Oscars Have Become The Political Pandering Olympics

Oscars Have Become The Political Pandering Olympics

It’s that time of year again, where a couple of days after the Oscars I still can’t shake the sour taste from my mouth.

No, this year it’s not the nepotism, the buying of awards, the ridiculous elitism or the assault on our collective intelligence. It’s the coverage. The incessant pandering to an internet willing to click on diversity bait and an awards show that realizes this same brand of pandering is its only remaining capital.

The first headline I saw about the Oscars was this one from CNN, bemoaning the insufficient ‘wokeness’ of the ceremony. Give me a break.

Now, before I get too carried away, there are several caveats I’d like to put in place. First, I think the value of diverse stories is difficult to overstate. New narratives, unseen power structures and fresh takes on the human experience are essential to the artistic and cultural life of a society. From Aristotle until now most critics agree that we consume narrative art in order to expand our empathic ability, to purge our darker thoughts, to attain an all too elusive catharsis which is unavailable to most of us in daily life. Diversity is a huge part of that.

Second, I believe that any conversation which draws attention to the disenfranchisement of women or minority groups is a worthy one. Whether I or anyone else agrees with a specific political stance, it is the duty of all responsible folks to listen when other folks feel like they are being oppressed.

Third, the barometer for wokeness has yet to be standardized, and at some point I think we are all going to have to acknowledge that a lot of social criticism online is to sell ad space and not to achieve either of the functions mentioned above.

Which brings the barrel of my scorn cannon to the Oscars.

First, the whole nature of the Oscars is just about as homogenous an event as I can imagine. The stars showcased and voices heard all represent a kind of liberal apologism for which Hollywood is so often criticized by the conservative punditry.

When a group of people in a similar income bracket gather to champion a token issue year to year, that’s not diversity. It’s the performance of political concern, a performance which comes from the guilt many in Hollywood feel at attending such an opulent event, themselves bedecked in the most opulent clothing regular people are ever likely to see.

The peep-show of the rich and famous is tempered by this sloganizing and token mentality. Whether they say “Je suis Charlie” or “Me Too,” the reality remains that these people do not experience their cause celebre in the same way as the rest of the population.

While I will never argue that issues of race and misogyny are not prevalent in the apparatus of Hollywood, I will draw a stark line between the way the highest paid people in the world experience those problems and the way they manifest themselves in society at large. That is to say, no doubt Frances McDormand has come up against some heinous shit in her career, but in the oppression Olympics, she does not make the podium.

This does not mean she doesn’t have great things to say about some issues, particularly the huge disparity in creative roles between men and women in Hollywood. Her speech was moving, and I have watched it eight times. I urge you to watch it at least once. But what happens at the Oscars is not - I repeat - not diverse. No amount of Jordan Peele winning will make it so.

It is a dumbshow of diversity. A cynical and calculated performance by the entertainment elite to mimic what they hope the zeitgeist might be.

Which is what makes the criticism of the show all the more pointless. Who cares if the Oscars are diverse? Why aren’t more movies made that don’t revolve around a white dude with a gun and no consequences? Why are there so many minority oppression narratives that make good award bait but create a sense that to be a minority is only to suffer? If Hollywood were serious about these issues, I’d see a lot more Get Outs and Ladybirds, and a lot fewer Transformers.

And maybe in the future, I will. Maybe the tide really is turning, and the stories I see on film are going to be original and horizon-expanding. But if that happens, it sure as shit has nothing to do with an awards show in late winter. It will be because people are hungry for these stories and are willing to spend money to see them.

I guess the thing that really gets my goat about the coverage of the Oscars is this elusive wokeness I read about. Which I guess indicates the willingness of people to click on these pieces and get mad about representation. As if one day we are going to reach a level where our woke quota will be met and we can stop.  The nature of wokeness, so far as I understand it, is to realize that there are voices out there, not your own, that count the same as yours.

What about tokenizing minorities at an awards ceremony gets us closer to this very noble ideal? If you’re worried about wokeness stop going to movies where women are objects and minorities are seen only through that lens.

If you’re not worried about it, watch the Oscars. They’ll make you feel good without having to change a damn thing.

Silver lining: This year’s ceremony set a record for low viewership. And while conservative commentators and the idiot-wannabe-king in the White House have chalked that up to liberalism, I’d like to think that it’s because people are tired of hypocrisy and pandering, and that ain’t no partisan issue.