It was the most promising start to a report on the Oscars ceremony that I’ve read: “Our culture is too frazzled and fried and exhausted for this kind of nonsense!”
Had Washington Post TV Critic Hank Stuever stopped there, in sort of a mic-drop for taste and commonsense, he’d be a legend -- the critic who said the emperor had no tuxedo. But it turns out Stuever was concerned with the specific nonsense of some award confusion, not the overall nonsense of the entire embarrassing Oscars spectacle.
There’s no accounting for taste, and Stuever actually seems to love dishing about Oscar night, while I can barely get though his write-up without cringing.
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“Because everything in American culture is now just another opportunity to vent,” Stuever wrote,” this year’s Oscars telecast came with the terribly heavy promise of ready-made acts of resistance, embitterment, exasperation … righteous Streepian acceptance speeches directed at the White House.”
Sure enough, there were those, and Stuever dutifully listed them. But the critic's own political highlight was when host Jimmy Kimmel brought “a group of unsuspecting tourists into the auditorium who only moments before had been riding a double-decker sightseeing bus through Hollywood.”
The group was escorted into the Dolby Theater, and there was a great, possibly entirely spontaneous moment in which high-wattage celebrity had a rare encounter with wide-eyed everyday people, including a man named Gary from Chicago, who kissed the hands of several actresses. It was fun to watch … and it was an effective way to disprove that cranky #MAGA notion that nobody cares about the liberals of Hollywood. Put Meryl Streep three feet away from anyone and the selfies never stop.
Uh, Hank, a group of people who paid to be on a Hollywood tour bus aren’t exactly representative of the public at large. After all they, er, paid to be on a Hollywood tour bus. But suppose the most deplorably cranky Trump voter somehow found his way on board (obviously hoping to see where they filmed Matlock). Suddenly put him in the Oscars auditorium with the lights and noise and starlets, what do you expect him to do? Thrust out his chin defiantly and jam his red baseball cap on his head? No. Most people are affable and will play nice as long as you don’t insult them. And the tourists weren’t there long enough even for liberal Hollywood types to insult. The stunt, as fun as it might be, speaks more to tourists being good sports than the irresistible coolness of movie stars.
But further on in the article, Stuever wrote:
Regardless of what the best picture ever is, academy voters surely must have some vague awareness that they and their industry are headed straight off a cliff of irrelevancy. But then we must ask once more: Do movies have to be relevant? Do they have to reflect each and every one of us, with our increasingly unique backgrounds, cultures and beliefs? Are movies — and the Oscars — required to mean anything at all, particularly when so much else seems so much more important?
Anyone who never understood why the Oscars are televised and not, say the American Dental Association’s Annual Awards & Recognition Luncheon, knows the answer to that. There really are a lot of people out there – sane, healthy people leading meaningful lives – who don’t give a fig about movies they don’t see starring people they’ll never meet. But media types like Stuever keep writing about movies, actors and the Oscars, and insist normal people fall all over themselves to get selfies with the stars.