Sunday night, as per usual, I watched the Academy Awards so that you don’t have to — and I have to admit, as far as Oscar nights go, this one was surprisingly entertaining.
I’m not talking, of course, about the “Oscars red carpet,” where celebrities paraded about in designer frocks they get to don for free, vaguely resembling real people. No, that was dominated by a string of forgettable gowns that ran the gamut from “poorly conceived Disney princess knockoff” to “poorly tailored trash bag” (though, technically, we’re not supposed to discuss them, as it’s somehow degrading to women to ask them about a dress they spent six weeks starving themselves to fit into, and which costs more than I make in a year).
There were highlights: Cate Blanchett stunned in an incredible Armani Prive gown that seemed to have been plucked — quite literally — from the pages of Vogue, and the breakout star of Room, Brie Larson, chose a tasteful, plunging Gucci to celebrate her inevitable triumph over perennial winner Jennifer Lawrence, who showed up in feathers and a scowl on the arm of director David O. Russell, who has directed Lawrence in the same film over and over since 2012. Heidi Klum came dressed as particularly risqué Golden Girl, Kerry Washington looked ready to defend Sparta, Rooney Mara was auditioning for her next role as the jilted bride from Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride, Whoopi Goldberg debuted some truly terrifying jewelry, Olivia Wilde wore the drapes, Lady Gaga wore the pants, and Orlando Jones wore the signature jacket from the Donald Trump carpet collection. Jennifer Garner showed up in a classic Versace gown, proving, once again, that literally everything is better without Ben Affleck.
But while the sequins were plentiful, the substance — which the Oscars claim, every year, to have in spades — was not. Instead, the Oscars were rife with controversy, after several prominent black actors and directors carried out a weak boycott of the ceremony, partly because the Oscars is the most lily white event in L.A. outside of Major League Soccer, and, apparently, partly because Will Smith wasn’t nominated for his latest Very Serious Film, Concussion, released in time for Oscar contention, but viewed only several times by people who entered the theater by mistake while looking for The Force Awakens and then were too embarrassed to leave (of course, one could say that about any nominated film except for Mad Max: Fury Road, hence why, despite being the night’s biggest award winner, it lost Best Picture to Spotlight, a self-congratulatory paen to the glory days of print journalism, occasionally interrupted by Mark Ruffalo).
It wasn’t the controversy, though, but the response to it, that belied more about the seedy underbelly of Hollywood politicking. As the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences scrambled to find a way to placate a growing chorus of disenchanted voices, clamoring for statistical equality and improved diversity among honorees. They quickly hired new leadership, compiled a series of “outreach programs,” and pledged to begin a discussion with minority leaders on how to best address the racial achievement gap. They invited legendary black actors to be in the audience, and, it seems, encouraged host Chris Rock to tackle the issue head-on.
But that’s where they made their biggest mistake. Because, when anyone in Hollywood faces an issue, they don’t do it with an eye to actually solving the problem. When Chris Rock took the stage on Oscar night, instead of congratulating the Academy and its guests on their progressive thinking, he immediately excoriated them for their more genteel breed of racism.
So, at some point you get to take a picture with the president, and, you know as they’re setting up the picture you get a little moment with the president.
I’m like, “Mr. President, you see all these writers and producers and actors? They don’t hire black people, and they’re the nicest, white people on earth! They’re liberals! Cheese!”
That’s right. Is Hollywood racist? You’re damn right Hollywood is racist… Hollywood is sorority racist. It’s like, “We like you Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.” That’s how Hollywood is.
While the faces in the crowd belied a level of discomfort with Rock’s tough talk, the legions of white liberals were immediately consoled by the MPAA assuring them that “things were being done” and “discussions were being had.” Focus groups were being put together! Community outreach plans were being hatched! Parts were being rewritten! Black writers and filmmakers were being hired by the dozen! Except that they weren’t. Because the act of hiring more writers and filmmakers of color takes effort, while discussions, focus groups, outreach projects, and board meetings don’t, and if there’s anything Hollywood eschews, it’s effort. Compassion among liberals has its limit — and that limit is any willingness to take action. Their commitment to real policy changes is as contrived as Lady Gaga’s plastic hair.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise: the lack of human compassion among liberals is almost endemic. For a group that endlessly congratulates itself on its worldliness and humanitarianism, and who counts themselves among the most generous people they know, the concept of liberalism is inherently the opposite. It takes hard-earned money by force (or threat of force — few of us ever really run up against the IRS’s goons), and redistributes it to bloated government programs that have great mission statements but terrible efficiency, miring the people who need their services in frustrating mounds of red tape and an endless cycle of paperwork. Meanwhile, lots of liberals get very wealthy knowing what’s best for poor people, and a lot of Hollywood celebrities think their wealth is an excuse to issue edicts from their Ivory Tower.
Racial harmony is not, of course, the only issue on which Hollywood’s interest is as fake as their breast implants. Halfway through the Oscar presentation, Lady Gaga sang a song about surviving sexual assault, violence which she decried as systemic (it’s not — the study Gaga cited is false — but that’s beside the point), and trotted out a crowd of survivors to prove it. But while Gaga and her chorus were serious, the audience, which gave her a standing ovation for her “courage” in standing up to something that’s actually terrible, reacted immediately to the effort by hugging each other, congratulating themselves on a job well done, raising awareness about campus rape by applauding a song written, performed, and promoted by someone else, and which, when you think about, probably didn’t make a single dent in the campus rape “epidemic” (though, to be fair, it might have made one or two of the Hillary Clinton supporters in the audience think twice about their candidate’s husband).
And then, there was the winner for Best Original Screenplay — the first award of the night — who told his audience to stand up to those who might influence elections: corporations (which employ him), Wall Street (which bankrolls his studio), and most alarmingly, “weird billionaires.” Apparently, in a room full of weird millionaires, there’s a line of demarcation that shall not be crossed. No doubt he will substantiate his commitment by cashing his Oscar bonus and giving, along with the rest of his well-to-do castmates, a sizable donation to Bernie Sanders. The rationale? Bernie Sanders does something. What it is, I’m sure he’ll never know.
Finally, there’s Leonardo DiCaprio who, after years of prominent roles in mediocre movies and making various in-vain attempts at facial hair (“method acting”), finally badgered the Academy into giving him an Oscar. Once handed his statue, he used his 45 seconds on stage not to thank his family, his friends, and his long-suffering public for having to endure his films for close to two decades, but to lecture whatever public hadn’t tuned out by that point on his commitment to “saving the planet.” But lest you think he will spend his retirement repairing EPA-induced mine floods and plugging the hole in the ozone layer as a man-bunned Captain Planet, he’s mostly talking about, well, talking about things. Sure, Leonardo DiCaprio attends a lot of conferences on global warming and contributes to many a symposium on instituting global sustainability policies — heck, he even drives a Prius! — but you can’t expect DiCaprio do actually do anything himself to ensure the penguins at the South Pole are safe from sunburns! Following the Awards ceremony, Leo, more than likely, boarded his gas-guzzling private jet to fly halfway across the world, spewing more carbon in one trip than you and I manufacture in a year, to celebrate his victory on a beach in a third world country, on a white, sandy beach, barricaded as securely as possible, lest a more plebeian individual fail to avert their gaze.
Perhaps next year’s Oscars can take on the more pressing ills of our day. I’m sure celebrities have many thoughts on everything from foreign policy to welfare reform to pit bull adoption. Sadly, we’ll have to wait a whole year to hear them. I’m sure you’re crushed.