Plea for civilised behaivour and empathy

I've always been a fan of Meryl Streep but my admiration for her went through the roof after watching the impassioned speech she made as she accepted the Cecil B De Mille Award at the Golden Globes earlier this month.

HEARTFELT:  Meryl Streep accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 74th Annual Golden Globe Awards.
HEARTFELT: Meryl Streep accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 74th Annual Golden Globe Awards.

A triumph of carefully calibrated criticism of xenophobia, bullies and bullying, without once mentioning his name Streep subtly yet unwaveringly made her feelings known about the man who today becomes one of the most powerful figures in the Western world. What Streep said contained a heartfelt plea for civilised behaviour and empathy, emphasising the role that the arts have to play in helping to support and encourage both. Needless to say, without going in to details, the response from the object of her well-served critique was characteristically infantile.

There were plenty of references by others during the ceremony to the forthcoming new reality with Hugh Laurie, for example, accepting his award for his role as ruthless narcissist businessman Richard Roper in the BBC series The Night Manager “on behalf of psychopathic billionaires everywhere”, but it was Streep who quietly, calmly confronted the issue with grace and dignity.

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As political discourse becomes increasingly divisive –and it is unlikely to become less so over the coming months and years – and a new philistinism appears to be on the rise, it is more important than ever to broadcast far and wide the importance of the arts and the vital role they play in social cohesion.

With global events presenting us with ever more distressing challenges it is no suprise that we are turning to feelgood, escapist movies for comfort. A major winner at the Golden Globes was La La Land, a joyful love letter to the old-style Hollywood musical and a sweet love story.

Although set in modern-day Los Angeles, it is bathed in a warm glow of nostalgia and it’s not hard to understand why it has captured people’s imagination so forcefully. Some critics have dismissed it as insubstantial. I disagree – yes, it is fun and heartwarming, but also philosphically quite profound. It features an incredibly poignant ‘what might have been’ sequence that will resonate with many, not only on a personal level but also as socio-political wish fulfilment. Who wouldn’t want a chance to rewrite some of our recent history?

Streep concluded her speech by tearfully quoting her great friend the much-missed Carrie Fisher as she urged her community to “take your broken heart, make it into art.” Which is quite possibly the most moving and powerful call to arms I’ve ever heard.