“No, no soap Mr. Norton. We’re sunk, and we’ll have to pay through the nose.” I had actually misremembered this passage of dialogue, uttered by Edward G. Robinson in 1944’s “Double Indemnity” as “It won’t wash.” And the reason I was thinking of “It won’t wash” was on account of Sean Penn’s joke before announcing the “Birdman” Best Picture award. I don’t need to repeat it here. And the reason “It won’t wash” sprang to mind, inaccurately, is because, you know, no matter how many protestations of collegial teasing between longtime friends and colleagues and blah blah blah are offered, they won’t wash. Some things are not to be joked about, and Alejandro G. Iñarritu’s green card is not one of them. Alan Yuhas’ roundup in the Guardian is pretty comprehensive, and I’ve got to say my favorite cited tweet is from Nina Terrero, an Entertainment Weekly reporter who took this firm stand: “I will never pay to see any of [Sean Penn’s] films again.” Whoa.
Here’s a thing: if you work at Entertainment Weekly, you probably don’t pay to see Sean Penn’s films to begin with. I have to tread carefully here, obviously. I don’t want to put myself in the line of fire of racial outrage, but let’s have a little entertainment journalism REAL TALK here, people: if you’re reading a film review or a profile or what have you, you’re reading an account written by someone who doesn’t pay to see movies that often. And honestly, the algebra of how much of my actual money goes into Sean Penn’s pocket in the event that I DO actually pay to see a Sean Penn film is pretty complicated and, oh forget it. I got into this argument over Roman Polanski once and it didn’t change the world for the better either.
Anyway. How did YOU like the Oscars last night? As I explained in my first installment of this series of writings, I, like perhaps many of you, enjoy the whole awards season thing when awards go out to movies I like. So while I wish that “Boyhood” had gotten more, I was pleased to see Patricia Arquette win Best Supporting Actress and I was not displeased to see “Birdman” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” do as well as they did. I wish that “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” had won Best Animated Feature, but I wasn’t counting on it to do so, and I’m not against “Big Hero 6.” I refuse to be indignant. I made chicken parmiagiana for the Oscar party My Lovely Wife and I were invited to, and it went over well. I did not call my parents at J.K. Simmons’ insistence, only because I’ve been talking to them a lot lately, particularly my mom, who had serious surgery a couple of weeks ago and who has been recovering so spectacularly that she was able to watch the Oscars with a group at her rehabilitation facility. I thought a lot of host Neil Patrick Harris’ bits fell flat—on a show where viewers always bitch about length, it’s not really a great idea to include a comedy routine predicated on eating up a good portion of what is supposed to be the ceremony’s home stretch, as was the case with the “predictions” gag—I found him likable and capable and would like to see him return—grow into the role a little. So I’ve nothing to complain about.
But of course I’ve got nothing to complain about because I’m a white heterosexual male baby boomer. I am apparently ubiquitously represented by the Academy. Never mind that I never actually see people who remind me of myself in motion pictures, nor have I ever been interested in motion pictures as a vehicle for seeing people such as myself. I was raised on horror movies and was always more interested in film as Spiritually Transcendent Narcotic than as Comforting Identification Medium. But that’s just me, and as a white heterosexual person, my privilege is such that my professed aesthetic elasticity is practically built into it.
Which is one way of saying I don’t know what to say about the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag besides, well, yes, it is, and…Well, here, let me point to THAT white guy over there, Scott Feinberg, who probably inadvertently poured fuel on that rhetorical fire by publishing, in The Hollywood Reporter, not one but two “brutally honest” interviews with Academy members/Oscar balloteers who betrayed really startlingly condescending views on race; “we give out awards to black people when they deserve them, just like any other group,” one member commented, as if African-Americans were some kind of alien bloc outside the Academy proper. It’s nauseating, and the defensiveness behind the sentiment is nauseating. As if to say, “Why are you people of color beating up on me about this? You’ll be recognized by me when you earn it.” But this defensiveness gets old before it’s even articulated, really. Poor White Person. Once again some movie dialogue comes to mind, specifically Alec Baldwin in “Glengarry Glen Ross:” “You think this is abuse? You think this is abuse you c**ksucker? You can’t take this, how can you take the abuse you get on a sit?”
Because here’s the thing, people: Social Justice Oscars aren’t going away. This isn’t 1993, when Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins were chastised over forthright comments on Haiti, and Richard Gere was out-and-out banned from the show for criticizing the Chinese government (Tibet, Buddhists, you know). A new and very social-media-vocal generation of Oscar aficionados is watching and not only does it vociferously applaud political and social-issue pronouncements, it parses them with a fine-toothed comb (is that a mixed metaphor? To tell you the truth, in all this excitement it’s kinda hard to make the distinction), which is why the “Right On!” effect of Patricia Arquette’s acceptance speech (bolstered by the Sisterhood-Is-Powerful reaction shot of Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez) was very soon ameliorated by the “WHAT did she say about the gays?” disapproval chorus.
Anyway, I’m not trying to go all Jonathan Chait on you here, I know it’s all just words, but oh my, such an awful lot of them, and such a lot of angry people behind them. I keep imagining Bob Hope in one of his coward-persona characters, caught in a spotlight, looking for the quickest exit. In conclusion, two song lyrics. First one’s by Irving Berlin, and originated in the 1946 musical “Annie Get Your Gun:”
“There's no people like show people
They smile when they are low
Even with a turkey that you know will fold
You may be stranded out in the cold
Still you wouldn't trade it for a sack o' gold
Let's go on with the show”
Second one’s from a song called “Gloria Gloom,” written by Bill MacCormack and Robert Wyatt, first performed by the band Matching Mole in 1972:
“Like so many of you
I’ve got my doubts about how much to contribute
To the already rich among us.
How long can I pretend that music’s more relevant than fighting
For a socialist world?”