Hollywood, the Oscars, and America

W.J. Astore

I finally watched the Oscars last night. Of course, I’d heard about Will Smith slapping comedian Chris Rock because of a joke Smith’s wife didn’t like. It was an ugly incident, but fortunately Chris Rock kept his cool. Hollywood loves itself, much like America loves itself, and an A-list actor like Will Smith can pretty much get away with anything, including assaulting one of the hosts for a joke that, though apparently well-intended, obviously miscarried. Smith never apologized during the show, though he finally issued a pro forma apology yesterday once he figured out that public opinion was against him.

I’m a movie buff, and I’ve always enjoyed watching the Oscars, but each year the shows get tackier, sleazier, and more morally repugnant. As my wife said this morning, you see a lot of sick people at the Oscars with no morals and apparently no souls.

I did want to mention one oversight at the Oscars. Now, I have to admit I didn’t listen to every word of every acceptance speech, but those I did hear all had one glaring omission: None of the Oscar winners thanked the fans, the movie-goers, the ones who truly pay them and support them. Instead, the winners thanked the usual suspects: agents, mentors, producers, big companies like Apple and Disney and Netflix, with occasional references to parents and to God. After slapping Chris Rock, Will Smith blubbered on about how he was all about serving God and love, apparently seeing no contradiction between his words and his deeds.

Of course, the Oscars are always a self-indulgent spectacle, always an exercise in narcissism and self-promotion. But would it really hurt the Oscar winners to take a few moments to thank their fans and movie-goers, especially when going to the movies was a bit risky given the Covid-19 pandemic? Instead, I heard talk of how brave they all were for continuing to make movies during the pandemic.

Again, I’m a big movie fan, and I don’t dismiss their artistry and often their cultural significance. At their best, movies can truly inspire us; they can help to open doors to new worlds; they are truly part of the human experience. What’s truly sad is how the Oscars and Hollywood’s yearly celebration of itself actually diminishes the movies rather than showcasing and enhancing them.

The Oscars should go the way of the Emmy Awards — they should simply disappear, having outlived their usefulness and having become something of an embarrassment.

A rare moment of grace at the Oscars, as Lady Gaga helps Liza Minnelli announce the award for best picture (Photo by Christopher Polk)

19 thoughts on “Hollywood, the Oscars, and America

  1. I’ve long thought the Oscars, like cable news (e.g., MSDNC, CNN, FOX) would eventually fade away as the baby boomers shuffle off into the past. As one of those shuffling off (though hopefully not for many years), I recall watching the Oscars as a child in an age where celebrities were seldom seen except on the big screen. Seeing them out in supposedly real life was a treat.

    Since then we’ve become a 7×24 celebrity culture where nothing is off limits and the roll call of forgettable celebrities grows larger and larger; and now with Instagram, SnapChat, and Tik Tok, everyone can have their own fifteen minutes of fame; some can even become rich without once walking the red carpet of Hollywood.

    One other thought. You mentioned Will Smith as an A-lister. Sadly true. He has, what Dorothy Parker was said to once have remarked about Katherine Hepburn – an emotional range from A to B. But I suppose when the major movies are now considered to be those from the Marvel Comics Universe, what else can we expect?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Agree with most of what you say, and haven’t watched the Oscars for decades, for exactly the reasons you and Bill lay out.

      I do, however, have a higher opinion of Will Smith’s talent, if not his conduct.

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      1. Hi Denise, I do have a better opinion of Hepburn than Parker (thought she was great in A Philadelphia Story, among others). I suppose I was being a bit snarky about Will Smith; it was more of comment about what’s today considered great acting in Hollywood. I did appreciate your perspective.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Oh, yes! Hepburn was incomparable. “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” as just one example, shows her range.

          Good follow-up about Will Smith. Judged by the MIB series, he’s a lightweight. But “The Pursuit of Happyness” was more of a stretch in portraying emotions.

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          1. I think much of Will Smith’s appeal (to use Old Lodgeskins description of the “buffalo soldiers” in Little Big Man) rests in his being the perfect “black/white man.” He shifts easily between sounding like a high school English teacher and someone who is only two or three steps removed from “the hood” (this is most always used for comic effect). His characters are generally safe: he can be hip & cool or wonderfully urbane, he’s not going to drag someone out of their Escalade at an intersection, not going to turn their daughter into his latest “baby mama,” And after slapping the dogsh*t out of Chris Rock (to initial great outrage), he gets a standing ovation shortly thereafter. He is, like Bill Cosby before him, the perfect non-threatening black man. And you know there are people wondering, “Why can’t they all be like Will Smith?”

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  2. I’m surprised to see this post that is so out off topic for this Blog, but I have my own unique experience with the 1976 Oscars when I was washing dishes at Suzanne’s Kitchen on the boardwalk of Venice Beach, California for $1/hour being so close to where they were happening. Prior to that night, I watched them on TV from Montreal, CanaDa.

    History was made that night with the 1st live trans-Alantic broadcast featuring Dianna Ross participating from Amsterdam.
    Suzanne had a few bit parts in movies, and she brought a TV into the Restaurant just for the Oscars.
    Watching it, I was surprised to get an unexpected Award from a total stranger who walked into the Restaurant and gave it to me in a brown paper wrapped package, and walked out even before I could ask any questions.

    That one night in my Curriculum Vitae I record here,

    OSCAR AND THE IDOLS OF THE PEOPLE

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  3. “Wrapped in red carpet mystique at the height of Hollywood’s Golden Age, the Oscars’ appeal has plummeted in recent years, according to Nielsen.

    From 2014, when 43.7 million people tuned in, to this year’s paltry 13.5 million, the audience for the Academy Awards has collapsed by 70% in the past decade.

    The ratings have been steadily declining by a few million each year since 2014………
    Last year, ratings for the show tumbled by more than 50% from the previous year, according to Nielsen.

    According to The Hollywood Reporter, the 94th Academy Awards rebounded slightly from last year’s ceremony, which drew 10.4 million viewers — the lowest number ever……

    In a New York Times opinion piece, Ross Douthat says that “within the larger arc of Hollywood history … [w]e aren’t just watching the decline of the Oscars; we’re watching the End of the Movies.”

    “Even when Hollywood tries to conjure the old magic, in other words, the public isn’t there for it anymore,” Douthat said.”

    https://www.newsmax.com/newsfront/oscars-ratings-nielsen-will-smith/2022/03/28/id/1063245/

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    1. Hollywood is increasingly treating its audience with contempt — and so its audience is shrinking.

      The dumb comedy skits don’t help. They are almost never funny, go on for far too long, and usually make me cringe.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Eh, I understand where are you coming from, but I really have got to ask: Are you really saddened by the downfall of Oscar? I mean, we all know Hollywood since the beginning has been a sleazy place (just look at all the Golden Age actors and actresses being abused by their studios, or the mob connections). The Oscar in particular hasn’t been very fair at all, considering how many forgettable flicks won the prize while the classics got the shaft (like in the cases of Citizen Kane and Do The Right Thing). It has been mired in industry connections and studios politic from the start. Why then shed a tear for it?

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    1. I used to enjoy the Oscars, and some of the hosts did a great job. Hugh Jackman was especially good in 2009. But over the last ten years or so, the jokes have gotten increasingly unfunny, the speeches increasingly self-serving, the show itself increasingly boring and missable.

      I know there was never a perfect golden age, but I miss some of the glamor and fun. Remember this opening from 2009?

      Hugh Jackman was brilliant here.

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  5. During my troubled-teen years of the 1980s, I observed how, in general, by ‘swinging first’ a person potentially places himself (or herself) in an unanticipated psychological disadvantage—one favoring the combatant who chooses to patiently wait for his opponent to take the first swing, perhaps even without the fist necessarily connecting.

    Just having the combatant swing at him before he’d even given his challenger a physical justification for doing so seemed to instantly create a combined psychological and physical imperative within to react to that swung fist with justified anger. In fact, such testosterone-prone behavior may be reflected in the typically male (perhaps unconsciously strategic) invitation for one’s foe to ‘go ahead and lay one on me,’ while tapping one’s own chin with his forefinger.

    Yet, from my experience, it’s a theoretical advantage not widely recognized by both the regular scrapper mindset nor general society. Instead of the commonly expected advantage of an opponent-stunning first blow, the hit only triggers an infuriated response earning the instigator two-or-more-fold returned-payment hard hits. It brings to mind an analogous scenario in which a chess player recklessly plays white by rashly forcefully moving his pawn first in foolish anticipation that doing so will indeed stupefy his adversary.

    I’ve theorized that it may be an evolutionary instinct ingrained upon the human male psyche—one preventing us from inadvertently killing off our own species by way of an essentially gratuitous instigation of deadly violence in bulk, which also results in a lack of semen providers to maintain our race. Therefore, in this sense, we can survive: If only a first strike typically results in physical violence, avoiding that first strike altogether significantly reduces the risk of this form of wanton self-annihilation.

    In other words, matters should remain peacefully peachy, or at least non-violent, when every party shows the others their proper, due respect. It’s like a proactively perfect solution.

    It should also be noted, however, that on rare occasion (at least from my many years of observation) an anomalous initiator/aggressor will be sufficiently confident, daring and violently motivated, perhaps through internal and/or external anger, to outright breach the abovementioned convention by brazenly throwing the first punch(es).

    Perhaps with the logical anticipation, or hope even, that his conventional foe will physically respond in kind by swinging at or hitting him, the unprovoked initiator/aggressor will feel confident and angered enough to willfully physically continue, finishing what he had essentially inexcusably started. It was as though he had anticipated that through both his boldness in daring to throw the first punch and then furthermore finish the physical job he himself had the gall to unjustifiably start in the first place, he will resultantly intimidate his (though now perhaps already quite intimidated) non-initiator/non-aggressor foe into a crippling inferior sense of physical-defense debilitation, itself capable of resulting in a more serious beating received by that diminished non-initiator/non-aggressor party. …

    Another possibility remains, though, that the initiator/aggressor will be completely confident that when/if he strikes first and the non-initiator/non-aggressor responds with reactor’s fury, he, the initiator/aggressor will himself respond to that response with even greater fury thus physically/psychologically overwhelm the non-initiator/non-aggressor with a very unfortunate outcome for the latter party. Regardless, it has always both bewildered and sickened me how a person can throw a serious punch without any physical provocation.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Good one, Bill.
    Some reactions on this foggy Cali morning:

    I tried substituting the word “Washington” for “Hollywood” and “Oscars”. Your article and most of the comments still work quite well.

    Adversity reveals character. Hollywood has so revealed it’s true character in recent years. Glad people are taking notice. And now Will Smith has too.

    Interesting in recent days to see many of the celebrities who were there and present are now walking back their lack of courage in the moment.

    How are Will Smith, Putin, and American Cancel Culture alike? Let me count the ways…

    Lastly, imagine if Will Smith had not slapped Chris Rock, but instead walked up, asked him quietly to lay off his wife, shook his hand, and then walked away. How powerful would that have been?
    Honor…it works like magic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The slap was along these lines posted to my Blog on March 11,
      Russia is angry. The US is angry. Ukraine is angry. The 30 NATO Nations are angry. China is angry, The People are angry, and hatred is on the increase.

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