It’s Sunday night, and the big show is on. All the glitzy stars of the big screen will be out, all of them dressed in outfits that cost roughly the same amount of money as my car, the women showing more skin than a tanning house and the men all looking like cookie-cutter Ken dolls in every possible shade of Caucasian. The movie industry will spend roughly four hours congratulating itself on its ability to entertain and make more money than the GDP of many small African nations.
Saying all of that, I love movies. I have a large collection of DVDs and I watch them often. I believe that Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of the most moving experiences one can have while sitting in front of a screen.
But the last part of that statement is the important one here: while sitting in front of a screen.
That’s why the amount of hype, money, and attention that gets funnelled into Oscar Night makes me a bit queasy. The Nobel Prize deserves Oscar-level publicity; at least the winners of that are making positive contributions to humanity in tangible, noticeable ways. But because your average physicist, chemist, or humanitarian generally doesn’t have celebrity-level good looks, it makes it much harder to convince the hosts of Entertainment tonight that interviewing Thomas A. Steitz on the red carpet is worth the cost of the flight.
“Thomas! Thomas! Can you tell us who you’re wearing and how excited you are to be nominated for your work on ribosome structure and function?”
At least it would be a celebration of a real achievement. I loved Julie and Julia, and I thought that Merryl Streep was brilliant in her performance as Julia Child, but the absolute bottom line was that she was pretending to be someone that she is not, and nothing more. Likewise, Christoph Waltz’s performance as Colonel Landa in Inglorious Basterds (which was, on the whole, on of the best movies I have ever seen) was perhaps the greatest bit of acting I have ever seen in a film, but he too was simply playing a role that all of us sat there and watched.
Film is entertainment at its least interactive.
You sit, you watch, and if you are lucky enough to have a friend who also saw it, you discuss. That’s it. You don’t affect the flow of the narrative, you aren’t asked to use your imagination, you don’t offer anything except an array of ocular nerves and a functioning occipital lobe. You are looking at people playing pretend through the course of 2 hours of made-up story.
It doesn’t mean that you can’t be entertained, or that movies can’t provide deep catharsis, or that they can’t send a profound message into the public (a la Dead Man Walking or Gorillas in the Mist), but for the love of God, people, get some perspective! It’s entertainment! It’s something designed to keep you busy for a couple of hours and then release you back into your far less attractive world. Enjoy films for that value, but stop buying into Hollywood’s need to convince itself that it actually matters.
If they want to pat each other on the back (or on other, more personal areas), by all means let them, but I sure would appreciate it if they would do so in private, with the rest of their industry, the way all of us do it here in the real world. That way I can stop listening to them championing pet causes about which they are woefully ignorant, I can stop hearing them pretend to respect the other nominees, and I can stop seeing James Cameron strutting about with his dorky hair, spouting off lines from a language he made up for a bunch of 8-foot-tall, computer-generated Smurfs.