The Jean Hersholt Award.
If you're an Oscar watcher, already buying the popcorn for the February 25th ceremonies, you know what this is. In the words of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Hersholt Award "is given to an individual in the motion picture industry whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry." In other words, this is one of the few awards given out by the Academy that does not honor the recipient for his or her artistic achievements. It chooses among the Hollywood elite who have used their success in motion pictures for various humanitarian causes.
The award includes among its honorees Elizabeth Taylor (her work on AIDS), the late Audrey Hepburn (the United Nations), Gregory Peck (a variety of charities and causes) and even Charlton Heston in his pre-conservative incarnation as spokesman for the National Rifle Association (for support for Civil Rights, among other things.)
But there's a name missing from this list, and the fact that it is missing highlights the reason so many conservatives dismiss not only the Oscar but a number of other prominent awards. The missing name, of course, is Ronald Reagan.
Over the course of a forty-year career in almost sixty films, Reagan served not only as president of the Screen Actors Guild but as a master of ceremonies of the Oscars themselves. Yet the only actor to serve as president of the United States, the man historians now credit with winning the Cold War and freeing millions from bondage, the man who just the other day was rated as second only to Abraham Lincoln in terms of presidential greatness -- for this actor there was not a snow ball's chance in hell of being honored by his peers.
Clearly, the reason had to be Reagan's conservatism. Does anyone seriously think that a former President Robert Redford or former President George Clooney would be unrecognized by the Motion Picture Academy? Of course not. This very year no less than Al Gore -- Al Gore!- is up for a golden statue for his global warming documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.
The real inconvenient truth about a number of these high profile awards is that if you are a political conservative you can simply forget about applying. The amusing part of all this is that the same-old-same-old results of ignoring conservatives or blatantly choosing winners based on their liberalism winds up demeaning the award itself, degrading its value to the point that fewer and fewer people even pretend to care.
Who today has the same kind of respect for the Oscars, the Grammys, or even the Nobel Peace Prize, all of which once seemed to have a dazzling glow? Let's be real. The reason Reagan was ignored by the Oscars is the same reason the Dixie Chicks won a Grammy and Jimmy Carter got the Nobel Peace Prize. Carter -- and both Bill and Hillary Clinton -- even got a Grammy for reading an audio version of a book!
It has nothing to do with the stated purpose of the awards in question. The question of who wins these things is settled ahead of time by the recipient's politics. Does anyone really believe that if an ex-Vice President Dick Cheney made a film about the inconvenient untruths of global warming doctrine he'd ever see the inside of the Kodak Theater as an Oscar nominee?
It's too bad. Millions of Americans love movies and music. Why, I know for a fact there are conservatives out there who even cherish peace! Really! They simply disagree on how to achieve it.
Surprisingly, there is one of the younger "awards" that has actually stepped up to the plate on this issue. No less than the John F. Kennedy Library's "Profile in Courage Award" took a step back from the brink of liberal predictability by giving the late President Gerald Ford its award for his courage in pardoning JFK's old debating partner Richard Nixon. The move was particularly stunning when one considered the vocal opposition to the pardon from Senator Ted Kennedy. The choice of Ford did the obvious -- it gave the Profiles in Courage Award an increase in credibility with observers who had come to believe that it was nothing more than more of the liberal same.
But the Kennedy award is the exception in the awards business, not the rule. The fact of life in the awards business is that conservatives should not bother to apply. Which is why the latest choice to receive this or that award will be greeted by many conservatives with a yawn. What could be more boring then liberals applauding liberals?
So go ahead and tune in to the Oscars on Sunday night. Pop the corn, settle in and pick a liberal to win. You'll be right. And to say the least, one more liberal getting the Jean Hersholt Award will hardly bring "credit to the industry" beyond notice that diversity is not a Hollywood thing.
Pay no attention to the men and women running the Academy Awards behind their gilded curtains. Al Gore may be able to beat Ronald Reagan at the Oscars, but I have no doubt Reagan would have preferred winning the Cold War over winning an Oscar any day of the week.
He was, after all, a humanitarian.
Jeffrey Lord is the author of The Borking Rebellion. A former Reagan White House political director, he is now a writer in Pennsylvania.
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