Me! Me! Me! — Unmoored at SAG Harbor - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Me! Me! Me! — Unmoored at SAG Harbor
James Hong addresses the SAG audience (Netflix/YouTube)

If you’re like me, you’ve always been somewhat dissatisfied with the annual Academy Awards telecast — and, for that matter, with the Emmys and Golden Globes — because they waste precious time handing out trophies to all kinds of boring and unimportant people, like writers, directors, cinematographers, film editors, lighting experts, sound mixers, composers, costume designers, production designers, and CGI technicians. 

That’s why the Screen Actors Guild Awards are so damn terrific. They’re all about acting. Acting! Actors! Les acteurs! Practitioners of the art of Thespis! Those spectacular gods and goddesses who, bearing in their very souls the magical secret of transformation into characters unlike themselves, tread the boards on Broadway and the West End and, in glorious Hollywood spectacles, fill the gigantic cinema screens with their magnificent emoting. Troupers! Clowns! Ingénues! Stars as bright as Arcturus and Vega, Betelgeuse and Altair!

Until the other day, to be sure, I didn’t even know that the SAG Awards were presented on a TV show. How could I have been so naïve? I should have realized that all these events are broadcast to a world desperate for genius and glamor. What, otherwise, would be the point? For my part, I happened to learn about this year’s SAG Awards program (aired originally on TBS and TNT) only because it popped up on my YouTube feed at a moment when I was trying to find a good reason to avoid reading yet another depressing book about Islam. So I watched it.

How much longer are we going to be clocking the racial histories of the winners of minor awards that most people don’t even know about?

And how wonderful it was! What could be more entertaining than a show lasting more than two hours in which people who already receive infinitely more attention than they could possibly deserve rattle on breathlessly, in their acceptance speeches, about how once, in their inconceivably lonely youth, they didn’t get all that much attention, and about how tragically painful that was, and about how difficult a struggle it was to become an actor — an actor! and about how rewarding it is now, at long last, to get all that attention of which they dreamed for so long. 

Attention! Atención! Achtung! 

Ah, the pristine utter self-absorption! In the 1943 movie Madame Curie, we see the eponymous scientist (played by Greer Garson) gradually reduce a pile of radium ore to a sample so uncontaminated, and so tiny, as to be barely visible. And yet, in the dark, it shines like a star in the night sky. Such, my friends, is the bright, glowing purity of the self-love on display at the SAG Awards. 

(Madame Curie, by the way, won Nobel Prizes in both physics and chemistry — but never snagged a SAG Award. Loser!) 

What a show! Two by two, remarkably self-absorbed award presenters whom I couldn’t have identified in a police lineup kept strutting onstage in tuxedos and gowns, whereupon they introduced actors, almost all of whose names were new to me, who were up for prizes for their performances in TV shows or movies that, with very few exceptions, I’d never heard of. Before the winners were announced, we were shown clips in which the nominees could be heard saying no more than a sentence or two — often, in fact, no more than three or four words — after which the SAG audience applauded hysterically for the display of artistic prowess that they’d just witnessed. 

In addition, there were clips from SAG Awards of the past. One actor gushed about how wonderful it was “to be in a room with all of you amazing human beings.” That was the general thrust of the clips. And, in fact, of the show itself. “I love actors,” declaimed Jeremy Allen White, who won for a Hulu series called The Bear. “I love what I do.” Who knew that there was a series called The Bear? Who knew that Hulu produced its own TV series? White went on to say that being a part of the cast of The Bear had made him feel “more connected, more understood — and a lot more understanding.” And taller!

Then there was the Oppression Olympics. In one of the old clips, somebody actually called for identity group “differences” to be put aside. But that was followed immediately — and with no sign of irony on the part of the producers — by a self-congratulatory reference to being “young, gifted and black.” When Fran Drescher stepped onstage, I expected a laugh or two — but it turns out that she’s the current president of SAG, and her dry, pompous speech couldn’t have been more at odds with everything that ever came out of her mouth on The Nanny.

Ke Huy Quan, one of the several actors to pick up trophies for Everything Everywhere All at Once, said that he’d been told that if he won, he’d be “the very first Asian actor to win in this category” — the category being Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role. Cheers ensued. Okay, we had a black president — how much longer are we going to be clocking the racial histories of the winners of minor awards that most people don’t even know about? Anyway, because of this achievement, “this moment,” announced Ke, “no longer belongs to just me” — meaning, of course, that it belongs to all the Asian actors who haven’t yet nabbed awards. “To all those at home … who are struggling and waiting to be seen,” Ke said, “keep on going because the spotlight will one day find you.” Well, at least he was honest enough to deep-six all the claptrap about self-discovery and artistic creation and admit that, yes, that’s what it’s really all about — being in the spotlight. 

Born in Saigon, Ke is the son of Chinese parents. If he’d felt a need to use his acting award as an opportunity to go political, he could’ve spoken up about the evils of Vietnamese Communism. Or about the Uyghur genocide. But of course what’s far more important is that Asians win more Hollywood awards. 

Okay, there were some nice moments. Sam Elliott, 78, accepting an award for his performance in the TV series 1883, was, as always, a humble old cowboy — a veritable visitor from the past — thanking “my wife, my beautiful Katharine.” How many younger viewers, I wondered, knew that Katharine is none other than Katharine Ross, the long-retired star of The Graduate, to whom he’s been married since 1984? 

Then there was Jamie Lee Curtis, daughter of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. Accepting her award for Everything Everywhere All at Once, she announced that she was “wearing the wedding ring that my father gave my mother.” The predictable applause followed. “They hated each other … in the end,” she added. Terrific delivery. Hilarious. Everything Everywhere All at Once stinks (I bailed out a third of the way through), but Jamie Lee deserved the award for True Lies (1994), if nothing else. 

The lifetime achievement award went to Sally Field, who was praised as an “ally to the LGBTQIA+ community” and for being arrested recently for climate activism. Move over, Natan Sharansky! Field won her first Oscar for Norma Rae. When she won her second, for Places in the Heart, she famously told the audience (and the world), “You like me, right now, you like me!” — the point being that just one Oscar hadn’t been enough to make her feel good about herself. 

At the SAG show, Andrew Garfield (Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network) told us that Sally Field “show us how to live a life devoted to arts … and service.” Taking the stage, Sally talked about how it had required “a fierceness I didn’t know I had” to “claw my way” up the career ladder and ultimately experience those magnificent moments on celluloid when she felt “dangerously alive.” But Field qualified her self-praise by noting that she was, after all, a “white girl” — whose “fight, as hard as it was, was lightweight compared to some of yours.”

I’ll close with my favorite moment from the show. When the cast of Everything Everywhere All at Once crowded onstage to accept the prize for best ensemble, it was James Hong who spoke on their behalf. Now 94, he’s the actor who played a Chinese restaurant maître d’ in memorable episodes of both Seinfeld and King of Queens. He rambled on charmingly, at one point apparently acknowledging that the movie for which he’d won might not be a masterpiece after all: “I don’t know what they’re thinking,” he said, “when they wrote that script.” Me neither, pal.


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