Reflections on the Oscars

Last night I watched The Oscars for the first and probably the last time. I though Kimmel was funny, or usually funny. The tour bus bit was entertaining. But truth be told I am not a huge fan of awarding ceremonies. I think it is good to recognize exceptional work and great displays of academic, artistic, and athletic ability as they only come through immense dedication to a craft. But whether it is Meryl Streep’s lifetime achievement award or Michael Jordan’s Hall of Fame speech, I am usually left thinking “that’s a bit much” during award shows. Viola Davis’ acceptance speech is an excellent example. She gave a fantastic speech, impassioned and humble:

However, I could not get around the comment “I became an artist, and thank God I did, because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.” Really? That’s a bit much (thought the pastor and philosopher). What about the medical practitioners (doctors, physical therapists, surgeons, chiropractors, specialists of all sorts) who go into their field to restore aspects of the human body and thus human life? My brother is studying to be a physical therapist because he has a calling and desire to see people live pain-free and enjoyable lives. What about the law enforcement officers who enter the profession because they know that part of human flourishing is the knowledge of safety and civility that military and law enforcement provide? I honestly could list hundreds of professions that people enter into because they reflect on their skills, desires, passions, and how they might promote a life of thriving among their communities. In fact, it seems fair to say that artists take roles as other people in other professions to display how such an individual (real or imagined) might celebrate life. These are the sort of reflections I have while watching The Oscars. Here are a few more:

Art Speaks Truth to Power (except when it doesn’t)

The award shows this season, I know thanks to Facebook, have been awash with political themes, jokes, and jabs. I have no problem with this. I think it is the job of the artist to speak truth to power. It is the job of the jester (Jimmy Kimmel) to poke fun at the king, it is the job of the satirist to mock reality displaying the absurdity of much of our work. It is, likewise, in my opinion, the job of the leaders of any nation to have a sense of humor and humility about themselves. This is why one of the funniest things I’ve seen was George W. Bush’s White House Correspondent’s Dinner speech with impressionist Steve Bridges:

It’s a bit dated and whether you agree or not with his politics you have to appreciate his willingness to mock himself. The trouble is when either the artists and journalists tasked with speaking truth to power and revealing truth to the public drop the ball (as has been the case for the previous presidential administration) or when the leadership and power party in politics is too sensitive to such jests (as i the case, it seems, now).

The Oscars were heavy with political innuendo and outright criticism. Some of it I can appreciate, some of it I do not. For an example of the former, while I am not sure it was necessary, Rosewater and Motorcycle Diaries star, Gael Garcia Bernal’s comments about immigration and the construction of a boarder wall I appreciated. While I thought the comments of Iranian director Asghar Farad were absurd. Mr. Farad was in absentee for The Oscars as a protest of the seven nation travel ban, which he called disrespectful. The irony is that the ban was produced as a result of policies in the Obama administration that named the seven countries listed as hot beds of militant Islam and the producers of potential terrorist threats, yet this did not stop Mr. Farhadi from attending and accepting an Oscar then. 

By way of concluding this point of reflection, it seems to me both empty and counter-productive to be so heavy handed on the political shots. It seems empty because it costs nothing to make them. It is not courageous to state your opinions boldly in a room full of people who agree with you. It seems counter-productive because they preface each of their political statements with a comment about bringing together a divided nation, then make jokes and comments that would appear to drive a wedge deeper. Whether you like him or not, voted for him or not, making fun of Donald Trump or his supporters strikes me as attempting to build bridges with dynamite. 

You Are Never Sensitive Enough

Jimmy Kimmel probably intentionally made some people mad with his jokes (like Mel Gibson). But he also made some people mad with an on going gag about the difficulty of pronouncing the name of the winner of Best Supporting Actor, Mahershala Ali. The Twitter backlash was real. I mean, I heard about it and I barely understand social media. In essence the criticism was about Mr. Kimmel’s mocking of ethnic names as opposed to “white” names.

I was surprised by the jokes and think that they were a bit ethnocentric. What was most surprising was that the jokes were made in a year in which The Oscars were clearly trying to be more diverse in terms of presenters and got lucky with several extremely well done performances by black actors and actresses in Hidden Figures and Fences (not to mention Moonlight, which I have not seen, but clearly was well liked). So, for Kimmel a few name jokes wiped out a host of presidential pot shots. It seems to me to go to show that you are never liberal enough.

Casey Affleck Is Not Actually Acting, That’s Just What He Is Like

I was pulling for Hacksaw Ridge’s Andrew Garfield in the Best Actor category, while I am a Casey Affleck fan to an extent, I thought his speech proved that he didn’t deserve the prize for this role simply because he wasn’t acting, he that awkward stuttering role is who he is. 

I am somewhat kidding.

Thanks for reading,

t.d.h.

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