Last week, Meryl Streep’s speech at the Golden Globe awards inflamed the internet. Using the occasion of her lifetime achievement award, she spoke passionately (or incoherently, depending upon your preferred news source) about foreigners, empathy, and Donald Trump. Predictable reactions rolled in. Support, of course, from the left, and condemnations from the right, from Donald Himself all the way to Iraq War veteran and wounded warrior J.R. Salzman, who tweeted a snipe at Streep for being considered brave despite not having lost an arm in Iraq. (Do women over 65 typically serve in combat?) Judges filled social media, saying that it was not Streep’s job to clog up their Golden Globe experience with a political rant. Her job is merely to entertain. All of which makes me wonder: whose job is it to protest, anyway?
The right-leaning meltdown surrounding Streep’s speech brings to mind other punishments that the conservosphere leveled at artists who dared to speak politically. They didn’t think it was the Dixie Chicks‘ job to protest fellow Texan George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, either. Boycotts against the Dixie Chicks ruined their musical career. (Perhaps Streep’s willingness to potentially tank her career to speak her conscience is a kind of bravery the political right does not perceive?) Similarly, the right howled after the Hamilton cast shared their concerns with VP-elect Mike Pence late last year. It seems that no protest coming out of the left is good enough.
Do right-leaning entertainers remember that protesting isn’t their job? Not really. Charlton Heston, Ted Nugent, Kid Rock, and Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty have all made their conservative political views widely known. And although Donald Trump thinks that protesting ought to have consequences, the gnashing of conservative teeth over the demise of good, honest family businesses that simply didn’t want to bake cakes for gay weddings has not abated.
Technically, it’s not any of these peoples’ jobs to protest. They’re all entertainers, paid for acting or singing, not to share their political opinions. Not even military personnel are paid to speak up about politics, especially considering the Uniform Code of Military Justice, with its specific limitations regarding protests by people in uniform. It’s not my job to protest, my job is to write articles and shuffle papers. Is it your job?
Technically, it is very few peoples’ job to protest even the most vile behavior by political figures. Since Trump is a draft dodger and TV star who mocks the disabled, would he be considered brave by people who criticize Meryl Streep for never having served in combat?
Whose job is it to protest, really? Surprisingly, it is some folks’ paid job. Here’s a list, by no means complete:
Astroturf campaigns on Twitter, which tweet and re-tweet propaganda to make certain views (such as anti-Muslim sentiment) or candidates (in this case, Sarah Palin) appear more popular than they really are. (2010)
Professional Blog Warriors: sock puppets hired as fake liberals to invade left-leaning sites and talk about how unhappy they are with the Democrats. (2011)
The American military developed software that spreads pro-American propaganda by pretending to be average internet users. This was a few years ago; it’s probably more effective now. (2011)
Prominent conservative radio hosts planted scripted actors among callers. “We supply voice talent to take/make your on-air calls, improvise your scenes or deliver your scripts. Using our simple online booking tool, specify the kind of voice you need, and we’ll get your the right person fast. Unless you request it, you won’t hear that same voice again for at least two months, ensuring the authenticity of your programming for avid listeners.” (2011)
Diary of an Israeli Shill: Israel uses paid shills and employs students to spread disinformation and argue political points online. (2012 and 2013, respectively)
Cable companies are astroturfing fake consumer support to end Net Neutrality, because apparently too many real people wanted it. (2014)
Pharma dollars back patient groups that oppose Medicare Part B overhaul, because of course big pharma would. (2016)
“Rent a Crowd” Company Admits Politicians Are Using Their Service – along with a photo of an implied rent-a-crowd standing cheerfully behind an implied user of their service. (2015)
And it’s not just the right, either: Hillary PAC Spends $1 Million to ‘Correct’ Commenters on Reddit and Facebook. (2016)
And it’s not just failed presidential candidates, either: Trump, already president-elect, feels the need to pack his press conferences with staff members paid to cheer and clap, and appear appropriately worshipful. (2017)
Whose job is it to protest? Countless trolls in countless basements from here to Russia and back. Paid shills hired to hijack social media to promote and direct all of our conversations in the direction of whatever entity is paying them today to do so. And no, they can’t tell us who, because confidentiality is part of their contract.
If people don’t protest the BS they see, that abandons the effort to those who are paid to mislead us. And if we sit back (or bend over) for this, we’ll get what they feel like giving us.
I don’t want that, and I don’t think you deserve it either. It’s bad for our country.
Whose job is it to protest, then? Yours. Mine. Ted Nugent’s. Meryl Streep’s. Everyone’s duty, as good citizens, is to seek out good information, inform themselves, and speak their conscience. That is supposedly one of the freedoms that people like J.R. Salzman defend with their lives and limbs. Every word we speak in defense of our rights should be an honor to those who serve and to those who have paid the price.
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