Do the Oscars Matter Anymore?

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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.

 

 

Pop Culture and Me: a Forbidden Love Affair

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No one expects me to like pop culture. I believe two key factors play into this: my race, and my lack of style. I’m not going to change either one. Or the unyielding fact that I’ve always been quite enamored by pop culture.

Okay, my race I can’t change. But could I change my style so that it translates into a media-savvy hipster? Or at the very least, someone who looks like they watch TV?

How does that work? Should I wear “Walking Dead” t-shirts? Get a “Breaking Bad” Tattoo? Wear everything I see from Forever 21 to prove that I’m just like everyone else?

The funny thing about being misunderstood is that although we loathe it, we secretly enjoy it too—because it proves that there’s more to us than meets the eye.

I suppose there are some people out there who are happy being simple and straightforward—easily “read”, or as the kids call it these days: basic. See, I am hip enough to know that.

For the rest of us, we instinctively feel that that translates to being shallow, which is generally seen as a pejorative term unless you’re a reality star. Check. I know what constitutes a reality show star.

The truth is, I do play a role in my own conundrum too. It’s my lack of desire to assimilate on some levels that distances me from my peers, which fosters animosity and misunderstanding. But if I’m not interested in jumping on the latest bandwagon, that’s my right too. And being an individual does not preclude an awareness of what’s current in popular culture.

It’s not all bad either, to be fair. When I mentioned something about the Golden Globes one year (yes, I’m even an awards show junkie), a friend innocently remarked: “Wow, I thought you’d be—too cool to watch something like that.” Aww, ain’t that sweet? So maybe there is a contingent out there that isn’t attacking my character when assuming things about me. They’re simply deeming me to be more enlightened than I actually am, which is flattering—and less insulting.

But alas, I can succumb to frivolity as much as the next person. Who doesn’t enjoy the latest celebrity news? It’s like a large order of McDonald’s French fries: not good for you, but you’re not interested in being a saint. You’re allowed an indulgence once in a while. How utterly boring would it be if we only did things that were ethically “good” and enriching for us? If that were the case, there’d be no decent TV shows, movies, or music. We’d all be wearing white robes and chanting scriptures and talking about nothing more provocative than the weather.

So there you have it. The unremarkable reason why a person like me can enjoy the latest Adele album or the Oscars is just that: it’s human nature. Sometimes the simplest answer is the hardest one for people to see or accept. Apparently.

Ambiverts, Fummers and Sadults

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If you spend any time online, particularly on social media—you’re bound to come across some articles (read: click bait) that are tailor-made for your interests these days—whether on your own, by way of your friends and family, or creepily offered by the ghost in your machine (i.e. the algorithm decoders behind Facebook). This past year, I came across one of these intriguing links that unveiled a new term that summed me up so well, I took more time to analyze and mull over myself: ambivert.

This is a compound term, taking the traditional word “Introvert” and combining it with the word “Ambivalent” or “Ambiguous”—or Amber, in honor of the first introvert who discovered these specialized traits. An ambivert is basically an introvert at heart (prone to silence, introspection, needing time alone to recharge from social situations)—but with tendencies to also be outgoing, engaging, and display comfort at being the center of attention occasionally, on their terms. Basically, an ambivert is an introvert who doesn’t suck (or an extrovert who isn’t a complete dick). The best of both worlds, at last.

Honestly, this wasn’t really news to me. I’ve always known I was a composite freakazoid like this. But upon discovering this new buzzword, I was a little confounded: isn’t it a bit gauche to be surprised that introverts can also be “social”?

I was chatting with a new friend on the phone recently about some interpersonal problems that had come up in our social circle—some clashing views and temperaments—all that fun stuff. He remarked that one of our friends was reserved and introverted—among other things that contributed to the scenario. Then he proceeded to analyze me for the purpose of discussion too: “I noticed that you’re also quiet and introverted—but you’re actually proactive, socially, to my surprise…” I was a bit taken aback by this (now I just find it a few degrees below hilarity). If I were to have taken the defensive approach, my immediate reaction would’ve been: Why wouldn’t I be socially proactive? Just because I’m introverted doesn’t mean I don’t want to spend time with others and have fun. In fact, it’s as much a priority in my life as the traditional hallmarks of introversion: solitude, reflection, and a large Netflix queue. Alas, I just let it slide—it was more amusing than anything else.

            Conversely, I also bristle when I’m placed squarely in the other camp. Much less recently, I was shooting the breeze with a different friend—chatting about this and that, which led to us musing about our shared friends—which led to his lament about the trials of meeting new people and connecting. Since I was then at the ripe age of twenty-seven and still riding a wave of twenty-something ease, I glibly divulged: “I don’t have too much trouble meeting new people”, to which my friend flatly remarked: “That’s because you’re really open…” To which I figuratively scratched my head—then spent subsequent years laughing at and contesting this remark, privately. To be fair, my friend wasn’t entirely incorrect. At that age, with my track record then, just give me a few drinks in a new scenario and I’d blindly push forward—hoping for the best. But he wasn’t entirely correct either. Regardless of how proactive I was socially, I also had a sturdy reputation among others for being quiet as well. I was and am, ruthlessly guarded about my solitude—just as happy to spend an entire weekend alone. Quite simply, it’s all context. I’m quiet to some, “open” to others. Different people bring out different sides of you. Also, this friend was notorious for having a stick up his butt; rocks were more “open” than him.

I think many people are (or should) be ambiverts to some degree, anyway. Aren’t many of us a mix of chill and proactive at the same time? Sure, I can take the initiative when I first meet you—because I don’t have time to fuck around. I’m a businessman in that sense. But once I get to know you more, I’m gonna need my space then and often. I don’t need to give and receive constantly; I’m self-sufficient—a retiring artist in that sense. Although I’ve been known to be pretty bold and fun when I get my mojo going, nothing kills my buzz more than when I’m expected to display these traits consistently. Fuck that. I’m not anyone’s toy, and I’m not here for anyone’s amusement but my own. Consequently, some people don’t even want to claim that I’m “fun” at all—but they know they can’t rule it out either. Basically, I’m a fummer! –A combination of the word fun and bummer, and I wear this term proudly!

In fact, since learning about the term ambivert, a few other buzz terms have popped up online, adding more confusion and less creative names in the process like: Outgoing Introvert, Introverted Extrovert, Extroverted Introverted Extrovert. You get where that’s going. I thought I was special as an ambivert, but then nobody else gets to be special—and we just can’t have that! Makes you wonder if a person would dare label themselves simply as an extrovert or introvert these days.

We humans love to analyze and define ourselves—especially nowadays, because we have evolved to stop worrying about food or moving out of our parents’ homes. There are innumerous quizzes, lists, and uncorroborated articles out there that will assist you in deciding just who you are and what you need in this world.

More buzzwords will breed more buzzwords, like a word association game gone ballistic, to help define the current generation of 18 to 35 year olds who have mastered the challenging art of sharing about themselves on all forms of social media. With that frame of mind, I would like to draw up a few suggestions of my own to add into the lexicon:

Drama fraud: A person who lies about not liking “Drama”.

Sadult: A person who is technically an adult, but bears little resemblance to one with a combination of one or more of the following missing traits: physical appearance, clothing style, financial security, responsibilities, relationship status, hobbies, mindset, maturity. No age limit.

Fauxweird: A person who claims to be “Weird”, but is actually completely concerned about fitting in with everyone, and will suppress anything remotely original about themselves to attain it.

Blindster: A person who is blind to the fact that they are in fact, a hipster. (You can usually spot them by overhearing their arbitrary diatribes against hipsters, to prove that they aren’t one…)

Groaner: A person who is trying a bit too hard to appear smarter, cooler, or tougher than they actually are. (It makes you wanna groan, get it?)

Faux-no social: A person who claims that they don’t like social media, but secretly uses it substantially.

And last but not least:

Anassistic: When a person analyzes themselves narcissistically via the dubious tenets of pop psychology: astrology, personality tests, and buzzwords.

I’m not proud to say that I’ve been guilty of three of the terms above, from time to time. I’ll let you guess which ones, ha….

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.

Giving up Alcohol: My Experiences with Lack of Empathy

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When I hit my early thirties, I started noticing how my body reacted differently to alcohol. A couple of drinks already made me queasy and on the verge of vomiting, as though I’d just binged on shots all night after a hardy Mexican meal. You know that precipice just before the point of no return, where you’re summoning every fiber of your being to maintain composure and ward off the inevitable hurl? The next day was a continuation of that stymied state: my body seemed to constrict on the inside—tensing up into a knot while my face felt like it was stretching—like a balloon being pumped with just over its limit of air intake.

This new development was particularly noteworthy because: Once upon a time… I was a drinking superstar—a dubious honor my old friends bestowed upon me with a mixture of amusement, resignation, annoyance, pity, and good cheer. This was all relative though. I can honestly say I was never a binge drinker or a bona fide alcoholic in my heyday. I was simply a social drinker—ironically surrounded by nondrinkers and very moderate drinkers—so everyone saw me through their reverse beer goggles and amplified my drinking habits by default. Anyway, it was starting to look like I peaked early.

At my next all-around physical, I mentioned this new condition to my doctor, who dismissed it nonchalantly as part of the aging process: “That’s just your body telling you what it can handle now.” You mean I don’t have a choice? Maybe he was right: my body did check out all right with the requisite tests that day. Also, interestingly, my older brother had quit drinking in his early thirties too because he didn’t like how alcohol made him feel anymore. I guess non-alcoholism runs in my family, along with reticence and aversion to affection.

Indeed, I would prove all my friends wrong that year by quitting alcohol literally overnight. If I ever wanted irrefutable proof that I wasn’t an alcoholic after all, it was the simple glaring fact that it took no effort for me to put down the bottle. My last drink was at a friend’s birthday celebration a few months later. Still testing the waters at that point, I had one beer bottle that night—but I found that even that tossed my head into a slight tailspin. That was enough. From then on, good ol’ H20 was going to be my drink of choice on wild nights out on the town. And henceforth, I would encounter the strangest reactions from people I met who simply could not comprehend my new lifestyle.

Being Asian, I naturally grew up around many other Asians and befriended them throughout my life. If I learned one thing about my ethnic group, it’s this: most of us cannot hold our liquor. Hence, many of us simply forego the activity of drinking alcohol altogether, to spare the embarrassment of physical discomfort, vomiting, and the famous “Asian glow” (instead of being mysterious about it, I’ll give you the scientific definition: many of us including myself, turn beet red after just one or more drinks). And yes, I know some of you dear readers are all too happy to counterattack me on that—I’ll just say it with you: “some of by best friends are Asians who DRINK!!!” Yes—I knew some Asians who drank too—namely me! But I would say about ninety percent of the Asians I knew didn’t drink at all. Therefore, I was accustomed to this kind of lifestyle. I never questioned it—because I was aware that it didn’t affect me; it sure as hell wasn’t gonna stop me from drinking myself!

But since not everyone is Asian, there are some people out there who are baffled by the “dry” lifestyle. After I joined the other side, when I would meet new people—such as friends of friends—invariably, it would take place at a bar or a place where alcohol was served. These encounters often went down like this:

Drinker: “Hi, nice to meet you.”

Me: “Nice to meet you too.”

Drinker: (noting my lack of an alcoholic beverage) “Are you gonna get a drink?”

Me: “No, I’m okay.”

Drinker: “Why not?”

Me: “Oh, I don’t drink.”

Drinker: “You don’t drink? Why??!”

Me: “Oh, just health reasons.” (trying to be pithy but informative).

Drinker: “Health reasons?”

Me: “Yeah… it doesn’t sit well with me.”

Drinker: (discerning look, not convinced) “Oh…”

Me: “I used to drink—but not anymore…” (trying to paint a picture of the truth and letting them know that I’m not completely green either).

Drinker: (still bearing a discerning look)

Later, after chatting about our mutual friends, jobs, living situations, etc… :

Drinker: “So what do you do for fun—since you don’t drink?!!”

Me: “Oh, I like hanging out, watching movies, eating… stuff like that.”

Drinker: “Why don’t you drink??”

Me: (pause, annoyed) “I don’t want to.”

Drinker: “So you never drink?”

Me: “No. I used to drink…”

Drinker: “—BUT YOU DON’T NOW!!”

Later on in the night, the topic would somehow just naturally come up in conversation—a sticky residue that just glommed onto everything:

Me: “Today was such a beautiful day!”

Drinker: “It’d be even better if you drank!”

Me: “I love Indian food.”

Drinker: “You know what goes well with Indian food? Jack n’ Coke. Too bad you don’t drink!”

Me: “I went to Oktoberfest last year.”

Drinker: “Oh yeah? I love the sausages there!”

Not being a drinker was like having food stuck between my teeth—only everyone was eager to point it out—repeatedly. I was subject to conversations like the hyperbole above, indefinitely. Usually I was the only person not drinking; the interrogators had plenty of cohorts to bond in their alcohol consumption—yet they felt compelled to zero in on me, refusing to accept that one person in their presence wasn’t participating. To be fair, I think some of these people simply brought up the topic incessantly out of sheer ignorance (a pervasive human trait)—without realizing that they sounded like a car alarm that wouldn’t shut up.

I only met one person who expressed any sense about my predicament. After I lamented about the opposition I was receiving, he remarked: “Well, I just assume that if a person doesn’t drink, that they might be a recovering alcoholic or something—so I don’t push it.”

… Thank. YOU.

It astonished me how little sensitivity and respect I was allotted for my lifestyle choice—my RIGHT—to choose this lifestyle. Alcohol is inherently a delicate subject and should be treated as such without question. It can be a divisive and taboo topic because of all the connotations it bears, unique to each person.

But—not to pull a victim card here—I suspect I often wasn’t afforded this minimum of consideration because: no one thought it was possible that I’d be a recovering alcoholic or anything close to that. I wasn’t some aged, weathered-looking hard-ass (apologies for typecasting “recovering alcoholics”… ) I’ve always conveyed an image of, shall we say: even-keeled, reserved civility… to my own benefit and detriment.

To corroborate this theory: many people throughout my life have conceded that they didn’t even think I was a drinker! So there is something about my personality and appearance that evokes the impression of a “clean” lifestyle.

And indeed: (after I stopped drinking), I had one mutual friend drop the label “innocent” on me twice in one night, so there you go. I was an object of derision, not empathy. I wasn’t someone with a past; I had no past in his eyes: a simpleton.

This was what baffled me—the inability of people to simply put themselves in someone else’s shoes—to realize that not everyone enjoys the same things! Badgering someone to explain why they don’t drink is like badgering them for not eating broccoli or peanuts. The simple combination of free will and preference should be explanation enough.

It has been two years since my last drink. Although I’m certainly proud, I’m also very unceremonious about it—just as I was when I decided to quit so ably in the first place. I never felt defined by alcohol before or after quitting, and I prefer it that way. Too bad some people simply can’t see this.