Meryl has words. She has the best words. And bless her heart for dedicating a six-minute lifetime achievement speech to a body of work other than her own, and for marshalling Hollywood and fans against incitement of hatred and abuse towards the disabled.
"Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners. And if we kick 'em all out, you'll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts."
I am a sports fan, a disabled woman, and a PR person who earned a living advising corporations on how to get their message across without ruffling any feathers. And while I knew football and MMA fans would be put off by Meryl's remark, I was still surprised by how many people would argue those 30 words of her speech negated the remaining 670; and by the number of armchair activists saying she should have found a way to help the disabled without slighting a group of primarily privileged, able-bodied people.
It's ironic fans of sports dedicated to men and women beating each other bloody have such thin skin. More so that they prove Meryl right by turning rare focus on the disabled back to themselves.
She is not a corporation charged with smoothing your feathers. She is an artist and activist.
It's perfect this occurs on the heels of an 18-year-old disabled man being tortured in an event brazenly live-streamed for the entertainment of fellow scumbags, and just months after Trump was rewarded with the presidency following his own inhumane treatment of vulnerable people.
The Rich Lady Bullied Me!
Both words have been used to characterize Meryl's comments, apparently by people who haven't been bullied or kicked in the throat with Doc Martens while classmates watched. I have to imagine people who have been assaulted because of their disability would prioritize their personal safety over their feelings about whether MMA belongs to "The Arts."
Sadly, too many people pepper sentences with 'Bully' and 'Attack' not as hyperbole, but to describe personal offence by anyone who disagrees with them, stealing progress from people actually facing these realities.
What Meryl 'Should Have' Done Differently
She is not a corporation charged with smoothing your feathers. She is an artist and activist. She does not owe anyone validation about their favourite pastimes. It is her job to make us uncomfortable and feel what it's like to be someone else.
If, after hearing her speech, you dedicated more of your able body and mind to railing against those thirty words than you did to meaningfully advocating for the safety of particularly vulnerable people, your lack of empathy only highlights how right she was to contrast the cultural impact of "The Arts" and that of televised sports.
If you have used any variation of the words, "I agree with everything she said, but she should have found a less provocative way to say it," please tell me the last time that worked for anyone. It wasn't when Hillary Clinton's emails negated her lifetime of public service and denied her a presidency, electing instead the same racist, misogynist, xenophobic hate monger Meryl was talking about -- an admitted sex offender who suggested his supporters assassinate his opponent.
The "Artist" Formerly Known as Jonathan Paul Koppenhaver
It's true sports can be inspirational, provide opportunity, and teach important lessons. Many athletes are generous philanthropists and dedicated activists. It's also true that the inaction and indifference of their bosses, contemporaries and fans have resulted in a pavlovian association between professional sports, bullying and violence.
Martial arts are their own form of art. Bruce Lee was a martial artist. He integrated martial arts into movies -- double the art! But do football and MMA contribute to society the way Meryl says the "The Arts" do?
If Meryl is wrong and televised sports encourage empathy from their audience, prove it by showing some.
Oxford defines 'art' as "The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power," and 'the arts' as "various branches of creative activity, such as painting, music, literature, and dance."
Oxford defines 'martial arts' as "various sports or skills...that originated as forms of self-defense or attack," and 'mixed martial arts' as "An extreme combat sport in which contestants are permitted to use the fighting techniques of wrestling and boxing but also those of martial arts such as kickboxing, judo, and karate."
Where is the "beauty" in fans of UFC fighter War Machine channeling their rage over his conviction for the rape, battery and attempted murder of his ex girlfriend into harassing and threatening his victim?
Instead of banishing players with histories of violent crimes (primarily against women), the NFL gives them more fame and fortune. Michael Vick tortured and killed dogs as part of his dog fighting ring but returned to football and scored a BET reality show, literally profiting from behaviour considered an indicator of one's potential to become a serial killer. "Emotionally powerful," alright. I feel rage!
It's artless when nostalgia and comfortable racism make people cling to the name 'Washington Redskins.' A corporation trying to trademark and profit from victims of genocide is apathy epitomized.
A Washington fan in the stands against the New York Giants during the first half at FedEx Field on January 1, 2017. (Photo: USA TODAY SPORTS/Brad Mills)
Hollywood is constantly and rightly under fire for not being more inclusive of minorities and honouring artists like Bill Cosby, Roman Polanski and, more recently, Casey Affleck. Meryl is but one example of many artists using and risking their position to challenge their industry and colleagues to do better. Are many NFL and UFC pros challenging their peers and employers?
What You Should Do Differently
If you're upset because people think "The Arts" contribute to an emotionally literate society in a way televised sports do not, redirect your Twitter-tantrums to your NFL and MMA heroes and their bosses. Give them incentive to change a perception they are currently A-OK with. If you're upset to the point you dismiss disabled people in an at-risk world, stop calling yourself an ally, because you're not. If Meryl is wrong and televised sports encourage empathy from their audience, prove it by showing some.
Tara K. Reed is the Toronto-born author of interactive novel Love Him Not. She uses her experience battling multiple debilitating illnesses to advocate for disability rights. www.Doorflower.com.
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