March 2, 2017
On the Oscars and Today’s Continental Divide
In Bart Giamatti’s masterful essay “The Green Fields of the Mind,” the baseball season, with its four seasons and its ability to absorb our attention and trick us into believing that summer will never end, is a metaphor for the passage of time. It creeps up on us stealthily, Giamatti explains, masking its true self in the form of long regular seasons and magical runs at post-season greatness. And then, it betrays us, popping out from behind the curtain in the form of a failed post-season bid, a heart-breaking playoff loss, or even a game seven celebration. In the end it really matters little whether our team wins or loses – time is the ultimate victor. As the lights dim on the season, it suddenly dawns on us – we’re a year older.
I suspect we all measure time in analogous and multiple ways. For some of us, it’s sports; for others, it is the school year: nine months, a summer vacation, and we’re all a little grayer. For some of us (myself included), movies are that great yardstick. Movies, with their potential to elicit tears just as easily as scorn, their ability to elevate up-and-coming actors or cause once-promising careers to come to a screeching halt, and their knack for provoking passionate arguments about the worthiness of a film, the pay of its cast, and film’s place in society as a whole. In these ways, movies and sports are very similar, especially at this time, with the rise of athletes unafraid to speak their minds about social and political issues, as well as actors taking to the podium to deliver passionate speeches about the causes they champion and the political positions they hold.
The year’s cinematic bookend, the Academy Awards, has come and gone, and with that comes the realization that something has passed – 12 months, 52 weeks of new releases, 2016’s four film seasons – the beginning of the year dump of bad movies that cost a lot and thus must get a release date; the season of summer blockbusters; the unfortunate post-summer dump; and the end-of-the-year showcase of films deemed worthy of awards by the studios that produced or distributed them. In a way, the Academy Awards are a replay of the year, an occasion for Hollywood to collectively forget the misfires and embarrassments and focus instead of what it considers its absolute best. It is an insider’s party attended by those privileged to be on the inside and honoring their own for a variety of reasons – not all of which have to do with the film that is honored. After all, there are several cases in which members of the Academy have admitted to voting for movies they either didn’t like or hadn’t seen.
There is a correlation between one’s age and the number of films one watches in theaters, and it is not necessarily a pleasant one. The more one ages, it goes, the less one ventures out to the silver screen. I am no different when it comes to this. I used to pride myself on watching all of the films nominated for Best Picture before the Oscars. This year I saw just one of the nominees – Hidden Figures. However, the Oscars still have an importance to me. Each nominee goes on a mental list of films I intend to watch, and if shows like the Oscars and lists of the top-ten films of the year do not inspire people to watch films they wouldn’t ordinarily have given a chance, than they have failed. All too often people read the list of Oscar nominees or and proclaim there to be no reason to watch the show simply because films they saw and liked were not nominated. This is to miss out on an opportunity. One would hope that winning an award or being honored for one’s work would create interest, not antagonism.
This year, the Oscars were political. How could they not be? And the reaction was predictable, with negative comments about elitism and positive ones because someone echoed what someone else already believes. We must strive to be better than this. The right to speak up is not limited by class or race – the opinion of a Hollywood celebrity is just as important to hear as one from a laid-off factory worker from the Rust Belt. And we must find a way to avoid knee-jerk reactions and labels. The fact that someone supports Donald Trump or believes he should be given a chance is not an indicator of extremism, sexism, or racism, and someone’s apprehension and concern about Trump's presidency should not be viewed as sour grapes or an inability to accept the outcomes of an election. In addition, simply voicing an opinion should not make someone the target of a boycott, be the opinion Meryl Streep’s or Kevin Plank’s. We must listen without prejudice. This is not always easy, and I admit to having had my own problems with this over the years. But if we can calm down, listen, and seek to understand the feelings that are being expressed when someone talks about politics or global issues, we may gain valuable insights into the world we live in and the people we share it with.
I realize I have strayed somewhat from my original topic, but to me, the Oscars are an extension of this. They are a voice that I listen to if for no other reason than that they can open my eyes to things I’ve missed or judged too quickly. I understand wanting to see your favorites up there, but just because they aren’t shouldn’t mean we stop listening. The same is true for the real world.