By Dick Lyles
Like many people, during the past decade or so I’ve become less and less enamored with the Academy Awards. None the less, my wife and I bring ourselves to watch the Oscars each year because, like it or not, Hollywood plays a key role in shaping our culture. What we see on Oscar night reflects to a large extent the prevailing values and attitudes of a group who are profoundly affecting the ethos of our country.
This year’s program left no doubt that mainstream Hollywood has firmly embraced mediocrity and disrespect. The disrespect I’m referring to here goes well beyond mere impudence or lack of respect. It is a deliberate effort to demean both individuals and groups with the ultimate aim of tainting any grace or special character anyone might possess that makes them unique, extraordinary or worthy of special recognition, even though that is the whole idea behind the Oscars in the first place.
To put these thoughts I perspective, let’s start with the use — or in this case the misuse — of humor. For years we’ve seen a decline in the quality of Oscar night humor.
The first reason is that today’s Oscar writers are not as smart as those of yesteryear. Shock value can replace surprise some of the time, but if you’re not smart enough to surprise the audience with clever insights instead of potty humor at least some of the time, you’re simply not a good writer.
The second reason Oscar humor is so bad is because people want most to laugh with people — not at them — especially on a night that is supposed to celebrate their achievements. The “We Saw Your Boobs” number was the most blatant example. The actresses who were ridiculed by name in the presence of their friends, colleagues and fans were embarrassed by this mean and cheap attempt at sophomoric humor.
The third reason is that some of the choices for where to find humor were simply tasteless. The host’s effort to get a laugh about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln was the worst of these. And to make matters worse, after the audience gasped rather than laughed, he criticized the audience for not finding it funny.
But even though the program itself was the worst ever — bad host, bad jokes and poor commentary — there might still be something to feel good about if the awards themselves didn’t miss the mark just as much.
In recent years we have had to endure 10 Best Picture nominees, up from the number five which is a much more reasonable number. This change wasn’t made in order to accommodate that many more great pictures, it was made so that more mediocre pictures could use their nomination as marketing hype to promote box office revenues. Rather than encourage producers to make better pictures in order to be one of the five, we’ve added more so it is easier to be nominated.
Those close to the process knew that “Amour” would win best foreign language film months ago, even though it is a plodding, over-hyped drama that promises to “teach us the meaning of love” by depicting a husband smothering his wife to death with a pillow.
Don’t get me wrong. Some awards were well deserved and awarded for the right reasons. Ann Hathaway’s win for her role in “Les Miserables” comes immediately to mind.
But taken as a whole, the Academy Awards paints a dismal picture of the kinds of values and attitudes that are driving our culture today.
Lyles, a Poway resident, is a business/management consultant and best-selling author. Reader comments are encouraged.