Self-important artiste-asses like Sean Penn laughed at Chris Rock’s labored and unfunny GAP metaphor about President Bush’s on-the-job incompetence but quickly stopped laughing when he mocked theirs. Most of you guys aren’t real star actors, Rock said, just “popular people.” To his credit Rock turned his corrosive cynicism on his smug patrons, treating them as a collection of bejeweled phonies and hacks. This was “mean-spirited,” according to post-mortem criticism. But why is that any more mean-spirited than the bile Hollywood pours on Bush? A classless audience deserves a classless host. At least Chris Rock knows, unlike the Sean Penns, that he has no class, and suffers no illusions about Hollywood’s essential idiocy.
The Oscars are nothing more than a comedy show at this point anyways, as its tragedies are so maudlin and false to reality that they can’t move audiences to anything except inadvertent laughter. Most serious modern dramas are like oh-so-serious modern art, sources of unintentional humor that make the elite ooh and ah but ordinary people either scratch their heads or chuckle at the ridiculous pretentiousness of it all.
For all of Hollywood’s fixation on youth and life, its real obsession is deformity and death. Not one but two pro-euthanasia movies won awards on Sunday night, Million Dollar Baby for Best Picture and The Sea Inside for Best Foreign Film. This is the sort of existential escapist fare that celebrities who intend to deny the reality of death as long as possible can’t resist. Wearing the death masks of plastic surgery — the faces they wish to be remembered by — actors cheered these movies, finding comfort in their message that once life loses it hedonistic prospects some Dirty Harry will be around to help them peg out.
Life devoid of vanity and glamour is the worst fear of Hollywood celebrities, and these movies suggest to them that perhaps they won’t have to face it. While they will shed a tear for this or that disabled celebrity from the comfort of their theater seat, they certainly don’t want to be disabled themselves — the disabilities of old age are an intolerable assault upon their dignity. Not that they don’t revere the elderly, of course. Between feting these pro-euthanasia movies, Hollywood’s luminaries did find some time to help raise money for the industry’s old folks home and congratulate Clint Eastwood’s mom who is in her nineties.
These movies, however, would suggest that a right to die is a duty to die, so perhaps Mickey Rooney and his friends better grab their canes and head out of town. Indeed, Hollywood treats euthanasia not as a tragedy but as a comedy in the classical sense: it is a happy ending. That is why Hollywood’s depiction of euthanasia seems more comic than sad, more absurdist than tragic. By casting euthanasia as a happy, not unhappy, ending, Hollywood has managed to turn tragedies into comedies yet grows angry when anyone dares to laugh at the incongruity.
Art that spins suicide as a triumph of the human spirit can’t be taken seriously. When cowardice is presented as courage and evil depicted as good, art has cut itself off from the reality it is suppose to imitate and becomes at best risible, at worst appalling. The defenders of Million Dollar Baby dismiss criticism of it as political. No, it is first artistic: the movie is rotten art because it falsifies reality, presenting a raw act of homicide as the moral good that in reality it isn’t.
That The Passion of the Christ was almost completely ignored by the Oscars (in its comic superficiality Hollywood did consider the movie in the best makeup category, in which it lost to a Jim Carrey movie) provided perfect symmetry for the evening: a precise rendering of the reality of Christ’s death made the artists of Hollywood look away while the sham pathos of Clint Eastwood’s euthanasia movie drew their most precious gaze. Artists are supposed to choose the real over the fake; Hollywood chooses the fake over the real.
Mel Gibson’s movie drew scorn not because it wasn’t real but because it wasn’t fake. Had Gibson falsified the historical narrative, bringing it into line with Hollywood sensibilities, he would probably have won some Oscars. Nobody on Sunday night seemed to have noticed that after a year of lecturing Gibson about “gratuitous violence,” Hollywood ended up celebrating the ultimate act of gratuitous violence, suicide — a turn of events beyond the satire of Chris Rock.
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