So much preachin’ going on
In our very modern, very secularized age, few people are still exposed to real preachers. Preachers are people (usually men) who have an important message for those who haven’t heard it. Or if they have heard it, they haven’t converted to it. A preacher is a persuader, one who employs emotive language and rhetorical flourishes to convince an audience that they need to change their path, change direction. Even repent.
Some of the best American preachers have been country boys who used the cadence and charm of the Southern dialect and phrasing to move millions. Billy Graham and Martin Luther King are two of the best examples. Billy Graham was an old-school gospel preacher but was so effective in his style and delivery that he filled the largest stadiums in the world for months at a stretch, just preaching.
Martin Luther King also started as a preacher of the gospel but became the voice of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. His powerful speaking style came directly from his background as a Baptist minister. When you listen to King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, you’re listening to a preacher of the first order. But instead of evangelizing the gospel of a Jewish carpenter, he was preaching to change racial inequality.
Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are two politicians who have used the cadences of traditional preaching to convince the world of their gospel. Not surprisingly, both can be compelling public speakers.
But there’s a difference between preaching, which is a learned skill, and just being “preachy.” People who are preachy, who have no platform to hone the skill or any background in a public forum, are just annoying. This is where we find ourselves in the strange world of January 2017. Celebrities accept awards and think it’s the time to get preachy – as if we’re interested in their personal political opinions.
There was a time when entertainers did little else but entertain, which both they and we understood as their primary function. Fans could read interviews with them that rarely veered away from the subject of their work and professional lives, and we could occasionally see them on talk shows performing their shtick. They were almost always in character, and their private personal opinions were generally kept…private.
Now the opinions of celebrities are inflicted on us in a never-ending flush. Flush as in toilet, latrine, crapper. When you settle in to enjoy a movie, TV show, or awards ceremony, you expect a certain detachment from the real world. It’s nice to be transported to a magical place in a film on a big screen, or to go on an adventure with fantasy characters we admire. Unfortunately, everything, even fictional characters, is becoming politicized. A better word might be “ruined.” The actors and actresses we admire (fan is short for “fanatic,” after all) seem to think we value their opinions on marriage, child-rearing, morality, and politics. We don’t. The less they evangelize, the better.
This brings us to Meryl Streep. There are many fine actors in Hollywood and many blowhards. Streep was always in the category of the former, but now she has firmly placed herself in the blowhard category. Her pithy comments about “hooks in her heart” when referring to the election of Donald Trump were pretty cringey. But the worst part is how preachy she, and most of our favorite entertainers, has become
If you’re going to preach, let that be your profession. If your profession is to entertain us by pretending to be someone else – a notable skill – then stick with that. But please, all you talented thespians, don’t preach. You look ridiculous.
Tim Mostert is an American cartoonist and writer. His latest book, Know Your Nation, explores the history, culture, and geography of South Africa.