March 7, 2006
Did Oscar� Wuss Out?By Noel Sheppard
The Academy Awards are mercifully over, and the postmortems are in. First time host Jon Stewart has gotten mixed reviews, with some saying that he seemed too stoic. And, much of the left were very disappointed with the choice of Crash as best picture instead of Brokeback Mountain, as there seemed to be quite a groan from the audience when Jack Nicholson announced the more deserving winner.
With those preliminaries safely out of the way, it seems fair to ask whether or not the Academy went too far to not offend its viewers.
After all, for years there has been a lot of talk about how out of touch Hollywood types are, and how this political and cultural divide becomes so apparent at these awards ceremonies that average Americans get turned off.
However, it is possible this desire for material that is acceptable to a majority of viewers will result in a truly stale, flat, and rather unentertaining spectacle not worth watching. To a large extent, that's exactly what occurred Sunday evening.
On balance, Stewart did a fine job. He unselfishly made the awards about the attendees and their movies rather than himself, something neither Chris Rock nor Whoopi Goldberg seemed capable of doing. And Stewart made an outstanding point by crafting his first couple of political jokes to poke fun at his left—leaning audience rather than the Republican—bashing that was expected.
Stating right out of the gate to the largely liberal attendees that Oscar night represented the only time 'you could see all your favorite stars without having to donate any money to the Democratic Party" was a great icebreaker for conservative viewers wondering how much of a beating their political heroes were going to take. Following this up with a quip about this ceremony being the first time Hollywood types 'had voted for a winner' seemed similarly appropriate, although meeting with some groans from the audience.
Stewart then tried to temper these jests by mentioning that pop singer Bjork couldn't attend the festivities because as she was trying on her Oscar dress, 'Dick Cheney shot her." Those who were familiar with the singer's flamboyant outfits at previous ceremonies understood this to be a bipartisan joke, and not just a rip at the vice president.
In reality, Stewart seemed to be making it quite apparent to the viewers that he was going to be an equal opportunity comedian this evening when he delivered this message to his audience, and told them it was no joke:
Laughter ensured, but the message was delivered.
This was quickly followed by a video montage of various cowboy movies edited in such a fashion as to give the appearance that the theme of 'Brokeback Mountain' has been in existence in westerns for many years. Coming after so much anti—liberal humor, even the most homophobic in the television audience should have realized that Stewart was trying to appeal to viewers of all political persuasions.
If he had kept this up — tastefully chiding folks on both sides of the aisle without malice and mostly in good spirit — this could have been a fabulous night. Instead, Stewart clearly seemed uncomfortable, as if he had been warned during the first commercial break to not go too far.
And therein lies the rub: comedy needs to stretch boundaries, and sometimes make people feel a little antsy before the punch line relieves this anxiety. After all, it is indeed this angst and release that makes much humor work. As it appeared that Stewart was more concerned with being inoffensive rather than being funny, his delivery was not as sharp as it normally is.
Taking this a step further, once it became apparent that this was going to be a 'safe' evening — with actor George Clooney's self—serving remarks excepted — it lost its normal edge, and became droll.
Much like a good film, many watch this annual event to see what will happen next. Once it became apparent that the answer was 'nothing,' it was clear that the fireworks display would produce more groans of disappointment than excited exclamations. As a result, though the evening went off without a hitch, it also produced few moments that will be at all memorable.
Does this represent a problem? Well, it is always possible for the pendulum to swing too far in one direction, isn't it?
First, it was the politically correct crowd deeming that certain forms of humor were either racist or sexist. Now, it seems that Hollywood went so far in the other direction Sunday night to avoid offending conservatives that the value of the event diminished just as much as when the PC crowd were in control.
Think about it: a good movie or book always has a conflict. Even the nursery rhyme about Jack and Jill would lack nuance if somebody didn't fall down and break his crown.
As such, Vanessa Redgrave telling the Oscar audience in 1978 that she wouldn't be intimidated by 'a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums whose behavior is an insult to the stature to Jews all over the world" was really wonderful theater regardless of how offensive it was.
After all, this conflict allowed famed screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky to counter Redgrave's platitudes by suggesting that
Chayefsky received thunderous applause for this marvelous smackdown, making this moment a classic in Oscar history.
Face it: without such drama, awards ceremonies end up being, well, just awards ceremonies.
As a result, it appears that our zeal to eliminate all elements that could possibly be offensive has stripped out the last vestige of spontaneity that could make the event even remotely worth three and a half hours of our time.
In the end, it would be nice if we could somehow attain some kind of a balance in these proceedings so that all viewers would be pleased without being offended. After all, when the PC crowd ruled the day, we used to tell them to lighten up and rent a sense of humor.
Is it possible that some of us on the right need to take our own advice, and recognize that if we demand too sanitized a presentation, we'll be absolutely bored to tears?
Noel Sheppard is an economist, business owner, and contributing writer for The Free Market Project. He is also contributing editor for the Media Research Center's NewsBusters.org. Noel welcomes feedback.