There’s not a lot of daylight between sport and film

Meryl Streep, in her speech this weekend at the Golden Globes, struck a very odd note with her dig at professional sports, an industry that has far more in common with her vocation than she realizes.

At the 74th annual Golden Globes ceremony Sunday evening, Streep criticized President-elect Trump and his oft-repeated promise to round up and deport illegal immigrants.

“Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners. If you kick [them] all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts,” Streep said.

She added, “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. And there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that, breathtaking, passionate work.”

It’s a bit early, but Trump is likely grateful for Streep’s in-kind donation to his 2020 presidential campaign.

Beyond being politically counterproductive (good luck getting football and fighting fans to rally around your anti-Trump message after you publicly disparage something they love), her brief riff on American football and MMA was profoundly silly.

The distinction between “the arts” and sports is not as great as she thinks.

(I took Streep’s comments as applying to all sports. Perhaps that’s an overbroad interpretation, and she was attacking American football and MMA as specifically lowbrow. The narrower read would still be wrong if she’s suggesting those sports are incapable of delivering the sort of greatness and perfection offered by the arts.)

Let’s assume her meaning was this: If you deport all immigrants, Americans will have nothing left except for sports, and sports cannot be considered “the arts.” If this is indeed Streep’s meaning, she should have thought about it a bit longer.

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It’s no mistake that the Greeks used the same word, agonist, for athlete and actor.

“The Greeks believed that every athlete was an actor, every actor an athlete; every sporting event a drama, every drama a kind of athletic competition. This was acted out, in every sense of the word, since the Greeks used the same word for both, athlein, in the stadium, from stadia, the length of the ancient footrace; and in the theater, from theatron, a place for viewing, and the earlier theasthai, to behold,” Phil Cousineau wrote in his 2010 Wordcatcher: An Odyssey into the World of Weird and Wonderful Words.

He added, “What is so compelling to me is what the root thea, to view, and its derivative theates, spectator, can tell us about why we love sports, theater and the movies. They are all stages for transport. We compete or play, we dramatize our lives for others to see; we view the way that others play and compete.”

A Cousineau said on another occasion: “both were dramas and both had the power of showing you how to act in a moment of crisis with our ideal self.”

He’s not wrong.

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One doesn’t even need to be particularly fond of American football or MMA to appreciate that these types of professional sporting events tell terrific stories, promote our highest ideals and incite in their audiences the sort feelings and raw emotions artists chase after.

One doesn’t have to be a fan of football or MMA to appreciate the stories and drama wrapped up in the lives and actions of their individual players. If Streep’s comments about MMA and football not being “the arts” extend to all sporting events, including baseball and the Olympics, then forget about it. She’s just flat-out wrong.

Hate, love, defeat, victory, agony, joy, comedy, tragedy, drama and horror are all there in sport. It takes a certain type of conceit to turn one’s nose up at that.

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This post originally appeared on Washington Examiner


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