So Sunday's OscarTM broadcast was, underwhelmingly, a television ratings bomb. Not even the allure of Tinseltown's beautiful people walking down the red carpet in free gowns and borrowed jewels could tempt Americans to tune into what's known as the biggest self-congratulatory backslapping event in the history of mankind.
Early Nielsen numbers indicate that there were 14% fewer viewers than the last Oscar dud in 2003 (33 million that year).
I can only recall one instance of my watching the Oscars within the past 20 years: 1993, when Clint Eastwood's film Unforgiven won best picture. I've never been much of an awards show fan anyway. The occasion sticks out because I was a new mother at the time, perpetually short on sleep, and I resented the fact that I had to stay up so darn late to see the big finale.
Maybe other Americans are catching on to the idea that having to sit up until nearly midnight when work beckons the next day, only to discover that a film they hadn't seen garnered the top prize. While No Country for Old Men, last night's winner, earned a respectable amount of money worldwide, The Passion of the Christ grossed approximately three times as much....and The Chronicles of Narnia brought in even more. Of course, this comparison isn't quite fair, seeing as Christ and Narnia have both had the opportunity to cash in on the lucrative DVD market. But their box office popularity was evident at the time - as, unfortunately for their Oscar chances, was their popularity with Christians and other family-oriented movie goers.
Perhaps another reason for viewer ennui is the fact that Hollywood has also been pumping out a rash of anti-Iraq, anti-American films of late, including Redacted, Lions for Lambs, and In the Valley of Elah - all of which were box office disasters. But like the Little Engine that Could, the glitterati keep chugging along. After all, we, the hoi polloi, just don't understand fine cinema the way they do. Kind of like how we don't understand other artistic endeavors like smearing chocolate all over one's nude body onstage or smearing feces on the Madonna. (No, not that Madonna, although with her history, I wouldn't put it past her.)
Yet regardless of which films were nominated and which ones won, perhaps it's the holier-than-thou attitude of the celebrities themselves that has really gotten on our nerves. We have celebs telling us who to vote for, what kind of cars we should be driving to "save" the environment, that we just aren't humanitarian enough, and that they're embarrassed to be Americans (except when it comes to making oodles of American money) - just a few of the many "do as I say" mantras that they love to talk about in glossy magazine spreads designed primarily as promotional vehicles for their latest projects. And don't forget that if you dare to criticize them, it's a "chill wind" blowing upon their First Amendment rights. (The irony that they have a wide platform for their opinions has so far escaped them.)
Could it be possible that rank and file Americans are tired of extravagantly paid, over-coddled adults who act like spoiled children at the candy shop (and whose dirty laundry could fill up the hampers of the world and then some) telling us how we should be living our lives? Could it be that these self-anointed cultural elites have worn out their welcome?
Sure, the usual excuses will be trotted out: viewers were worried about a cobbled-together show in the aftermath of the writers' strike; it was an anomaly; yada yada yada. And Tinseltown inhabitants will be content to go on as always, in their own little bubble world, above the fray of the rabble that they confidently believe will eventually come to see the world through their distorted lens.
The values portrayed by Hollywood and those espoused by the general public couldn't be more different. But the lesson, I fear, has not been learned...and won't be for a long time to come.
Thank goodness for DVDs, YouTube and reruns of television classics. And, of course, our old friends - books.