The Shape of Virtue

At the outset of this year’s Academy Awards, Jimmy Kimmel joked that he’d give the person with the shortest speech a jet ski. I really wish there had been more of a competition for that jet ski.

By the time the evening was over it wasn’t just that I was bored. I mourned the time lost. It was time I could have spent doing almost anything else. And mind you, I didn’t even watch the whole thing. I couldn’t stand to, given that even what I did see was too much. I can only imagine the feelings of someone who actually gave up the full 220 minutes of his life to watch the full show.

If there’s anything America likes less than being lectured to by a gilded aristocracy, it’s sitting through close to four hours of those lectures while that same self-appointed nobility simultaneously sheds crocodile tears, pats itself on the back, and pretends to motivate itself to action.

Hollywood: “We’re Better Than You”
In what should go down in history as the #WeKnew Oscars, there was very little in the way of real self-reflection.

Sure, we were treated to fairly standard, scripted, and overly melodramatic tropes of “we need to do better,” but those were accompanied invariably by absolving kudos for their many unrelated accomplishments. Addressing the actual moral rot in the industry—the rot that allowed for hundreds, if not thousands, of Harvey Weinsteins to engage in unspeakable and bellicose depravity, excused for decades—was not on the agenda. Instead, the entertainment luminaries—outfitted with orange anti-gun violence pins (this year’s cause celebre) while protected by men with guns—once again took to our television screens with the ostensible purpose of entertaining us and used it, instead, browbeat American society at large.

Kimmel in his opening monologue set the tone when he had the audacity to posit that if Hollywood were successful in cleaning up its act “women will only have to deal with harassment all the time at every other place they go.” That’s right, Hollywood—an industry where the casting couch is so common that it’s a running joke and where pedophilia and rape are excused—is really no worse than American society at large. That became the thru-line of the evening.

Thing is, no one was watching. Overnight numbers were unsurprisingly low, possibly the worst rated Academy Awards since they started tracking and down at least 20 percent from last year’s debacle. Maybe Michael Mann can devise a way to hide the decline, but the Academy surely can’t—ratings have been plummeting for years. align=”right” The show has become a parody of itself—rife with obvious herd politics, preening sanctimony, contradictory messaging, and rank hypocrisy.

The ratings tank speaks to the fact that we live in a post-awards show world. It’s not that awards shows can’t be engaging, its just that everyone knows they’re not awards shows anymore. Just as the NFL stopped being about the game of football and instead became about who knelt and who stood, the Academy Awards have become about the politics and the moralizing instead of about the transcendent beauty and power of film.

Where once the awards show was about rewarding the art of artifice, a celebration of cinema itself (and the technical awards still, for the most part, adhere to this), it is now merely about creating an artifice for the purpose of allowing a propaganda platform to masquerade as an awards show.

Imagine the Alternative!
The Academy Awards attempt to create the illusion of earnestness, but everyone—even those who agree with the message being spread—knows that it’s a false earnestness. It is play acting, and bad play acting at that. It’s a moralizing vehicle set in an awards show. And apparently, fewer and fewer people each year care to tune in to a show that exposes what moral degenerates who tolerate sexism, pedophilia, and a debauchery most normal people can’t even begin to imagine, have to say about politics, ethics, or anything else. We’d rather just enjoy the fantasies they create on the screen and enjoy the popcorn. Their true selves pale in comparison.

For all the vaunted “soul searching” I was told we’d see but didn’t, I’d have been more impressed if they were honest. If we’re not going to just talk about cinema, but use the awards as a platform for social change we may want to include new award categories perhaps. I can just imagine it:

Or maybe even a montage (there were several montages last night) of “All the colleagues we partied with and kissed up to but were forced to pretend we never liked after they were outed as reprobates.” That might have actually made for compelling television. But, as it stood, the show was tedious in its presentation, predictable in its moralizing, and flat in its attempts at emotion and humor.

Further, the evening was a confusing jumble—unsure of itself and vacillating between what seemed like a thin broth of regret and an attempt to seem determined. Before the evening was up Frances McDormand would make sure that the audience would have to google “inclusion rider” and Jimmy “Man Show” Kimmel would go on awkwardly to opine that he wished he were a woman (this is, of course, after noting in his opening monologue that the Oscar statue, by virtue of not having a penis was a perfect man). Moreover, the audience would have to figure out how Kobe Bryant’s uncomfortable history in Eagle,Colorado squared with the demands of the #TimesUp and #MeToo Movements that the industry is working so assiduously to tout, and to wonder how it was that John Lasseter, the now disgraced head of Pixar, was not even mentioned when “Coco” won for best animated picture and best song, despite his being one of the first names in the credits.

“We don’t make movies to make money,” quipped show host Jimmy Kimmel, “We make them to upset Mike Pence.” So, predictably, after “Shape of Water” won for Best Picture, Twitter exploded with irrational schadenfreude. Even Vicente Fox got in on the act, trying to make political hay out of the win:

I guess they believe that because the movie was made by a Mexican-born, naturalized American director and was (tangentially) about interspecies sex it would somehow upset Trump and Pence. From the way Twitter handled the win, you’d think Guillermo Del Toro was a DACA recipient or a misunderstood MS-13 member whose activities funded revolutionary Samizdat. Once again, politics, not moviemaking. A beautiful movie couldn’t be enjoyed or discussed without this plodding and obtuse moralizing. And they wonder why the ratings keep falling?

People don’t want that from a Hollywood awards show and that’s why the ratings steadily have been decreasing for years. If you’re going to act like aristocrats, fine. Just don’t act like priests and scholars at the same time. If you’re going to telecast your activities as a glamorous night celebrating your industry, then make it about that.

Instead the show has become a parody of itself—rife with obvious herd politics, preening sanctimony, contradictory messaging, and rank hypocrisy. I don’t doubt that in the near future an aging social justice luminary such as Gloria Steinem or Angela Davis will replace Joan Rivers on the red carpet as “What cause are you supporting?” becomes the new “Who are you wearing?” and political causes and virtue signaling one-upmanship becomes the new fashion.

This year the audience was subjected to montage after montage, and speech after speech, about “making your voice heard.” Making your voice heard? This from an industry that already has the loudest megaphone in America and the widest reach in the history of the world?  Sorry, it rang false.

And the public wasn’t buying it either.

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About Boris Zelkin

Russian-born Boris Zelkin is an Emmy Award-winning composer who has written the music to countless films, documentaries, television shows and major sporting events, including the Tucker Carlson show, Bill O'Reilly, "Gosnell," “FrackNation,” Citizen United’s “Rediscovering God in America II,” Roger Simon’s “Lies and Whispers,” the America's Cup, the Masters, the World Skating Championships, the U.S. Open, NASCAR, the Stanley Cup Championship, and the theme to ESPN’s NCAA championship coverage. Zelkin received his B.A. from Colgate University and earned his M.A. in religion from the University of Chicago Divinity School. He has written extensively on the culture for various online journals and was a major contributor to the recently released “Bond Forever,” a book about the James Bond franchise. He currently resides in Los Angeles but is always looking for a way out.