colleagues to help protect freedom of the press so that journalists may continue to "hold power to account."
But the part of the speech that struck many, including me, was earlier, when Streep pointed out that "Hollywood" is really just a collection of talent from all over the world, stemming from all walks of life, rather than this monolithic group of "elites" who are so vilified by those catering to working-class voters. She listed the backgrounds of a diverse group of actors, hailing from everywhere from Brooklyn to Kenya, with a wink toward the overarching truth of this country's populace: We are all foreigners.
What she said afterward rubbed some sports fans the wrong way. "Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners," she said. "And if we kick them all out, you'll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts."
Many fans took Streep's comments to be dismissive of those who watch football and MMA as philistines. It's understandable, and admittedly, that was my instant reaction, too. I didn't go to a high school in which these divides existed, but the rift between the sporty kids and the artsy kids isn't just a fiction of teen movies. You don't have to look too deep into Sports Twitter to see that some of the jocks who made fun of the nerds in high school have grown up to become adult sports fans who make fun of women and gays and "feminized" men.
Similarly, there are certainly elitists among the arts community who dismiss sports as having no cultural value and those who watch them as mindless meatheads. Sarah Spain and I discussed this on her podcast in the context of fans from both industries excusing men who commit violence against women simply because they're good at their craft -- a point all too relevant during last night's ceremony, when the world had to watch Casey Affleck dismiss his sexual-harassment allegations as "noise" while accepting his Golden Globe for best actor in a motion picture, drama. (For that matter Streep and others were seen standing to applaud the 2002 Oscar win by director Roman Polanski, who fled the U.S. decades ago after being accused of raping a 13-year-old girl.)
As a classically trained musician in three instruments who has been playing in orchestras and theater pits since she was 8, I cringe every time a member of the arts community (of which I consider myself a part) dismisses the cultural significance of sports. They're not without glaring issues, but sports have historically been a vehicle for social change, for technological innovation, for acceptance of immigrants, for civil rights, for women's rights, for gay rights, for people from all walks of life coming together under a single cause, a single fandom, and seeing the humanity in one another. People on the fringes of both sides might disagree, but the truth is, the arts and sports communities have more in common than they'd have you think.
That said, while Streep's comments might have struck a nerve among those of us already sensitive to this artificial divide, those expressing outrage seem to be willfully ignoring the entire point of her statement -- that sports, quite simply, are not the arts. That last part got obscured by premature applause, but it was there for anyone who wanted to listen, and it seems a lot of fans are choosing not to hear it.
But even if UFC president Dana White and others want to paint her as an "uppity, 80-year-old lady" who thinks herself above the indignity of sports, that's simply not true. Here's Streep in 2015 attending her first NBA game with 50 Cent and hanging out with Kobe Bryant afterward. (If it makes Streep feel any better, people constantly accuse me of hating sports when I criticize them in my writing. Never mind that I've literally centered my career on them.)
And to the broader assumption that "Hollywood doesn't 'get' football," Brad Pitt, Samuel L. Jackson, Bradley Cooper and Will Ferrell are just four of the many actors who are superfans and might disagree. Furthermore, I wonder what Kate and Rooney Mara and Terry Crews have to say about that. And just for fun, here's a photo of Jon Hamm in his football uniform in high school, where he was a linebacker:
— Mark Dalton (@CardsMarkD) June 6, 2016
The point is that while naming the country's most popular sport wasn't a great tactic to dispel notions of elitism, and while MMA, a sport that boasts a significant number of foreign athletes, was perhaps not the best example when making a point about diversity and immigration, those condemning Streep are choosing to die on this hill.
Here's what I'd like to ask those people: Exactly how does Meryl Streep pose any kind of a concrete threat to your sports or your fandom? It's probably among the least controversial -- not to mention the least consequential -- statements to make that football isn't art and that art is important. Mind you, that statement is in no way quantitative; she's not saying that football isn't art and therefore isn't as important. But at a time in which school budgets continue to slash arts and music education while athletic department budgets continue to boom and the highest-paid public employees in 39 states continue to be college coaches, it's clear that, as a society, we highly prioritize one over the other.
With the business of football and sports thriving, those who take issue with Streep trying to elevate arts into anywhere close to the same stratosphere are akin to those who equate even the smallest gains made by minorities and women as "oppression" of white men.
I promise you, Roger Goodell and John Mara and certainly Robert Kraft aren't losing any sleep over anything Meryl Streep said last night, and neither should you. Quite frankly, if more people received proper arts education, perhaps they would've chosen to see her point.