Three idle questions about the Oscars [Chicago Reader blog post, 2/27/07]

Posted By on 02.27.07 at 11:19 PM


Why wasn’t a single reference to George W. Bush made by anyone — including Ellen DeGeneres in her gently laid-back stand-up routines? Probably for the same reason that I rarely heard Bush mentioned by anyone in conversations when I was recently in Rotterdam, Toulouse, and Paris. Why beat a dead horse?, the deceased in this case being the fate of the world, or perhaps innocent civilians in Iran, not a spry but clueless leader. Once it’s become accepted and mutually acknowledged that the overall will of the world’s population and the will of the American people — insofar as either will can be correctly inferred — has almost no bearing on what Bush decides to do, speaking out of rage and impotence about a stupid dictator’s whims won’t accomplish very much. So instead of cracking jokes about how Clinton risked impeachment for getting a blow job while Bush risks nothing but a little wrist-slapping for endangering the survival of the planet as well as his own country, DeGeneres brings out a vacuum cleaner. The closest she ever got to evoking Bush was implying at one point that more of the American public voted for Al Gore. The overall implication: when in doubt, lie down and turn on the TV. Which is presumably why such PC questions as the importance of someone using the word faggot elsewhere on TV is supposed to matter so much. Once you give up on the prospect of saving the country or saving the planet, much less improving the quality of your own life, there are still loads of other things to get even more worked up about.

And why is it that on a relatively well-managed, intelligently orchestrated show almost every time world cinema was evoked it had to be alluded to only in relation to tearjerkers and the most egregiously banal cliches? I’m speaking more of the montages than of the awarding of an Oscar to The Lives of Others, a film already understandably tweaked by Pat Graham in a recent post (even though I recently made it a Critic’s Choice), but the same overall principle might be said to apply to both: tears, kids, madonnas, and wistful, impotent smiles are apparently supposed to constitute the sum of what we’re supposed to get from the world’s collective cinematic wisdom.

As for the multiple Oscars to The Departed — none of which convinces me that I should necessarily see it, any more than the Oscars given to Braveheart ever made me feel I was missing something important — it seems par for the course to give belated consolation prizes after neglecting to give Oscars to filmmakers when they deserve it. But if I’m wrong — if there’s something exceptional or different about this movie that’s being recognized — could somebody explain what is it?

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