Do the Oscars Matter Anymore?

oscars

It’s that time of year again: when people come together to talk about what some famous actresses wore—who wore it best—oh, and which film won Best Picture. Probably something artsy and serious. Sometimes it’s deserved—a film of true excellence and craftsmanship in writing, acting, and directing. But usually it’s just a film that you may or may not have seen. (I don’t know about you, but I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve decided all serious dramas will be relegated to DVD viewing—‘cause, you know: why do I need to see talking faces on a big screen?) Also, movie prices are astronomical, so—okay, I see it: I’m part of the cycle and why Hollywood is nickel and diming every potential film that passes through their gates in the hopes of production. No wonder they’re settling for the bottom line so often—a “sure” thing (read: sequel, prequel, or remake of something that did legitimate business once). But I digress.

Anyway, it’s the Oscars again. And of second most importance, it is 2017. I make a point of the year because frankly, I don’t believe the Oscars are nor have been the same for a long time now.

I often wonder what my younger doppelganger today would think of this Hollywood pastime now. What do young, budding (okay, and gay!) dreamers like me today think of this rapidly declining tradition of awarding the “Best” in Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences?

Cut to: me in the early 1990s. Maybe because things often look better in retrospect or I just didn’t know any better because I was a kid, but: the Oscars felt like they meant something back then. The five, count ‘em, just five nominated films for Best Picture (more on the topic of that category being expanded to ten nominations later) really felt like they earned that coveted spot. Each film that was nominated felt special, and it was usually a tight race that was more or less about merit and not just politicking by studios and adhering to social trends of the day.

Culturally, budding gay—I mean, budding dreamers of all stripes only had a few outlets to view their favorite stars back then: People magazine, and “Entertainment Tonight”. Which meant we were primed and hungry to see all these stars convene on one epic night—a smorgasbord of glamour, glitz, and at least to an idealistic kid like me back then: talent!

The Oscars have been cheekily dubbed “The Superbowl for Women”—in terms of annual cultural impact and significance. But unlike the actual Superbowl, the Oscars have been morphing and changing notably, and gradually eclipsed by other smaller Superbowls in the past two decades.

In the age of Twitter, TMZ, and the E! Channel, we can literally follow our favorite stars online 24/7 to see what they ate for breakfast or what color their kids’ poop is; spy on them as they exit an airport terminal via shaky video footage, or consume their daily lives in a craftily executed weekly reality TV show.

With these enlightening options that we’ve been blessed with through technical progress, the mystery of what it means to be rich and famous and talented has become rote and accessible in ways never before imaginable.

I have a feeling my teenage doppelganger today would view the Oscars the same way I viewed silent films or drive-in movie theaters when I was a teen in the 1990s.

Perhaps in response to this changing culture (read: poorer ratings for the telecast—undoubtedly due to the Academy’s penchant for nominating “serious” films that don’t do much business at the box office)—the category for Best Picture was expanded to include up to ten nominees, in 2009. The Academy claimed this was a throwback to the early years in the 1930s and ‘40s, where there were up to ten nominees per year—but many cynical observers assumed it was a blatant attempt to nab more viewers for the annual show. The quip “Are there even ten films worthy of being nominated every year?” hit the web quicker than you could say ‘Action!’. Incidentally, the Oscars suffered its lowest TV ratings ever the previous year, so read into the subsequent change however way you want.

As I alluded to earlier, I could relate to the criticism on the merit of today’s films—let alone their worthiness of being nominated for such an honor. In our current cinematic climate, I think the cap of five nominees is/should’ve been more relevant than ever—an elite prestige worth striving for, artistically.

Nearly a decade later, the expansion of nominees hasn’t made a mark on me as an Oscar viewer or a movie fan. If anything, it makes it harder for me to remember what films were nominated each year—but that could be more of a reflection on my waning interest for the show altogether.

In 2016, the Academy was confronted with yet another issue—this time one of moral. The lack of diverse nominees that year spurred a boycott by many African-American artists and viewers, who claimed a racial bias against them. Although I understood the greater issue of diversity, as a minority myself even I had reservations about the campaign. Was the Academy biased, or were there simply no quality films that year that starred African-Americans (or other ethnic groups)? If it was the latter, for instance—the issue wasn’t the Academy, but the movie industry itself.

Nonetheless, in true form, the Academy reacted swiftly with their image in mind—claiming they would add a significant amount of women and people of color to their voting bloc. The validity of this gesture aside, the consequence of this detrimental publicity also left a viewer like me wondering how sincere future nominations would be. As well intentioned as the campaign was to shed light on the Oscars’ lack of diversity, the fallout could be that they might overcompensate and recognize films (not people, mind you) of lesser merit to meet political correctness.

This shifting of objectives and influences only aided the rapidly declining relevance of the Oscars in my eyes. It was not about simply awarding the best films anymore—but a commercial and social experiment gone awry.

But this was nothing new overall: the Oscars have always been about more than just the merit of moviemaking, of course.

I turned eighteen when the world entered a new millennium in 2000, and the year “American Beauty” won against a highly publicized award campaign for its chief rival nominee that year, “The Cider House Rules”. Maybe because I’d technically became an adult and therefore achieved full enlightenment at last, but the fact that a movie studio launched a publicity campaign to swarm voters to choose their film was not lost on me. Apparently, voters don’t just go into hibernation and pick winners, then emerge back into the real world alive and rejuvenated by the purity of their choices.

The validity of their choices has often been debated for other reasons as well: awarding an actor or director for their current, less stellar work simply to acknowledge their greater body of work is another common longstanding ploy.

That being said, it’s safe to say that the curtain has finally gone down on my love affair with the Oscars. Honestly, the last few years I’ve been less and less drawn to the extravaganza. As late as 2013, I still recall having a few vestiges of excitement that I’d had in my youth—feeling like I was witnessing something greater than myself. But the past two years and on the eve of this year, it’s dawned on me now that the heyday of the show has long joined the past. It doesn’t detract from the merit of truly good movies, but that’s the thing: good movies and the Oscars are not the same thing, and they haven’t been for a long time.

So it’s that time of year again—when people come together to talk about what some famous actresses wore—and who wore it best. Oh, and which film won Best Picture. Exactly. That’s all it is.

 

 

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No One is Adventurous in L.A.

No one Adventurous

I understand now why people hate trying new things.

When I moved to LA., I was my usual self: Let’s go out and meet new people and try new things!

Little did I know everyone was like that once—when they were three years old. Then they realized everything sucks, so you might as well stick to what you like.

Meeting new people is best if you’re under the age of twenty-four, or through a mutual friend (to vouch that you aren’t a complete loser), or when you’re under hypnosis. Any other scenario is as likely to produce a favorable outcome as winning the lottery in Antarctica.

In L.A., no one likes anything outside their neighborhood. If you suggest going to a bar or a club, say, two miles away, you’re immediately shot down with the terse L.A. response: “No, I don’t like that part of town.” And you’re immediately deemed an outcast, because you don’t speak their same lingo: Perpetual Letdown. People in L.A. love to be exclusive, and when I say people I’m talking about people. Not celebrities, not people who are aspiring to be celebrities. Normal, “average”-looking people who could wake up in Pittsburgh and look like they belong there.

L.A. is warm, but its people are not. It’s not like how they’re portrayed on TV or the movies: peppy, happy to be under the perpetual sun, or grateful to be within such close proximity to the grandeur of the ocean… If you arrive here with a smile, they’ll immediately know you’re not from here.

I love trying new things (yes, I’m adventurous, get over it!). But after a while, the law of diminishing returns starts to well, reveal diminishing returns. How many times are you gonna keep feeding that slot machine quarters without getting anything in return?

When people say “no” to anything outside their comfort zone, it’s not necessarily because they’re lame and you are awesome. Okay, sometimes they are giant dorks—the type who secretly hopes new friends and a dream job will literally just knock on their door and they will just sign the form to accept. There are bozos like that. But as I’ve learned through my many forays into the unknown, sometimes saying no to something new is really just a form of self-preservation. If you know you’re gonna hate the new thing, or more importantly: the new thing is gonna hate you (I’m looking at you, trendy bar that I won’t name in Hollywood that I went to—as it turns out—for no good reason at all, because I misread my boss’s directions). Sometimes you can suss up through past experience that “Hey, this really isn’t gonna be my scene or my flavor, or my drug”.

This is really hard for me to accept, much like the majority of people in the world who won’t accept a person who just doesn’t drink alcohol. It’s an affront to my innate wiring: For gawd’s sake, we’re put on this earth to EXPERIENCE!

Some people are, to put it bluntly, sensitive. They can’t abide showing up at a place where they’ll feel judged, ignored, or at worst—forced to make small talk. I guess I have thick skin, or to put it less flatteringly: I’m just blithe and willful. If I go somewhere new and I’m flatly rebuked, instead of crying big baby tears on the inside, a perverse part of my brain lights up: ‘Hey, I’m in a weird situation! I’m experiencing something someone who looks, acts, and thinks like me—shouldn’t be experiencing! Woooaaa!!!’ I’m an armchair-twice-removed-backseat-driver-faux Anthropologist in that regard. I revel in being unwarranted, observing foreign environments once in a while—as long as I can return to my comfy little world afterwards. I’m the guy who has to peak behind the curtain, even if I might get my nose snapped off by the vicious crocodile that’s behind there.

I’m not bragging. It comes with a price. I’m not insensitive. Thick-skinned and sensitive are not mutually exclusive. I’m sensitive enough to absorb all those negative reactions, but I’m still curious enough to do it again. And again. ‘Til eventually I show up at a grizzly bear wrestling contest, or a hipster bar in Los Feliz and—you can read the rest of it in my obituary.

Why Was I Even Friends With That Guy?

whywasIevenfriends

Do you ever look back and ask yourself, while gagging: “Why was I even friends with that guy?” AAaaaaaacccckkkkkkk!!

But seriously. Sometimes we lean on people—aww, isn’t that sweet/ romantic/technically unsound?—because we needed them at that particular time in our lives. It’s a natural part of life—like zits, falling down because your foot’s asleep, or… gagging to get that hunk of mucus out of your throat.

You know you’re taking one of these trains to “Meh” Town when:

You never integrate this person with other people in your life, because you know it will have the same effect as heating a popcorn bag inside your gas oven.

You look forward to having dinner—not having it with them.

You spend a lot of time talking about innocuous things like… movies. ‘Cause seriously: it’s the most exciting subject in the history of mankind, that ISN’T personal or revealing. What did people who didn’t like each other—even TALK about, before the invention of celluloid? Oh right—patterns in the universe that emit heat or cold.

You never develop a single inside joke to share intimately with one another, or even tell a joke —in the most extreme cases. It’s all just… well, movies probably. If you’re lucky: there’s a terrible thing that happened in the news that week. That’ll fetch you some fodder for a brief shining moment.

But alas, eventually one day, like a long overdue diagnosis—you realize it’s run its course. If you’re lucky, you came to this realization first—and the other poor sap has to learn through the Rule of Two: he can only attempt to say “hi” or plan your next dubious outing TWICE, before giving up due to your lack of interest. If you’re even luckier: both of you share this brief moment of psychic connection and part ways simultaneously! This moment of cosmic clarity is usually preceded by something telling but unremarkable—the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back: a dinner where he showed up late­— again—for the eighth time; the misguided “mixer” where his friends met you for the first time and hated you; or he keeps spacing out when you talk about movies.

Next thing you know, you’ve decided to block his posts on Facebook ‘cause you can’t stand his face anymore, and those cheesy affirmations he posts ten times a day/ via pictures with quotes, or actual quotes he managed to assemble with words that probably came from his crap factory.

You think back with smug satisfaction at your own astute, albeit delayed action of “cleaning house” in this area of your life. All is right, now.

Fast forward to four months later—you find yourself clicking on his Facebook profile again, out of boredom (hey, you have more free time now, so…). With mild disgust/perverse curiosity (like peering out your car window at a mangled possum corpse on the side of the road) you wonder: ‘What’s this bastard up to these days?’

Then you see that the world order is, indeed, still upheld after all: his cheesy affirmations are still littering this corner of cyberspace, along with posts of his ugly, cheesy friends that you hated too. And you can’t help but smile pitifully (at him, of course), with that familiar feeling rising up from your chest—say it with me:

Why was I even friends with that guy?”

AAaaaaaacccckkkkkkk!!