The 88th Oscars have come and gone, so why am I still irked?
Is it because I wasn't nominated? Nope, my opus is still a little ways off. Is it because I wasn't invited to the Governor's Ball? Hardly. My invitation has yet to be printed, in fact my tux is still hanging in the store. Maybe as a New York born, Maryland raised, white Jewish American male with English-Romanian-Russian-Jewish roots I'm not "diverse" enough for this next wave of media that will no doubt have a very different multi-cultural flavor as the Hollywood community rises to the call of its international audience. What gets me can be summed up in a word that has been echoing through my head ever since this telecast, and that word is respect, more to the point, the lack thereof. Aretha Franklin sang about it, your teacher taught you all about it, and your parents insisted upon it: R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
The root of this recent discomfort can be traced to how the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences scrambled to assess the damage caused by their lack of racially diverse nominations. I am not yet a member of the Academy - a highly coveted position - and can only guess at the voting procedure (Watch film. Fill in your favorite. Watch next film. Repeat.) As disappointed as I am in this lack of diversity, I am equally as disgusted by the fact that it seems to have slipped the minds of those in charge to remind the viewing audience that this is an award show that celebrates creative excellence in film-making. Did the Academy forget that they are the parent, actually the grandparent to today's ever-expanding media empire? Chris Rock, a very effective smart and funny host, proved his genius over and over again through well-written copy and short quips that startled the audience into laughter. I congratulate him. He walked away the hero gaining respect from the masses. The Academy, on the contrary, should be reprimanded for bad behavior.
Let's think back to September 9, 2009. President Obama had been in office only a short while and was now addressing a joint session of Congress to outline his proposal for reforming health care. While on the podium, the president of the United States was interrupted by Joe Wilson, a member of the House of Representatives who pointed at Obama and shouted, "You lie!" Somehow, in this contemporary day and age, to disrespect the office of the president seemed befitting. The office of the president!
My childhood was spent in the Baltimore, Md suburbs. This was a simpler time, pre-modern day gentrification, pre-race riots, pre-technology boom. This was the cultural decade. Rightly or not it was a time where we were taught that, "it's not whether you win or lose but how you play the game (unlike today's "winning isn't everything, it's the only thing). My family and I were like many other somewhat ordinary middle class folks, we went to public school, both parents worked, then at dinnertime we fought over our favorite television programs.
Now this was the heyday of television where reading remained an active past-time and consequently analog storytelling enjoyed a certain literate quality. This was also the period where televisions were just starting to migrate into the kitchen. Networks recognized this camaraderie. They respected this family hour and programmed accordingly. The royalty Hollywood introduced between six and eight o'clock at night were those celebrities you would be honored to invite into your home, if only you had a really awesome Rolodex. These people were fun, talented, entertaining and seemingly respectful. No one really yelled unless it was for a joke. Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx were great at that. So were Carol Burnett and Mel Brooks. We smiled, laughed, passed the broccoli. Audiences admired those on screen, they emulated them through clothes and dialogue. There was an awe in the relationship between patrons and performers in much the same way as the general public views international royalty. We were beholden to this hierarchy, willingly, and came to rely on it just as any other population would turn to its royal class.
Take notice United Kingdom, Sweden, Norway, Morocco and all you other global kingdoms, the United States also has an admired royal class yet ours extends beyond our geographic borders and yields authority way beyond taxation and military might. In this country we create dreams through a machine called, "Hollywood".
The entertainment industry was born out of a need for opportunity. In fact, this west coast kingdom was birthed by European immigrants in search of financial success. Yet in 1929, when Louis B. Mayer handed out the first awards to the day's Hollywood talent during a fifteen minute ceremony at the Roosevelt Hotel, the Oscar ceremonies were born. That evening has since paved the way for a bevy of talent and craftspeople who create extraordinary feats in filmed entertainment that continues to shape the world's trends, entertain and inform.
But is it fair to compare the entertainment industry to a governing kingdom with all of its requirements and committees? The simple question has a very easy answer. Of course n -- well, maybe. Let's reflect on the structure of a monarchy from the king on down the ladder, and, for the sake of argument, compare it to Hollywood. Consider the producer as king (as many do) with their overarching responsibilities and their people-pleasing prowess. Princes and princesses make up the landscape of regal actors who inspire the masses with their performances and goodwill. How often do we see an actress with international fame take on a global cause of goodwill and soon after gain the status of ambassador? And let's not forget all of the artisans that keep the kingdom polished to perfection for whom without none of this hierarchy would even be possible.
My feeling is that Hollywood, just like any monarchy, is a public servant. The entertainment community is much more than a self-contained industry but instead one that crosses seas, cultures and communities. Take out the economic component of its business model and our product, the media, has the ability to nourish, inform, wage wars, resolve conflict, travel through time, create enormous commerce and inspire great change. This industry produces jobs for countless millions and feeds the imaginations of even more. Our knights and damsels along with a bevy of jesters-on-call entertain the masses when the day's pressures seem unmanageable. And when it comes with pomp and circumstance, as intended with the Oscar ceremony, an annual gala whose mission is to amaze the world over with its glamour and opulence, it is important to recognize that this evening is more than a moment to congratulate its own but a night to inspire those across the globe. This is why I took offense to the most recent telecast that was built around the issue of diversity. Not because the topic isn't important, on the contrary, it is paramount to humanity's evolution. But instead because the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences forgot to respect its very nature.
The following day after the telecast it was reported that only thirty-five million viewers had watched the program, down eight percent from the previous year along with an assortment of other statistics that documented its recent unpopularity. Yes, we are in a business that ultimately needs to make money, however I don't believe that this should be the driving force behind an awards show, especially the granddaddy of all media. Lets not confuse the Academy Awards with any other award programming, regardless of their merit. Movies are at the top of the entertainment pyramid. Even as Netflix, Amazon and a host of other cable networks and internet channels dominate the scene, movies will remain as the preeminent, respected origin of the industry. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences doesn't need "clicks" or "likes," it already has "loves". Now all it needs to do is respect its legacy.
My stance surrounding the Oscars is that they will once again find their audience as the ceremony embraces its truth. As the players don their jeweled finery, board coaches and carriages and posture just as they've been taught, it will be less about the finite and more about the infinite. As the entertainment industry continues to serve the international public through a variety of new technologies, it is important to pay respect to the governing body that will continue to inspire the world over to use their imaginations and persevere.
We must not forget that Hollywood is a dream factory and that motion pictures are the backbone of this industry. The professional film-making community needs to risk being a stodgy award show because, in fact, that is what it is, a kingly showcase of talent and beauty. After-all, the Academy Awards is where it celebrates itself, a kingdom of dream-makers, princes and princesses dressed in their finery for the ball. It's a coronation. A time when professionals break away from their fifteen-hour workday to play dress-up, just like the characters they create and portray, and perform for the world. A moment where Hollywood can say to their global audience, "Dream big and who knows, someday it may be you on this stage". Let's not degrade ourselves with trite humor in an effort to attract those lying on their beds in pajamas watching their iDevices, for movies themselves are intended to be enjoyed in nothing less than a majestic theatre worthy of the time, talent and technology that went into the production. This machine of film-making, in all its glory, is designed to manifest the impossible.
Yes, indisputably, Hollywood is the closest this country has to royalty. In the end, it is not about money but wealth, the wealth of character, beauty and story that we are blessed to re-imagine in all its glory. Respect accordingly.