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In Praise of the Oscars

I confess to enjoy watching the Academy Awards.  Not only do I tune in every year (haven’t failed to see a single telecast in more than 20 years), I never miss a single minute of the proceedings, which isn’t difficult, given that the prodigious number of commercial breaks allows us to tend to whatever business we need to attend to.

As for the Oscars themselves, let’s be clear.  The show is gaudy, shallow, self-absorbed, phony, pompous, tedious, predictable, and, at moments, as soul-crushingly offensive as watching a wealthy man step out of his limousine and piss on a homeless person.  In other words, the Oscars are everything that Hollywood is.  Great Britain has its royal family, we have Hollywood.

Serious people are always chiding me for watching the show, insisting that the Oscars are a “waste of time.”  That’s the phrase they use.  A waste of time.  As if their lives are so jam-packed with meaningful content, that the notion of spending three and a half hours once a year watching beautiful, impossibly vain people congratulate each other is too frivolous to contemplate.

But it raises a philosophical question:  If the Oscars don’t qualify as being “worthy of us,” what does qualify?  Which is to say, what ISN’T a “waste” of time?  Finding some Russian dude to play chess with?  Reading Proust?  Cleaning out your garage?  Arguably, most of us pilgrims vacillate between Kurt Vonnegut’s view of the world, and Ludwig Wittgenstein’s opposing view of it.

Vonnegut: “Our purpose on earth is to fart around.  And don’t let anybody tell you any different.”  Wittgenstein:  “I don’t know why we are here, but I’m pretty sure it is not to enjoy ourselves.”  And then of course, there’s the celebrated satirist and social critic (and CounterPuncher) Paul Krassner:  “If life isn’t a mystery, then what the fuck is it?”

But back to the Oscars.  As a minor playwright (with emphasis on the word “minor”) I get to hang around with talented actors and directors.   There’s an enormous difference between “working actors” and the “movie stars” we see at the Academy Awards.  In truth, there’s no meaningful comparison.

Whereas working actors are artists applying their craft, movie stars represent a whole other breed of animal.  These people orbit their own sun.  Unfortunately, when applied to movie stars, the term “narcissism” is rendered virtually useless.  Indeed, calling movie stars “narcissists” is as inadequate as referring to the universe as “very large.”

The screenwriter William Goldman (“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “All the President’s Men,” et al) described the movie star Paul Newman as being a genuinely “humble guy,” which, according to Goldman, was something you don’t often find in Hollywood.

As an example of just how humble Newman was, Goldman noted that his contract did NOT call for a minimum number of close-ups.  Apparently, most movie stars insist on having their mugs fill the screen x-number of times.  Why?  Because, well, they’re movie stars.  But not Paul Newman.  He trusted the directors to shoot the scenes however they chose.

An even “better” (which is to say “worse”) story involved a big-time actress who had the box office clout to get pretty much anything she wanted.  And what she wanted—what she insisted upon in her movie contract—was to have her rear-end prominently featured a minimum of ten times.

This woman was acknowledged by everyone to have a shapely butt, which, according to Hollywood calculus, mandated that it be showcased.  Hence, a minimum of ten close-ups or near close-ups of her shapely derriere.  Julia Roberts’ incandescent smile warrants the same attention.  That signature, 24-carat grill must not go unnoticed.  It needs to highlighted.  And of course, it always is.

Because the Academy Awards are one of the very few “live” events we still get to see on television, every show has at least one embarrassing, unintentionally laughable, disgraceful, or cringe-worthy moment, and this year’s presentation was no exception.

Reminding us of just how gutless Hollywood’s studio executives truly are, they inserted a revolting faux-patriotic tribute to America’s military.  Not only was this segment utterly contrived and out of place, it was obviously done in order to offset the “liberal,” anti-sexist, pro-diversity theme of the evening.

Gutless, plastic, pompous, and excessive.  No wonder the world loves and hates us.