Have you ever wanted to understand another person so much that you sacrifice elements of your own life that make you happiest? I’m not talking about making sacrifices to help another person — just to understand them, to deeply comprehend where they are coming from. What they love. What they want. What they fear.
That’s what actors do. When he was filming Taxi Driver, Robert de Niro got his New York cabbie license. He worked 12 hour shifts driving a cab to prepare for the role, and — legend says — used to pick up fares during breaks from filming. While shooting One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Jack Nicholson and some of his fellow cast members would spend the night at the psychiatric hospital. We all have some baseline human empathy, but to truly understand someone in a way that allows you to pretend convincingly to be that person — well, that’s impressive. I see what makes it worth doing, but I don’t understand the process.
Which brings me to one of the best actors ever: Meryl Streep. Yesterday, during the course of a far longer talk at the Golden Globes, Streep threw off some asinine remarks about mixed martial arts. She was wrong, of course, and it was an unforced error — one stupid sentence set off from a broader speech, but one that happened to insult a passionate (if niche) community. Two great pieces have already been published about this: Chris Zahar’s Jiu-Jitsu Times article explains what Streep got wrong, while the inimitable Jack Slack presents a vigorous and devastatingly argued defense of MMA as art. Those pieces are both spot-on. I don’t want to revisit that ground, so let me focus on one aspect of this mess: ignorance.
That’s what led Streep into this morass. We can say with near-100 percent certainty that Meryl Streep has no idea we’re even upset. If she did, she probably wouldn’t know why. Being ignorant doesn’t mean you’re stupid. It means you’re simply unaware of the realities of life as other people live it. That’s the source of so many human problems, it’s hard to list them all.