Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Letter to ?: A Note to My Future Wife


Today is St. Valentine’s Day, a day of all things Cupid (iconography that I find somewhat ironic considering the life and death of the real St. Valentine. See my post on the topic). I decided a couple days ago to share some of my transparent thoughts today. This is not for the sake of pity or to garner attention. I share these thoughts because I know that I am not alone in them. I know that, as much as some of us may push it down or choose to joke about it, there is a sense of loneliness that can threaten to creep upon us as the 14th approaches. Today, I share my thoughts in hopes that you will be encouraged or, at the very least, know that you are not alone. In that intent I share with you, “A Letter to ?” (pronounced “question mark”).

My Dear ?,


Hello! I hope this letter finds you well. It’s always struck me as a great irony that I have spent many a night writing to you, many a day thinking about you, and many an hour praying for and about you in light of the fact that I don’t know your name. I suppose it’s humorous that I’ve referred to you as ? for so many years. Born during a sleepover with my dear best friend many eons ago, ? serves as a placeholder for your name until I know otherwise. ?, the name after which I have pined with no name after which to pine. ?, the name for whom I have prayed many a prayer without knowing quite what to pray. ?, the simple word that sits on my heart as a reminder of a girl I have yet to meet. If you haven’t figured it out yet, you are the young woman who I will one day marry.

I’ve always found it interesting that we long for a perfect home we’ve never known. This desire will one day, for the Christian, be realized in Heaven. In a similar manner, I miss you, a girl I’ve never known. I look forward to the day when I no longer have need for a placeholder, the day when I can talk with you in person, write your name on dozens of sappy letters that I will inevitably write, and introduce you to my friends and family members. In the meantime, I wait from afar, satiating myself with the knowledge that I will one day meet you. But that waiting includes a degree of loneliness. Sure, I may not show it on the outside, or admit its details to any but those who I trust the most, but I miss you in a profound manner that I cannot quite verbalize (a few pieces of classical music come close). I do miss you, perhaps to my shame as I am learning to be satisfied with where God has me now, perhaps to my credit as I can identify and minister to those with similar feelings.

Oh, my dear ?, within your placeholder my deepest hopes and fears are bound up. I look forward to being a husband and father. I look forward to having a best friend like no other. I look forward to having someone with whom to share every facet of life, the notable and the mundane. However, I also have fears and doubts. Will you understand me? Will I ever find someone to appreciate the sometimes bizarre tidbits of intellectual trivium that captivate my imagination and spark my insatiable curiosity? Will you have the patience to tolerate my love of people and counterbalancing introversion? What will our story be like? How will we deal with the conflict and misunderstandings that inevitable arise from intimacy between two flawed human beings? I know you won’t be perfect and I am deeply aware if my own imperfections. However, even as I look forward to how God will craft our story, I fear the trials that it will invariably include.

But (I love that word! But signals a change of trajectory for a text! “But” is a plot twist word). But above all my hopes and fears, above all my dreams and desires, above my strange mutual fear and love of adventure, one truth remains at the forefront of my mind: I am not responsible for my story. This abdication of authorial authority may appear appalling for some. It, understandably, seems disempowering and the opposite of our Western ideal of existentially driven individual agency. However, to me, it is one of the most beautiful concepts of all time. Only a Perfect Penman can narrate a holy romance. God is writing our story, not me and not you. Even as I fear for the future, I remember Whom I serve.

?, I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know what trials are coming down the road, what temptations await to trip me up, what mistakes I will make. However, beyond the noise and confusion of my own mind, I have a deep and abiding trust in God. It is God who has piloted my life thus far and it is God who will continue to guide, support, and protect me. I recall the words of the most famous hymn of all, “‘tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” Even as I feel lonely and anxious on this St. Valentine’s Day, I feel great peace in being in the hands of the Father. Come what may, I know we will make it through.

My strength is weak. I dare not place my trust in it. My heart is fickle. I cannot trust it. My mind overthinks everything and jumps from topic to topic. I won’t trust it. God alone is all powerful. God alone is constant. God alone is rational. In Him will I put my trust. God died for me and you. I owe Him my life. God loves us dearly. He will not write our story awry. God is the anchor in the storm. He will help us through the trials that lay ahead.

So, ?, on this Valentine’s Day, I place my trust in God. Yes, I am still anxious and lonely. Yes, I have a lot of growing to do. Thankfully, I’m not the one with the pen. One day, ?, you might read this. One day we will look back on this letter and smile. For now, to those who are in a similar state as I, I hope this simple letter serves to encourage you. The future is exciting and scary. The present may be lonesome. The past may be painful. The only solid rock in this tempestuous temporal sea of tumultuous feelings is the Divine Writer, God almighty. Place your hopes and dreams, your anxieties and fears, your loneliness and heartaches on Him, the eternal God beyond time itself. You might even consider writing a letter to your ?.

With deep love, sincere devotion, and hope for the adventure to come, your future husband,

James Winfield Ware


“’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.”

- John Newton

Monday, February 6, 2017

Bond, Shaken not Stirred: Critical Analysis of the Opening Sequence of Spectre


For the next few weeks, I thought I would some time to reflect on storytelling. These posts will focus on the stories I love or appreciate and the artistry behind them.

James Bond is, perhaps, the most macho franchise every conceived (though, Beowulf might give it a run for its money, purely on feats of inhuman masculine strength). Its main appeals are girls, guns, gadgets, and explosions. There is, honestly, very little redeeming quality to a 007 film. I find its objectification and sexualization of women to be gratuitous and cringe-inducing. That being said, I do have a small soft spot for the franchise. I enjoy some of the plots for their espionage, car chases, and gadgets. Although I typically prefer more nuanced stories, there is something deeply satisfying about a well-timed explosion. Not explosions in excess to the point of making me no longer care about the plot, mind you. (I’m glaring at you, Man of Steel.)

Spectre and I



Keeping those factors in mind, when my dear cousin Alex invited me along to see the latest installment of the Bond franchise, Spectre, I accepted. To my pleasant surprise, I enjoyed it a great deal more than I had expected to. The sensuality was toned down by the standards of modern blockbusters (to say nothing of the Bond franchise), the film was beautifully photographed, involved a compelling plot, and a deeply enjoyable conclusion. In fact, I can say with confidence that, of the handful of Bond films I have seen, Spectre is my favorite. (Please note that I have not yet seen any of the other Daniel Craig Bond films.) It contained the big ideas and three-dimensional characters that I find absent from most of the installments of the franchise.

When I got home, I eagerly looked up reviews of this film to see if the critical response to this film had matched my first impression. To my dismay, the reviews were overwhelming negative (some reviews even sighting it as the worst James Bond film ever). While some of the criticisms were fair, I continued to hold my high esteem for Spectre. Now a year and a half removed from that initial viewing, I believe I know why Spectre fell short of so many Bond fans’ expectations. At its heart, Spectre plays far more like an Alfred Hitchcock thriller (with a few elements borrowed from his contemporaries) than a James Bond film. As an avid fan of Hitchcock (and not a huge fans of the Bond franchise) the same elements that attracted me to the film repelled its target audience.


While I am not equipped to review Spectre in night of its predecessors, nor do I have time to analyze every element I see as Hitchockian, I do wish to take a close look at Spectre’s breathtaking four-minute opening scene. I believe this scene is a masterpiece of modern filmmaking. It foreshadows the major themes of the film and introduces the cinematic elements that place it outside of usual James Bond fare. Spoilers to follow.

Before you read any further, take a minute to watch the short clip below to provide the context for my comments.


A Long Take


A long take is a single, unbroken shot that is longer than conventional shots and often features “significantcamera movement and elaborate blocking.” At first glance, this opening sequence appears to be just such a take. However, this shot is actually the clever stitching together of six separate shots in four locations on two continents. (For more information on how this was accomplished, please see this excellent article.)

While it’s disappointing that this sequence is not a single shot, this apparent long take is in the tradition of Hitchcock himself. In the 1948 film Rope, Hitchcock used creative camerawork to make it appear that it was filmed on one, unrelenting, take. He hid the transitions between reels of film by passing the camera behind suit coats and other obstacles. A very similar technique is used in Spectre. “The first shot runs up to the door of a hotel and pauses on the Day of the Dead poster. We then transitioned by rebuilding the doorway and re-projection work in Maya and Zeno [ILM’s software platform] to transition as Bond enters the doorway.” Though updated by the use of computers, poster serves the same purpose as Hitchcock’s jackets. While Hoyte van Hoytema, the cinematographer working on Spectre, may not have had Hitchcock in mind, he was building on the foundation left by the Master of Suspense.

Touch of Welles 


A film buff cannot watch the opening sequence of Spectre without thinking of the similar long take that opens Orson Welles’ 1958 film noir Touch of Evil. In fact, both scenes take place in Mexico and feature similar camera movements. As a story of corruption and the best of intentions gone terribly wrong, some of the themes of Touch of Evil are reflected in the plot of Spectre. By including a similar sequence, at least part of audience was likely to begin to make this connection.

Finally, the long take services Spectre’s plot. While Spectre features slow pacing (for a Bond film), it is an unrelenting ride as the plot slowly unfolds. This opening long take reflects this same unrelenting pace and gradually unfolding drama. The opening shot of the film puts the audience in the right mindset to enjoy the rest of the film.


"The Dead Are Alive"


Aside from the nature of this apparent long take, the content of this scene brilliantly foreshadows the major themes of the film. The scene begins with the ominous words, “the dead are alive.” Obviously, this is in reference to The Day of the Dead but, on a deeper level, Spectre is a film about the dead influencing the living. The plot is launched by the last request of Bond’s deceased commanding officer, “M.” On another, deeper level, the villain of the film is Ernst Blofeld, Bond’s supposedly deceased childhood friend. In a significant fashion, the dead are the alive-and-kicking catalysts of the plot.

Bond Unmasked 


The opening shot also features a masked cast. While this was a technical move to simplify the digital post-production of this scene, this too mirrors the plot of Spectre. Spectre is a film about disguises. No one is who they seem to be on the outside. No one can be trusted. Everyone has ulterior motives. In a very real sense, the entire cast of characters are masked.

This film is also about unmasking Bond. Bond is stripped of his safety net provided my M-16 and forced to go rogue. His mask of the righteous secret agent in His Magesty’s Secret Service is also removed by the unusually competent Bond-girl, Dr. Madeline Swann. In one powerful scene set on a train (reminding me of a similar dinner in North by Northwest), Swann asks Bond, “Why, given every other possible option, does a man choose the life of a paid assassin?” He answers, “Well, it was that or the priesthood.” However, she won’t let him retain his mask of secrecy:

Swann: I'm serious. Is this really what you want? Living in the shadows? Hunting? Being hunted? Always looking behind you? Always alone?
Bond: But I'm not alone.
Swann: Answer the question.
Bond: I'm not sure I ever had a choice. Anyway, I don't stop to think about it.
Swann: What would happen if you did?
Bond: Stop?

Swann: Yes.

Bond: I don't know.

Swann: You know, I think you're wrong…. We always have a choice.
Bond: I’ll drink to that.

This is my favorite scene in the film. In this short dialogue, Bond is stripped on his swagger and charm. He is removed from his disguise of the strong secret agent, always one step ahead of his enemies. In this short moment, James Bond is brought to the understanding that he doesn’t honestly know why he’s doing what he’s doing. In this moment, Bond is unmasked by a woman.

This is where I believe the strength of Spectre lies. Spectre is a life-changing moment for James Bond. Stripped of the support of M-16 on a rogue mission that will ultimately lead him face-to-face with his past, Bond realizes that he has a choice. He doesn’t have to keep hiding behind his mask. At the end of the film, I truly believed that Bond was different when he chose to spare Blofeld’s life, retire, and drive off into the sunset with Dr. Swann in his beautiful Aston Martin DB5.

Conclusion



Spectre features the tropes of the Bond genre, a car chase, a spy mission, a bunch of cool gadgets, funny single-letter codenames, beautiful women, Vodka martinis (shaken, not stirred), and big explosions. However, Spectre is a far deeper film. It is a film about choices, pulling on the groundwork laid by directors Hitchcock and Welles. The opening scene helps prepare the audience for this film and reflects that themes that undergird it. Spectre shakes up with Bond tropes in interesting, original ways. Perhaps this makes Spectre is a poor James Bond film but I believe that it is a better movie because of it. Spectre may be Bond, shaken, not stirred.   

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Monopoly is the Message: The Brilliance of Token Madness

 
I love toys. This is no surprise to anyone who has visited my parents’ furnace-room turned my personal study. It’s my fortress of solitude, a room where I can escape the hubbub of the rest of the home and enjoy some introverted alone time. It consists of about half books and half action figures. Both collections have been accumulating for many years and I am proud of them both. Toys have the ability to transport me back to an earlier, simpler time when I was a child and spent much of my time playing out grand interstellar adventures with my extensive collection of Star Wars action figures.

While I rarely buy new action figures, I keep up with action figure news on the website Action Figure Insider. As I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, a headline on their Facebook page caught my attention, “@Hasbro Launches Historic Worldwide Vote Asking Fans toPick All Eight #MONOPOLY Tokens.” Now, I’m not much of a gamer at all. I’ve played my handful of board games but tend to prefer intellectual conversation, engaging books, or television as forms of entertainment. Monopoly, however, is an extremely nostalgic game for me. I remember playing rounds of the Windows computer game version of the game with my brother. For my birthday one year, my dear Aunt Helen purchased Doctor Who Monopoly for me. One of the key elements to Monopoly is selecting one’s token. Each token almost takes on a personality of its own based on which one various players prefer to use. (I was always the top hat or the cannon, if you’re wondering.)

This is why the headline jumped off the page at me. “What!” I thought, “You can’t change the Monopoly tokens again! They’re iconic.” I then began to think a little deeper. This move was not arbitrary on Hasbro’s part. Clearly, they had a much deeper plan than a simple fan vote. In this article I would like to address why I believe this vote is an ingenious bit of advertising on Hasbro’s part.

1. Nostalgia Sells


If Hollywood has taught other industries anything it is that nostalgia is a currency. Last year alone we got a Star Trek, Star Wars, four Marvel movies, two DC movies, an Independence Day sequel, several movies based on children’s books, and countless other remakes, reboots, and sequels. This is not intended as a criticism of the recent trend of old ideas being reused in films. In fact, I watched and enjoyed several of the films I mentioned! I’m a sucker for nostalgia (see my description of why I collect action figures above).

Hasbro itself is no stranger to the power of nostalgia. Over the past few years they have produced films based on Transformers, G.I. Joe, and Battleship, among other properties. While the quality of these films is debatable, they were, no doubt, very lucrative for Hasbro. Nostalgia rakes in the dough. By renovating their bestselling board game (probably the bestselling board game ever, for that matter), Hasbro is hoping to monetize this sense of nostalgia.

2. Uncertainty Sells


How many of you remember when the news of Captain America’s turn to Hydra hit the news? How about Han Solo’s death? What about the death of Spider Man and the introduction of Doc Ock as the Superior Spider Man? These choices each introduced a sense of uncertainty into their respective franchises. While they could be seen as publicity stunts, they certainly sold comic books and movies. (That being said, the success of Star Wars VII had far more to do with nostalgia than uncertainty.) Even as publicity stunts, these moves certainly awakened interest in their brands.

This same type of uncertainty works for non-narrative brands. In 1985 Coca-Cola famously replaced their classic Coke flavor with The New Coke. After vocal public outcry, they brought back Coca-Cola Classic, resulting in a massive uptick in Coke’s sales. This was either the gutsiest publicity stunt in the history of food brands or a bad move that turned out very well for the brand. Regardless of whether or not it was intentional, the uncertainty in Coke’s brand paired with the nostalgia surrounding Coke resulted in huge dividends for the company.

Hasbro is playing this same kind of game. Quoted in the article, Jonathan Berkowitz, senior vice president of marketing for Hasbro Gaming said, “The MONOPOLY Token Madness Vote lets our passionate fans choose all eight tokens in the MONOPOLY game and no token – not even the Scottie dog — is safe!” This type of uncertainty can only sell more Monopoly games.

3. Personal Agency Sells  


Again, I’m pulling another example from the comic book industry. In 1988, Batman’s sidekick, Jason Todd as Robin, was remarkably unpopular. In order to gain publicity and give the fans a hand in his fate, DC held a telephone campaign and allowed fans to decide whether or not the lad would survive a brutal encounter with the Joker. After a vote 5,343 to 5,271in favor of Robin’s death, DC, true to their word, killed off the Boy Wonder. Though he would later come back to life, this remains one of the most infamous moments of personal agency on the part of the fans in comic book history.

By putting the fans directly in control of the fate of Monopoly’s tokens, Hasbro is cashing in on this came type of personal agency. This isn’t the first time Monopoly has used a fan vote to decide a monopoly piece. In 2013, fans voted on Facebook to replace the boring iron token with a much more exciting token. However, by moving this year’s vote off of Facebook and onto its own website and placing every piece up for grabs, Hasbro is only increasing fans’ control over the future of Monopoly.

4. The Icing on the Cake: The Medium as the Message


Nostalgia, uncertainty, and personal agency can only hemp to publicize Monopoly and only sell more games. However, without an appropriate medium to present this message, it would all be for naught. As communication theorist Marshall McLuhan famously noted, “themedium is the message.” That is, the medium by which you present information, in and of itself, sends a message. The information communicated by that medium is incidental. While McLuhan took a very strong position on this point, I believe that he had a valid point. The medium by which one presents a message is just as important as the message one is trying to present. Hasbro’s medium for this contest is a masterpiece of medium construction.

First of all, rather than creating a page on it’s own website, Hasbro created a spate website for voting, www.VoteMonopoly.com. This unique website lends an heir of importance to this vote. Furthermore, it makes the vote far easier to share on social media platforms.

By having a countdown on the welcome page, the vote is given a sense of urgency. This only adds to the viral quality of this vote.


The most beautiful element of this website design of the interface for voting. Rather than use a simple list with bubbles to select (what I had anticipated when I clicked on the website) the interface is a 3D flash environment. As one browses through the more than fifty token options, the user navigates around a home and upbeat music plays. This interface is borrowed, not from other online contests, but from video games. As a medium, video games communicate two ideas, personal agency and uncertainty. After all, in a game, the user is in complete control of an environment where anything (within the bounds of the game) could happen. The medium, quite literally, communicates the message of the contest.


Secondly, Hasbro’s choice of tokens within the interface communicates two ideas, relevance with the Internet generation and nostalgia with the 1930’s world that birthed Monopoly. Consider the four tokens below.  A thumbs-up emoji and a wink face emoji reflect the modern internet generation. A gramophone and a bow-tie speak to a nostalgic 1930’s world. Again, the medium expresses a sense of nostalgia. Moreover, it reaches a new demographic with internet-inspired options.




Clearly, with Monopoly’s presence on the internet with this contest and a plethora of emoji tokens, Hasbro is trying to reach my generation. In my opinion, they are doing an exemplary job. After all, I don’t play Monopoly very much at all anymore but I took the time to vote. Go bow-tie token!

Conclusion:


One of Hasbro’s assets has always been their ability to advertise brilliantly. I believe it is one of the reasons they are one of the two biggest toy manufacturers in the world. This latest campaign is brilliant. It appeals to nostalgia, uncertainty, and personal agency and does so through an ingenious interface. I will be watching the results of this contest. Moreover, I will be watching other prominent brands. It will be interesting to see if this sort of contest becomes a new norm in the world of advertising.  

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

An Unpopular Opinion: Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes Speech


            My Facebook feed has been abuzz with political news again this week. This is almost never a welcome sight. I grow weary of seeing my friends (conservative and liberal) share heavily biased news articles and misleading memes from Facebook pages like “Trump is the New Sauron” or “Clinton Deserves Death.” I see this as one of the fastest way to spread misinformation and lose friends. Even posts from my fellow conservatives have this effect on me. But the latest political debacle struck a chord that few news stories do. This controversy, I believe, hits at the heart of free speech and what it means to be a celebrity and have influence. When it comes to this case, I find myself at odds with many of those who vote similarly.

            In case you have been under a political rock for the last few days, actress Meryl Streep is in hot water for using her acceptance speech at the Golden Globes as an opportunity to comment on the importance of diversity in Hollywood, the press, and the dangers of mockery as a political tool. While I believe that some of Streep’s claims were overly sweeping, I overall find myself agreeing with what she had to say.

Any storytelling medium has an important role to play in empathy. It has the unique ability to enable us to step outside of our ordinary life and walk a mile in a stranger’s shoes. Books like Night, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and To Kill a Mockingbird have done this to great effect. Films like Schindler's List, X-Men, and even Star Wars have captured audiences hearts by honestly portraying the Holocaust, symbolically representing the disastrous effects of prejudice, and powerfully presenting the hero’s journey. Hollywood has only been strengthened by diversity. Foreign directors like Alfred Hitchcock and Fritz Lang come to mind. The answer to Hollywood is not to ban diversity but to enter the filmmaking community. If you dislike the films being produced today, make better films or support those who do. Censorship is not the answer. By the way, I don’t believe that it is fair to characterize President elect Trump as wishing to exile all immigrants nor would the American film industry implode even if he somehow managed to do just that (though, I believe that it would be a shell of what it is today.) Streep’s characterization of Trump’s policies were somewhat unfair but her underlying point remains. Hollywood (and the arts community at large) is benefitted by diversity.

In addition, I agree with Streep’s thoughts on the press. The press plays a key role in holding our elected leaders responsible for their actions and bringing corruption to light. (Whether or not the press effectively does this is another question entirely.) Freedom of the press is a very important element of the American democracy and a freedom that our Founding Fathers protected it by name in the Bill of Rights. Limiting the press by censorship or intimidation can only hurt a nation. If you disagree with a position a news source purports, argue against it. Form a well-reasoned response and object to it publically. There’s a great deal to be said for the dialectic. Again, if you dislike how the press operates today, get involved. Write op-eds. Become a journalist. Support the news sources that are relatively unbiased or, at the very least, fair in their reporting. Contribute to the discussion. Don’t degrade yourself and the conversation by resorting to mockery. Again, whether or not Trump engaged in this type of mockery may still be up for debate and I don’t care to publically take a side. However, there is something to be learned from his response to Streep. His Tweet could be characterized as an ad hominem attack. Poor move, Mr. President elect. Again, object with an argument, not an attack.

            Now that I have established why I agree with most of what Streep had to say, I want to address two major objections I’ve seen against her speech. I have seen it argued that she should not have delivered her speech because the Golden Globes was the wrong venue or that celebrities should not comment on politics.

The Wrong Venue


            I consider this to be the stronger of the two objections and it has some merit. The Golden Globes is an award ceremony for entertainers. Politics has little place there. Setting aside the fact that Streep’s speech tied into two key parts of the media (the press and film industries), I believe that this objection falls through. There is a long tradition of speeches given at what could be considered an inappropriate venue changing history.

Athenian leader Pericles used a funeral speech to spur his native Athens to keep fighting Sparta in the war that resulted in the very deaths he was commemorating. Abolitionist Frederick Douglass used an event commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence to shine a light on the plight of slaves in his powerful speech “TheMeaning of July Fourth for the Negro.” In a case that parallels Streep in many areas, author William Faulkner used his 1950 Nobel Prize acceptance speech to dramatically illuminate the changes that resulted from a post-nuclear era. In a case of, perhaps, a genuine misuse of a platform, Pastor John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg in January of 1776 delivered a stirring sermon concluding with him removing his clerical robes to reveal a Colonial uniform, inspiring many of his congregation to enlist.

My point is this: some of the most influential speeches have been delivered at venues that could be seen as inappropriate. If one is to condemn Streep for her use of her speech at The Golden Globes, it would seem that one must also condemn these speeches and many others. While there is certainly a discussion to be had as to what the proper venue is for speeches on certain topics, I would be hesitant to condemn Streep’s speech on this ground alone. While her speech certainly had much to do with politics, it tied into the media in many places and included numerous references to those attending the Golden Globes. In my opinion, Streep’s speech seemed to be decently well suited to the venue. In fact, her speech was far better suited to the Golden Globes than many of the speeches listed above.

If one wishes to condemn Streep on the grounds that her speech was inappropriate to the venue, one must first show where specifically it was inappropriate and either condemn the speeches above as equally inappropriate or show how her speech is significantly different.

Celebrities Shouldn’t Talk Politics


Another objection to Streep’s speech is that celebrities shouldn’t speak out about their political views. While not as strong as the previous objection, I believe that this objection has some grave implications that cut at the heart of free speech.
The reasoning for this objection seems to go a few ways.

1. Celebrities should not share their political views because of how many gullible people they have influence over.

2. Celebrities should not share their political views because it’s not their place in society.

3. Celebrities are too out of touch with the everyman to share their political views.

4. Their comments don’t have any real impact so they shouldn’t share their political views.

I would like to address each of these arguments in turn but first let me share why I have a problem with all of them. Every objection seems to limit political free speech to a certain group (only those who have the role of political commentary or have a small circle of influence or understand the everyman, etc.) Free speech is a right guaranteed to all US citizens by the Bill of Rights. Like Freedom of the Press, Freedom of Speech is a right so key to this nation that it is protected by name in the constitution. Yes, this right has limits (violence and indecent material are not protected by this right). However, the decent, nonviolent voicing of positions (even very strong positions) is protected under free speech. 

Once we begin to limit this right, we put ourselves at risk to be silenced. There are some positions I find vile (anti-Semitism, abortion, governmental registration of religious groups) however, I will fight to my last breath to protect the right to voice these positions. I want these positions openly voiced and discussed. With these positions available for discussion, anyone can object to and argue against these positions. That is how ideas are silenced, not by censorship but by making their abominable nature so evident that they are no longer relevant to society. As soon as we limit free speech to a specific group, our ability to combat bad ideas or even spread good ideas comes into jeopardy. This is why I want Meryl Streep and other celebrities to be able to spread their positions. I want to be able to argue for or against them (as I am doing in this article). Moreover, if I am ever in a position of influence on the scale of Streep, I want to be able to voice my positions freely. Free speech is no longer free if it becomes limited to a specific group.

Now to respond to these arguments in turn:   


1. Celebrities should not share their political views because of how many gullible people they have influence over.


This version of the argument is particularly dangerous. Who decides what a celebrity is? Am I a celebrity because I have 500 Facebook friends (some of them probably likely to at least consider a position because I hold it)? When do we silence someone? When they have 500 followers? 1000? 10,000? Yes, people are gullible but free speech assumes an informed public able to weigh ideas. I would like to think that the general public, when educated, could appropriately evaluate ideas. This, however, is not a question of the influence of speakers but quality education. I want Streep to be able to spread her ideas regardless of her influence.     

2. Celebrities should not share their political views because it’s not their place in society. 


Again, says who? Who decides what one’s role is in society? This objection seems to be most often lobbed against celebrities who use concerts or performances to spread their political ideas. If the public has a problem with this there is an easy solution, stop attending their events. Make it clear that one doesn’t appreciate the use of converts to spread ideas. This isn’t censorship, it’s the free market at work. Celebrities can still share their positions but not at concerts because tickets to those concerts won’t sell. I don’t believe this type of pressure negates free speech. Instead, it appears to be a kind of protest.  

3. Celebrities are too out of touch with the everyman to share their political views.


            This objection and the next one comes from a quote from Mark Wahlberg commenting on the Meryl Streep debacle. Again, who decides whether or not celebrities are in touch with the general public? If a celebrity is out of touch with the general public, they shouldn’t be silenced. Instead, they should be informed that they are out of touch and helped to get back in touch with the general public. Or they could just stay out of touch. I’m probably pretty out of touch with most of my generation. I don’t want this disconnect to stop me from being able to share my positions.    

4. Their comments don’t have any real impact so they shouldn’t share their political views.


            This objection borders on absurdity. Lots of people’s positions and best speeches and articles probably have little impact on others. Why does this mean they shouldn’t be free to share their positions? Since when has influence been a requirement for speaking? In addition, this objection in the case of Streep is ridiculous. Streep has caused a huge stir with her speech. Obviously, people are listening and she is having an impact.

            Each of these objections implodes. They all seem based on variations on the following phrase, “Political free speech should be open all except celebrities because_______.” This “except” is the root of the problem. Free speech is free to all. There is no “except” in the constitution. Applying an “except” to any form of free speech (with the exception of violence or indecent material as reflected by previous government rulings) has the potential to backfire. Free speech is no longer free with an “except.” I want celebrities to be able to speak freely because I want everyone to be able to express any idea. If you have a problem with an idea, use your free speech rights and object to it, don’t try to limit the ability of your opponent to speak freely. Again, there is a great deal to be said for the dialectic.

Conclusion


            When I watched Meryl Streep deliver her speech, I noticed that she was visibly shaking as she began. Clearly, this was a difficult speech to deliver. Clearly, she was nervous to deliver. I admire her willingness to share her position reasonably and eloquently. I admire the fact that she refocused the dialogue on the importance of the media and the press. While I doubt I would agree to Streep’s political opinions, I agree with much of what she had to say at the Golden Globes. I don’t believe that it was an inappropriate venue for her speech and, in fact, see it in the lineage of many influential speeches. I don’t believe that she shouldn’t talk about politics merely because she is a celebrity. I believe that any argument that limits her ability to speak on politics merely because she is a celebrity edges dangerously closely to damaging free speech, one of the most important rights guaranteed by the Bill or Rights.

            Perhaps I’m an idealist to believe that reasonable dialogue is still possible in this generation. Perhaps I’m too much of an academic to see that free speech and open discussion is impossible. I have to believe that we are still capable of honoring the hopes and dreams of our Founding Fathers reflected in the Bill or Rights. I have to believe that even celebrities can and should share their beliefs and we can and should carefully respond to them. Streep’s speech is a prime example of free speech used right. She was respectful and eloquent. Even if you disagree with her position, you owe it to her to respect her right to free speech and respond in kind. In her speech Streep said, “Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others we all lose.” I believe that it’s right. I have to also hope that reason invites reason and open discussion incites open discussion. For the sake of those rights we hold most dear, we cannot resort to fallacious objections and foolish attacks. We must model the principles of free speech modeled in the Bill of Rights. I encourage you to watch Ms. Streep’s speech and carefully consider what she’s saying. If you disagree, by all means object, but do so with reason. I would like to hope that this article models exactly the kind of reasoned dialogue for which I am pleading.   

            I conclude with a quote that has transcended it’s initial use and sums up the idea I’m attempting to communicate, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.” - Evelyn Beatrice Hall