By David Poland email@example.com
“It Takes A Village To Make A Car Wreck” & Other Thoughts On The Oscar Show
Interesting conversation this morning… how much do you blame Seth McFarlane—who is a reasonably talented singer, dancer, and tooth whitener —and how much does last night’s debacle of lowered taste land on Meron & Zadan, producers of “Smash” and The 85th Annual Academy Awards?
For me, the line is at the jokes, more so than the production numbers. It’s really simple. If Seth McFarlane was hit by a bus a week ago and Billy Crystal stepped in… if Leno stepped in… if Letterman stepped in… if Steve Martin stepped in… very few of those jokes—in terms of tone, style, and content—would have been told. Period.
Whose stupid idea was it to do a 17-minute opening with old Captain Kirk commenting on the quality of the show? Who thought it would be okay to do “The Boob Song” so long as it was couched in meta spin? Who said, “Ready Seth Go,” without realizing that 3 of the movies referenced in the song only had nudity in rape scenes?
I can’t say. I wasn’t in the room. But I can’t imagine that Mr. McFarlane was not making some of the decisions.
I apologize for saying this aloud, but if there was a show designed to reenforce the stereotype that gay men hate women, this was it. So I can’t just assume that the jokes were not tacitly approved—and/or enjoyed—by the producers.
Moreover, the cutaways in the show (some of the few) to Academy boss Dawn Hudson laughing her ass off, reinforced my worst concerns about the current trajectory of this organization.
It takes a village to make a car wreck.
The biggest problem I have with those who are saying, “Hey… they were just jokes.. get over yourself” is that the deeper you dig into the show, the worse it gets. Honestly, I hadn’t even thought about the rape thing. And if that were it, I could accept the notion that it was a one-off and should not be held over anyone’s head. But it was not a one-off.
To start with, it was part of “The Boob Song”… a song making fun of actresses showing their breasts in movies. And in the context of “Family Guy” or Ted or Mr. Skin, perfectly appropriate. In the context of the Academy Awards, one joke about, say, repeated topless scenes by Kate Winslet, is just about where the line is. Tastefully teased, you can get away with that. “The Boob Song”… no.
The Onion has been raked over the Twitter-coals for a joke that, in the context of The Onion, was right on the edge, but not really shocking. (The joke was in a tweet, saying in all the ennui-ish rage that you see so much on Twitter during the Oscars, that 9-year-old Beasts of the Southern Wild star Quvenzhané Wallis was being a c***.) I am sympathetic to those who are unhappy with that choice, but I am also conscious that sometimes a big shock joke in a situation where the same things are being repeated endlessly is what a writer feels the need to do. And I don’t think anyone really felt that the tweet was meant to be a truthful representation of the situation.
So where is the rage about—in the context of an event honoring people’s work —Ms. Wallis, in the room, still well underage, being part of the punchline about a joke about George Clooney’s sex life with younger—but not very young—women? Where is the rage about an off-handed joke about the big Hollywood orgy at Jack Nicholson’s house… where, btw, Roman Polanski gave drugs and alcohol to and then anally raped a 14-year-old?
Again… in the context of the one line, you can write it off to a stupid joke, the layers of which were not considered. But it just kept happening.
Three Latinos—Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, and Salma Hayek—all shoved together, marking the time one “comes on stage and we have no idea what they’re saying but don’t care because they’re so attractive.”
McFarlane said in one interview that he thought his job was, in part, to be roasting the talent. But the show is about honoring the work… even of people with accents unlike McFarlane’s.
There are more sexist comments being shoved around the internet today.
And then you get to the show… the show where someone thought it would be funny to play someone off with an increasingly loud Jaws theme as someone tried that speak after, likely, the greatest public honor they will ever receive. In the case of the first play-off, the winner was trying to mention the bankruptcy if Rhythm & Hues in the face of winning Oscars for Life of Pi.
There were not 1, but 2 tributes to Chicago… which coincidentally, the producers of The Oscars produced a decade ago.
There was, what seemed to many, a truncated In Memorium segment so we could get to Barbra Streisand singing.
There were live performances of 3 of the 5 nominated songs… including an attempt to stir Les Mis love with the five leads of Les Mis singing and then being sung over by the chorus… while the other 8 nominees were relegated to clip packages, bunched together in packs of 3 to save time for more musical numbers. Why was Ted sung live by someone who didn’t sing the song in the film and the other two films left to clips and segments of their nominated songs? I can only assume it was because they don’t matter as much.
The James Bond thing laid a big fat egg. People loved Shirley Bassey, but almost exclusively because she IS Shirley Bassey. And then, for an un-BP-nominated movie, we ended up with Adele being a second segment, completely removed from that presentation.
And once again… the 17-minute opening… which thank God was not a musical extravaganza. But what it also was not—and this is what matters… it was not about movies. It was self-reference (and multiple references to The Globes) that had nothing to do with the actual purpose of the show… honoring the best movies of the year.
McFarlane was okay. He is a good joke teller. He dances a little. And he looks good in a tux. But the material was in the toilet a large percentage of the time.
One win was the Sound of Music joke… which was imperfectly set up, but fitting. Jennifer Lawrence falling up the stairs and accepting had charm and surprise. And Daniel Day-Lewis won the night with his Meryl Streep joke, which worked on so many levels.
But the core of the show they put on last night is not the core of what Oscar is about. It’s about celebrating the best work of the year in movies. And it very rarely felt like that last night. More like they deigned to interrupt the mediocre but beautifully costumed and production designed show from the summer stock troupe now and again to give out an award.
Is this how The Academy wants to be represented?
I don’t think so.