One of the things I will miss most about the late Joan Rivers is that she almost never apologized. She was literally unapologetic, not unapologetic in the way that Hollywood usually pats itself on the back for, when they’ve just posted another sharply worded admonition of Donald Rumsfeld on Huffington Post. By not apologizing, the octogenarian provacateur was free to go on provoking in our hypersensitive day and age. She defused imminent outrage explosions with one finger— the middle one. Despite her success, very few seemed to follow her example.
This week, I was glad to see two Hollywood women, in their signature styles, stand up to modern society’s troops of perpetual outrage and win. Margaret Cho’s response was predictably brash and peppered with indignance and profanity. Meryl Streep’s was calm and above-the-fray, but they both offered templates for stopping an outrage storm in its tracks.
Margaret Cho appeared alongside hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler on the Golden Globes stage as a parody of a North Korean military officer, consumed with hero worship of Kim Jong Un and the plot of Orange is the New Black. Cho has been doing a heavily accented Korean parody for decades—her mother— so this is not exactly new ground for the Korean-American comedian, and it was aimed at a much less sympathetic target— the North Korean regime. And yet, many were offended by her portrayal of an adherent of a regime currently starving its people and attacking our country’s filmmakers over sophomoric comedies.
Cho took to Twitter, citing her Korean heritage and her right to satirize those who “imprison, starve and brainwash my people.”
In a subsequent interview with Buzzfeed, Cho went on to defend her work. “I’m of North and South Korean descent, and I do impressions of my family and my work all the time, and this is just another example of that,” she told the site. “I am from this culture. I am from this tribe. And so I’m able to comment on it.”
I respect her telling people to shove it. I don’t love the appeal to identity to give her license, as I think anyone of any race or culture can make fun of a little tyrant, but I understand that appeal. It certainly gives her moral authority with the kind of left-leaning crowd that objects to this kind of thing. Most importantly, outrage explosion averted.
Streep took a very different tack this week, with similar results, when asked about Russell Crowe’s momentarily controversial comments about good roles for older women in Hollywood. Crowe had made characteristically brash comments on a semi-sensitive subject and the press and the Left characteristically sought to turn the outrage into a week-long freak-out.
Crowe’s original comments:
“To be honest, I think you’ll find that the woman who is saying that [the roles have dried up] is the woman who at 40, 45, 48, still wants to play the ingenue, and can’t understand why she’s not being cast as the 21-year-old,” said Crowe. “Meryl Streep will give you 10,000 examples and arguments as to why that’s bullshit, so will Helen Mirren, or whoever it happens to be. If you are willing to live in your own skin, you can work as an actor. If you are trying to pretend that you’re still the young buck when you’re my age, it just doesn’t work.”
And, what better way to continue the outrage than to get the nearly universally respected Streep to tee off on Crowe’s horrid sexism, or whatever. Streep didn’t take the bait:
“The Russell Crowe thing, I’m so glad you asked about [that],” Streep said in an interview prior to London’s UK premiere for musical fantasy Into the Woods, in which the three-time Oscar-winner plays an old crone. “I read what he said – all of what he said. It’s been misappropriated, what he was talking about. He was talking about himself.
“The journalist asked him, ‘Why don’t you do another Gladiator, you know, everybody loved that.’ He said, ‘I’m too old. I can’t be the gladiator anymore. I’m playing parts that are appropriate to my age. Then the conversation went on to actresses. So that was proving a point, that he was talking about himself, as most actors do.
“That aside, I agree with him. It’s good to live in the place where you are … You can put old age on; it’s a lot harder to take it off.”
Streep, 65, revealed she had three times turned down offers to play witches which arrived on her doorstep when she turned 40, but was now happy to play one “because I felt it was age appropriate”.
Now, that exchange is much more interesting and nuanced than what the press and grievance-mongers would like to portray. Crowe is not an evil sexist monster and Streep is not an angelic, wronged grande dame. They are two different people who partially agree, and have different, interesting life experiences to bring to bear in talking about this buzzworthy topic. Good on Streep for not shoving this conversation into a predetermined outrage template.
She and Cho (and the late Rivers, God rest her soul) offer templates to everyone for short-circuiting these incidents. More famous and powerful people with the standing to tell the perpetually outraged to chill out should do so.