Like millions of people all over the world I watched the Oscars on Sunday night, and at some point during the overlong broadcast that they seemingly tried, and failed, to shorten, I realized a few things.
My first realization is that I really don’t give a damn who wins “Best Actor” or “Best Director” or whatever they’re calling it now because they don’t want to say “Best” anymore. I used to care. I used to get caught up in the drama of it all, and I would root for my favorites and be happy and/or disappointed for them, depending on the outcome. I used to look forward to the pageantry and the red carpet interviews and the endless commentary about dresses and designers and hairstyles and all that stuff.
Now it leaves me cold. I don’t give a rat’s ass which designer so-and-so is wearing, and I feel badly for these women that they have to answer the same stupid questions over and over as they run the required gauntlet of press before they are allowed to go inside. As I watched, I imagined that they made the carpet red to hide the bloodstains in case some Oscar-nominated actress suddenly snapped and ripped Lara Spencer’s throat out. God knows I wanted to.
And the men. Jammed into tuxedos, smiling and trying to be gracious to the throng of giggling entertainment correspondents making fools of themselves in their tight dresses and bleached smiles. Bless the actors who do something a little different with their ensembles. They may come off looking like a ’70s prom date, but at least they tried.
The program itself is also more and more of a mystery to me. Why do they insist on trying to make this thing entertaining? It would be so much better if they just admitted that it’s incredibly boring for people to sit for hours in an uncomfortable seat in uncomfortable clothes, afraid to blow their noses or adjust their strapless bras for fear that a momentary human gesture will wind up going viral on Twitter. It’s torture for them, and not much better for us, having to endure the parade of stiff celebrities reading that horrible, trite, demeaning copy from teleprompters which sometimes don’t even work (Terrance Howard, I think you’re a terrific actor, but if you ever get into a situation where your teleprompter goes dead and you haven’t memorized your lines, just wait for the techs to fix it – don’t try to improv your way out. It was painful, for all of us).
And then there’s the host. I’m going on record to say that I love Neil Patrick Harris; unlike most of the people he shared the stage with, he is a performer – in every sense of the word. The times he’s hosted the Tony Awards have resulted in some very memorable moments (“Go, Neil, Go!”). But even he can’t save this godforsaken show. I’m surprised he didn’t figure that out before appearing on stage in his tightey-whiteys. No, Neil, even that stunt can’t save this thing.
Which made me wonder why? Why is this all SO WRONG?
Quite apart from the rampant misogyny and racism (which is a whole other conversation that’s happening right now), the weight of the thing has gotten completely out of hand. It’s this huge machine now, and has lost all contact with its original humanity. It has its own trajectory, and, like the Titanic, is difficult to turn, and almost impossible to stop.
I also think that the fundamental premise of the award is deeply flawed. More than one of the recipients said the same thing – how can you compare one film or one performance to another? The answer is, you can’t. It’s impossible. There is no objective measure for how “good” or “bad” a work of art is. It is an entirely subjective determination. How can anyone possibly say, for sure and certain, that Patricia Arquette gave a better performance than Meryl Streep? Is that even possible? How can you say one movie is better than another? Yes, “Dude, Where’s My Car?” is not as good a movie as “Citizen Kane” – but you know, I bet there’s more than one person who would disagree with me about that.
But that’s the point. It’s all about what we agree is good and bad. And, in the case of award shows, the award is given to the person that the majority of the members of the voting group feels did the “best” job. Or maybe they give it to the person they felt was most deserving that year. Maybe, in their heart of hearts, they really felt like Meryl gave the better performance, but for goodness sake, can they give them ALL to her? Maybe they thought, “We’ll give it to Patricia. She was really good, and she’s probably never going to get another shot.” Or some other deep, unsaid motivation that threw the vote her way. Who knows?
The point is, there’s no stopwatch and no scorecard. The “best” is in the eye (and the preconceived notions) of the beholder.
So why do we give these awards? What are we trying to accomplish? Is it that we want to honor excellence in film making? What if we did that instead of giving away these made-up awards?
Think about it. What if we just had a big celebration of the bygone year in film and invited everyone who had been involved in the making of the films to get together? And not just in Hollywood. There would be gatherings in Atlanta and New York and Austin and Chicago. Everyone would mix and mingle and be on an equal footing – the actors, the cinematographers, the writers, the directors, the sound designers, the editors, the makeup artists, the costume designers, the producers, the grips, the assistants – everyone. There could be a program, and some of the really memorable (not just financially successful) work would be honored. The teams that put their blood,sweat and tears into these films would be recognized, and the reality that it takes a lot of very committed people – people who will never, ever get invited to walk that red carpet, but who are just as responsible for the making of that film as Matthew McConaughey – is celebrated. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
I bet you Keira Knightly’s Oscar goodie bag that there isn’t a single one of those celebrities that would miss this annual obscenity of excess in favor of a non-televised, un-publicized, designer-free evening of getting together with friends and colleagues to recognize the greatness of the work and not of themselves. Because that’s what’s getting lost here – there’s actually some good, deep, honest work being done, even by those too-perfect, too-rich, too-tightly-coiffed-fake-looking people that walk slowly past our collective eyeballs every February. Our obsession with looking at them is robbing us, and them, of what’s real. That makes me sad.
photo credit: 34.366: Shiny, Pretty Oscars via photopin (license)