Is Meryl Streep overrated?

It’s not for me to say, but we should probably cede to a higher authority on the subject and luckily for the rest of us, he had his say this week.

It’s possible The Donald was unimpressed by The Meryl’s Mother Courage or her Arkadina on Broadway. It’s more likely that “overrated” is his favoured insult of choice. Sad!

Thanks to Entertainment Weekly, we know that the President Elect has also tweeted the same adjective about The Daily Show’s former host Jon Stewart (nine times), news anchor Megyn Kelly (seven times), President Obama, President Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Pulitzer Prize winning commentator George Will, architect Richard Meier, comedian Jerry Seinfeld, political commentator Charles Krauthammer (twice), Marco Rubio and the cast of Hamilton: The Musical.

Fans of Streep rushed to her defence pointing out her fifteen Academy award nominations for Best Actress and four in the supporting category, her AFI Lifetime Achievement award, and 30 Golden Globe nominations.
Leaving aside the tiny detail that Meryl Streep hardly needs the back-up, are awards or award nominations an accurate barometer for being underrated or overrated?

Robbie Williams for instance has won more BRITs (17) than anyone else and sold out Knebworth three nights in a row but is he overrated? It’s debatable. The critical evaluation on the Take That part-time member is rarely kind.

Martin Scorsese never won an Academy Award before The Departed but was his work undervalued by either public or critics? It’s hard to argue that it was.

Underrated is an easier claim to make. If you argue that reading Strindberg in the original, or Japanese heavy psych from the ‘70s is underrated, no one outside of Sweden or Japan wants to be seen as ignorant enough to be contradicted.

Calling something overrated is more problematic.

There can be a debate around wildly popular moments in popular culture being underrated at the time – the Toy Story films, ABBA’s records – but only a churl wouldn’t see the merit in either. Besides, they’re successful enough that they shouldn’t shed any tears.

The President Elect’s use of the word has moved on from the 1979 film Manhattan’s Academy of the Overrated, where Michael Murphy and Diane Keaton’s characters trashed Gustav Mahler, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ingmar Bergman to Woody Allen’s horror.

Those figures were hailed at the time but very little of consequence now is undervalued. Martin Amis contended that no persistently great writer would go unpublished. Any objection to his rule would presumably be snapped up by a publisher or hyped by bloggers. Talent and/or success can not be to everyone’s taste but calling it “overrated” in an online world where everything can find its audience feels like another o-word – outdated.

Obituaries have also helped to make it feel like an adjective which should be used sparingly.

While very few music writers didn’t appreciate Leonard Cohen, David Bowie and Prince – three artists who regularly sold out arenas and stadia live – George Michael was less widely appreciated. His death led to a re-evaluation of his work and when response to his death was described as “an over-reaction” by Andy Kershaw, the DJ’s comments felt churlish and mean-spirited. Many people loved George Michael, fewer music writers did during his life. Hardly overrated.

Similarly, Britain’s three biggest-seling music acts Adele, Ed Sheeran and Coldplay probably face as many brickbats on social media as they do streams on social media. If you’re considered overrated, soon there will be a below the line piece of snark to make the counter argument.

Nowadays, it’s extremely rare for something of merit not to be jumped on by tastemakers or audiences (or both) within minutes. Ever since Toby Young and Julie Burchill’s Modern Review, hugely successful franchises from Marvel Comics movies to The Simpsons receive forensive analysis. In this era of the blogosphere, that has only intensified.

In the modern business of trolling, anonymous social media slanging matches and lazy controversialists, it’s a cheap shot.

So I wouldn’t dream of suggesting sushi, The Doors, 63% of the records John Peel ever played, David Lynch, and any restaurant which puts “jus” on its menu, Radiohead’s OK Computer album are overrated.

Not while it’s approaching late January, and there are tax returns to share with the right people.