Quick Thoughts on the Oscars

Sally Field in Norma Rae

Sally Field in Norma Rae

W.J. Astore

I love movies but I can’t say that I love Hollywood.  My wife and I sat through the interminable Academy Awards last night; we should have received an Oscar for patience.  What amazes me is the lack of thanks the winners express to movie-goers.  You know: the little people who shell out $12 or more a ticket to see roughly two hours of often mediocre entertainment.  Instead of thanking the fans, most Oscar winners celebrate themselves (with perhaps a nod toward their fellow nominees) while thanking their publicists, their agents, various power-brokers in the industry, and so on.

Want the Academy Awards to move faster?  Have the winners take the stage, accept the Oscar, thank the Academy and the fans, and sit down.  And shut up.

Hollywood has a certain contempt for the working classes — you know, the people who keep them in their “Capitol” lifestyle (which is why “The Hunger Games” trilogy truly captures the zeitgeist of the American moment).  I was disgusted in watching the Oscar preview to see ordinary Americans caricatured as crumb-infested, couch-ridden, half-naked, clinically obese morons.  Yes, I’m not immune to humor, but to depict the fans who ultimately pay your salaries and keep you living the high life in such a luridly abusive way shows a contempt that is far too common among our “elites,” Hollywood included.

I enjoy Ellen Degeneres.  She has a light touch, good comic timing, and she knows how to zing the audience.  But her “Who wants pizza” skit was unfunny and ungenerous — no pun intended.  Once again, part of the joke involved whether the assembled Capitol beauties were going to stiff the pizza delivery man.  Ha ha.  Let’s pass the hat and take up a collection to pay for the pizza we ordered.  I’m not surprised many of the assembled elect couldn’t find a dime to kick in — they’re so accustomed to their Oscar freebies.

Hollywood has always catered to narcissists.  Nothing new there.  But there was a time when Hollywood celebrities knew how to accept awards (and their glamorous lifestyle) with a certain amount of class, while thanking, even respecting, the fans who make it all possible.  Last night was not of that time.

I suppose the ultimate measure of Hollywood’s contempt for its paying audience is the poor quality of its movies.  Want to make better movies, Hollywood?  Start by treating the working classes with a measure of common courtesy — along with some empathy based on respect for their challenges and sacrifices.

A last comment: It was nice to see, however briefly, a scene from Norma Rae (1979), featuring the great Sally Field as a factory worker trying to unionize her place of work, a gutsy dynamo fighting for fair wages and safe working conditions.  Where is that movie today, Hollywood?  When was the last time you made a sensitive, sympathetic, and generous movie about the tough struggles of American workers?  There must be a few, but none that stick in my head.  Help me out in the comments section, dear reader, if I’m missing some obvious recent examples.

2 thoughts on “Quick Thoughts on the Oscars

  1. I tend to agree about the rather tasteless “pizza” and “selfie”-photograph digressions at the Oscars. Stand-up comics — going all the way back to Bob Hope — often host these self-congratulatgory proceedings and feel that they have to entertain the professional entertainers who often laugh dutifully, even if from the looks on their faces one can tell that they don’t feel particularly amused. For the television audience at home, well, you win some and you lose some.

    That said, I didn’t find Ellen Degernese particularly amusing, although I think she did keep things moving along pretty much on schedule. My wife and I saw the broadcast here in Taiwan, primarily in English, although from time to time the local cable affilate would overlay the video and sound with Chinese characters and vocal commentary. I understood, but it I did add another layer of distraction to those already built into the program. I tend to think of these events like professional football games where the players stop the game from time to time and just mill around on the field during the television commercials and then get on with the game again. Whatever must the ticket-paying fans in the stands think of that?

    Mostly, I just pressed the “mute” button on the remote during periods between the actual awards — except for one or two of the songs — and went on reading and annotating my copy of The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced By War, by Andrew Bacevich. I wondered vaguely if Jeremy Schaill’s Dirty Wars: the World is a Battlefield would win an oscar in the documentary category, but it didn’t surprise me when “Twenty Feet From Stardom” — about the sensational, but mostly unnoticed background singers in the music business — won instead. Anyway, I just received my hardcover copy of Dirty Wars, yesterday, so I’ll make do with reading until I can see the film on DVD.

    As for the issues of unions, I think that the actors, directors, writers, and most of the technical trades belong to one. Ronald Reagan not only belonged to the Screen Actors’ Guild, but served as its president. When his own livelihood depended upon the union and collective bargaining, he thought the world of unions. But he couldn’t bust them fast enough after a group of California millionaires offered to buy his homes, fund his lifestyle, and staff his Republican administrations (state and national) for him. Reagan liked to say that he didn’t leave the Democratic party, but that the Democratic party left him. Bullshit. But he could sell it. And a majority of Americans couldn’t wait to buy. I don’t think that one can consider Hollywood anti-union. The industry just knows which way the political wind blows (as do many well-compnsated union presidents), and corporate studio management will see to it that Warfare Welfare and Makework Militarism get the adulatory treatment the ruling Oligarchy demands.

    As for humor at this year’s Oscars, my wife and I both burst out in hysterical laughter during one of the film clips from Nebraska where an elderly lady stands over her former husband’s grave, pulls up her dress and exclaims bitterly: “Look what you could have had …” I thought she should have gotten an academy award just for that scene alone. As soon as the DVD rental comes out here in Taiwan, we will definitly see that movie, for that scene alone, if not for anything else.

    As a final observation, I felt not the least surprise when Peter Jackson’s drawn-out fan-exploitation vehicle The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug failed to win any awards in the special effects categories. Like many J. R. R. Tolkien readers, I waited ten years for the film version of The Hobbit to appear (after Jackson’s excellent Lord of the Rings films), only to see this classic little tale blown up into three interminable installments with so many computer graphics gimmicks that the films should belong in the animated or video game category. The academy correctly mentioned this year’s film — which I haven’t seen yet (I hated the first one so much) — but gave the award to films that better integrated special effecs with live actors instead of the other way around.

    “And that,” as Forrest Gump said, “is all I have to say about that.”

  2. Bill.. I think you were a little too hard on films. Compared to 30 years and longer ago there are now significant films made even by the major studios that are about real people and real problems. Forty years ago films were only made about rich people acted by beautiful actors and actresses who couldn’t act anything but beautiful and dance well. . This year: 12 Years a Slave, Nebraska, The Dallas Buyers Club, Hustle, Labor Day ( Kate Winslet),etc. may not have been perfect to all but were about real people.and well acted. The best films now are made for the computer or the telly and are often serialized.
    I let my wife watch the Oscar show alone because it is a show one can lose your wife over if you make nasty comments.and end up throwing popcorn at the screen. And I find Degenerese a smug, cold, very unfunny control freak.
    Remember that the 75% of the jury for selection are men and old men at that.

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