The Oscar Goes to: a Brown, Gay and Socialist Challenge to the Autocrat in the Room

“Everyone who cares about movies knows that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is full of shit.”

– Michael Tedder, “The Ten Biggest Snubs in Oscar History,” Esquire, Feb 22, 2017

“The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

– Ronald Reagan

I’m led to thinking about the Academy of the Motion Picture Arts after watching the Oscars. And because it’s difficult to focus on any one thing without attending to the dramatic screen of politics — President Trump as the rebellious leader Jack Cade in Henry VI, Part II (“When I am king, as king I will be!) — I think about the Democratic Party responding to autocracy with a privileging of diversity.

I think about authority and agency being expanded in egalitarian fashion and at the same time being torn apart by and contracted into one autocratic identity.

I’m not equating the authority of government with the authority of the Academy of the Motion Picture Arts but both nonetheless are institutions of authority under, to use a word much in the news, under or facing indictment.

They also face within their different domains, especially of course as to significance, an expansion of diversity, in the Democratic Party and in the Academy.

One question that arises is whether that expansion will not only prove winning for the Democrats in 210 but also rein in the power of capitalist growth in a democracy in search of its egalitarian promise? And, will both the criteria for judgment as well as the quality of films expand with the expansion of diversity?

Clearly, a democracy that is not inclusive of all its citizens, extending equal justice to all, already partakes of the inequities of our Wild West free market, globalized capitalism. And an Academy and an industry already subject to white privilege can only render the kind of judgments that the blind man who feels the tail of the elephant and pronounces the elephant shaped like a snake.

Nonetheless, both entities of authority face problems that in regard to the Democratic Party, have all to do with the demographics of American voters, and in regard to the Academy, the demographics of film viewers.

In short, nothing is successfully expansive unless time and place, call it context or surround, conditions on the ground at a moment in time, makes it so.

Another problematic emerges from this: is a platform identifying problems and offering remedies best able to attract voters in 2010 if, for example, the House is more diverse than ever?

Does diversity itself give us solutions to problems that a deficient diversity did not?

Does a greater diversity in the film industry lead to an improvement in the aesthetic quality of films?

Does diversity calm our fears regarding the loss of a movie theatre going audience in the face of online streaming? Will it resolve the problem of increased ADD being enabled by increased CGI?

Would Bernie Sanders’ attack on out of control capitalism which has led to an obscene wealth divide swept him to victory in 2016 if he was black, brown, Asian, female, or LGBTQ?

Will President Trump have a tougher time framing a Democratic challenger to the presidency in 2010 a socialist trying to shove socialism down their throats if the challenger is not white, not male, not heterosexual?

So, there’s a pragmatics, a politics of the possible involved here.

Part of it, a part Republicans do not face, is reconciling a drive for diversity and a recognition of all self-appointed identities with the urgency of mounting the best challenge to an Overripe Capitalism that has settle democracy into oligarchy and now, with President Trump, a threatening autocracy.

But an additional part is achieving this on a stage, both spatial and psychic, in which neither the drive for diversity nor the urgency of regulating “free enterprise” are shared by all, maybe less than is needed for a Democratic victory in 2010.

I’m not a politician and don’t practice the art of the possible but I recall that in the 2016 presidential election Bernie Sanders failed in reconciling major social justice concerns of the modern left, such as race, gender, and sexuality and his call “to stand up to Wall Street.” A Twitter backlash to Bernie’s call to go beyond identity politics proved to be fatal, perhaps as fatal to him as the Democratic Party’s secret campaign against his campaign.

But the issue remains more than ever prominent in Democratic politics, invigorated by the diversity victories in the midterm Congressional elections. That momentum can perhaps lead to a doubling down on the diversity and identity politics side on the part of Democrats.

I mean that a woman of color or an LGBTQ woman as Democratic Party nominee for the presidency may satisfy the most pressing requirements to which that Party feels it needs to respond.

Will there be a doubling down on the socialist signifier or will there be a run to identify as a believer in capitalism?

Whatever the case, Trump, in a 2010 electoral battle, will rampage tweet any Democrat, running from or proudly endorsing socialism, as a threat to every cherished American institution. Ironically, of course, President Trump, by 2020, will have morphed those institutions into his own madcap self.

Joseph Natoli has published books and articles, on and off line, on literature and literary theory, philosophy, postmodernity, politics, education, psychology, cultural studies, popular culture, including film, TV, music, sports, and food and farming. His most recent book is Dark Affinities, Dark Imaginaries: A Mind’s Odyssey .