Oscar Night's Sad Familiarity -- 'Like Baghdad'

There are good
reasons George Clooney never cracked a sincere smile during the Oscars.
For one thing, there was nothing funny or dramatic in the ceremony -- not
a single decent joke or memorable line in the whole dragged-out
spectacle. But beyond that, there was something dispiriting about the
evening that I suspect brought out the worst in this usually charming
leading man.

Clooney is our era's thinking-person's actor.

There are good
reasons George Clooney never cracked a sincere smile during the Oscars.
For one thing, there was nothing funny or dramatic in the ceremony -- not
a single decent joke or memorable line in the whole dragged-out
spectacle. But beyond that, there was something dispiriting about the
evening that I suspect brought out the worst in this usually charming
leading man.

Clooney is our era's thinking-person's actor.
Obviously intelligent, and a liberal, he carries what little remains of
the heavily politicized legacy of Hollywood in the '70s and '80s, when
such frankly left-wing personalities as Jane Fonda, Robert Redford and
Paul Newman had a great deal to say. In keeping with less strident
times, Clooney adopts a style that is quieter and, perhaps, more ironic
than the style of the older generation of stars. Still, I wonder if it
wasn't pure disgust displayed on Clooney's face -- disgust with the
low-quality "humor" and the hypocrisy, sentimentality and political
correctness that marked the event.

Of course, Clooney might have
been unhappy simply because he knew that he couldn't win the Best-Actor
award for playing the role of someone who fires people for a living.
Downbeat doesn't earn mileage points in perpetually upbeat, happy-ending
Hollywood. While the Academy might want to acknowledge a certain kind
of dark performance with a nomination, the Polyannas of the movie
establishment, epitomized by Tom Hanks, don't quite want to celebrate
it, either.

But how could Clooney laugh at Steve Martin's "Jewish
joke"? Evidently emboldened by the tone of anti-Nazi schtick in Quentin
Tarantino's "Inglorious Basterds," the Academy Award scriptwriters
decided to go real low. "Christoph Waltz played a Nazi obsessed with
finding Jews," said the Baptist-raised Martin. Gesturing broadly to the
audience, he delivered the punch line: "The mother lode." Is that funny,
or just obnoxious? Jews "dominating" Hollywood is one of the oldest
cliches in the anti-Semite's handbook. I doubt that a Jewish comedian --
even a self-hating caricature -- would have used such material.

But
that wasn't the worst of it. Inevitably, Sandra Bullock won Best
Actress for playing an exemplary Christian, who, from the goodness of
her white, conservative heart reaches out to a lost black teenager and
saves his life. Those are the rules of the feel-good game and I wouldn't
be an American if I didn't (mostly) enjoy "The Blind Side," including
Bullock's appealing portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy.

However,
there's a limit to my tolerance for treacle, especially when it's
accompanied by tokenistic recognition of poor, unhealthy black people,
symbolized at the Oscars by Gabourey Sidibe and Mo'Nique, the stars of
"Precious." Isn't it just a little grotesque that real-life and
movie-version Sean Touhy, adoptive father of the very hefty teenager
Michael Oher, is a fast-food mogul, the owner of numerous Kentucky Fried
Chicken and Taco Bell franchises? Black people are disproportionately
the victims of fast-food fat and grease, and the gushing tributes to
Sidibe and Mo'Nique delivered by svelte white actresses mocked the class
and racial divide that separates the healthy and affluent from the
impoverished and obese.

More than any other aspect of this dreary
evening, though, I was depressed by Kathryn Bigelow's acceptance
speeches for Best Director and Best Picture. "The Hurt Locker" might, I
suppose, be construed to be an "anti-war" film, but clearly it is not
politically engaged in the tradition of "Platoon" or "Apocalypse Now."
When she stepped to the podium, Bigelow, who has said she's "a child of
the '60s" who sees "war as hell . . . and completely dehumanizing,"
could have said something straightforward about ending the destructive
and self-defeating American occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan (the
best way to remove U.S. soldiers from bomb-disarming duty). But instead
she opted for the purest bromide: "I'd like to dedicate this to the
women and men in the military who risk their lives on a daily basis in
Iraq and Afghanistan and around the world, and may they come home safe."

Evidently
embarrassed that she singled out the military, Bigelow upped the
blandness in her second acceptance by making "one more dedication to men
and women all over the world . . . who wear uniforms, not just
military, but hazmat, emergency, firemen." Why not mention the medics
and doctors who stitch together and amputate the limbs of civilians and
G.I.s who step on unexploded cluster bombs dropped by Uncle Sam and
improvised explosive devices buried by the rebels? Why not say something
clearly anti-war, or pro-withdrawal?

When ABC's Sherri Shepherd
interviewed Clooney and his Italian girlfriend, Elisabetta Canalis, on
the red carpet before the show, he was smiling but already ornery. To
Shepherd's professed admiration for him, Clooney remarked that Canalis
"doesn't understand English or she'd kill you. She'd cut you with a
stiletto." Fortunately for all concerned, he wasn't in the mood to
attend the Vanity Fair post-Oscar party. I don't blame him. The U.S.,
following Hollywood's example, more and more resembles a gated
community, and the Vanity Fair gala embodies the very essence of America
the humorless, America the frightened, America the stratified.

Among
journalists, the New York Post's gossip columnist Cindy Adams best
captured the true atmosphere of Oscar night and, perhaps, the state of
the nation. The apres-Oscar security, she said, was astonishingly good:
"Let [the government] hire the Vanity Fair group to protect us. These
guerrillas in spike heels know what they're doing. It's color-coded
cars. Color-coded limo passes. Streets blocked off. Lanes blocked off.
Checkpoints every few feet, like it's Baghdad."

Join the Movement: Become Part of the Solution Today

We're optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter counts.

Your contribution supports this new media model—free, independent, and dedicated to uncovering the truth. Stand with us in the fight for social justice, human rights, and equality. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

© 2023 Providence Journal