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Monday, March 06, 2006

Oscar and the Art of Self-Congratulation

There were two messages resonating throughout Oscar speeches and presentations last night:

1) We may be to the left, but we're right.
2) Please watch our movies.

I'm not going to address the second point, suffice to say that the technological cat is out of the bag. As much as I love the theatre experience, the easy accessibility of films, the quality of home entertaintment systems, and exorbitant prices at the cineplex spell irreversible trouble.

Back to the first point. Here's what Clooney said:

We are a little bit out of touch in Hollywood every once in a while....We were the ones who talked about AIDS when it was being whispered. We talked about civil rights when it wasn't really popular....I'm proud to be part of this Academy. I'm proud to be part of this community. I'm proud to be out of touch.

Of course, being out of touch can also mean missing the real reason many find you bothersome. It's not Clooney's politics that bug me, it's his sanctimony. While he is partially correct about Hollywood history, his assumption--evident in many recent interviews as well as his acceptance speech--that the Left is always on the right side of history stikes me as about as naive as he apparently finds mainstream America. But thankfully, we have George and Hollywood elites to hold our hands, help us understand, and bring us out of darkness and into the light (to paraphrase one award winner last night). Even Salon's Cintra Wilson sums it up
this way:

We thought this was going to be the Gay Oscars. Instead it was the 'Hey, you fearfully ignorant red-state hick-weeds: Hollywood is America's social conscience and history proves that we've always been smarter than you' Oscars. Oscar was being defensive, because Hollywood is tired of being called dirty names by the no-necked monsters hanging around the White House bowling alley.

I'm not a Hollywood hater, honestly. Many times they have been on the right side of history. Moreover, the artistic and literary community has always leaned left historically. I'm not losing any sleep over that. What I think that Hollywood elites miss when wallowing in self-congratulation and self-defensiveness is this: the problem is not your ideology, it's your vanity.

I'm generalizing and there are many exceptions to the rule I'm offering--lots of them in that room last night. But Hollywood elites don't suffer for their beliefs, as much as they hearken back to the McCarthy heyday (when some did). They make countless riches to support lavish lifestyles of consumption. They promote shallow notions of beauty and false notions of human worth. They aggressively promote their products throughout the world in the face of the values and beliefs of many cultures and religions. They exaggerate their right to cultural authority. They form the centerpiece of the artifice of celebrity culture. And as much as the Clooneys and other sincere actors cast themselves as renegades for truth within this system, their lifestyles demonstrate that they don't find it all bad. For that, all we ask is for a little humility.

Perhaps they could take a page from Bono, who though often caricatured as an egomaniac, consistently notes the absurdity of celebrity, mocks his own participation in it, and thanks the fans for "giving us a great life."

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