An Oscars critique


“I want to thank the Academy and my mom and everyone I ever met plus their dog,” or so it seems after a few acceptance speeches. Most are inane, a very few are eloquently insightful and worth watching twice.

I admit that I watched some of the Oscars extravaganza, again. I confess, I am drawn to good movies. This last year, two were memorable.

At the risk of ruining my image with the revelation of my tender side, I thoroughly enjoyed “La La Land,” a compelling story of chasing young dreams, falling in love and carrying the torch for a long time before having your heart broken, a story of life told deftly in musical form with a light touch. I nearly fell in love with Emma Stone myself.

In “Hacksaw Ridge,” the hard part for me was watching the furious battle in which men killed each other in the most urgently gruesome ways. Having been to war makes you love peace all the more. The movie focused on extraordinary heroism by one conscientious objector relentlessly and miraculously saving lives amidst a firestorm, a breathtaking story.

But I don’t always see things the conventional way, and I took from that movie two reminders very likely lost on other viewers. First, like every other battle in which old men send young men to fight and die, the virtue is not only in the few who do remarkable things. The virtue is in all of them struggling desperately to bring each other back alive. Second, nasty battles are a visit into hell that nobody else will ever understand, and it welds survivors together into a kind of family to which outsiders cannot ever belong.

So I watched the early part of the Academy Awards Sunday night and was troubled, again, by the same nag in the back of my mind. You might never guess what bothers me, especially if you knew well the rough edges of my very conservative and protective shell.

I am not especially bothered by political commentary by the glitterati in their moment at the microphone, especially since their propensity to spout their views is usually inversely proportional to the value of what they have to say. They make themselves look stupid by my measure and discredit their own message.

I’m not particularly bothered that so many of them wallow in wealth. They struck gold — good for them.

I am made uncomfortable, though, by the stark self-indulgence of the entire affair, ironically at odds with the collective liberalism of the whole lot. Hear me out before you count me crazy.

These “celebrities” or “stars,” terms which trigger my gag reflex, live a privileged life of wealth and luxury from being paid obscene amounts for playing a role, and doing it quite well, for our entertainment. We all enjoy the movie product, but the unintended consequence is these actors are treated as larger than life wherever they go. Is it any wonder these pampered princes and princesses come to accept their own elevated importance?

Hold onto your shorts, I’m about to reveal what’s left of my inner Democrat.

Have you ever considered how much money is spent on this orgy of self-congratulation? Did you know each nominee receives a “Swag Bag” with a variety of upscale personal products, spa and resort complimentary visits, and so on, with the 2016 Swag Bag value estimated at $232,000 each?

I don’t begrudge anyone the special occasion of dressing up with new, specially made dresses and shoes and gorgeous jewelry, but is there any reasonable limit imposed by conscience? In 2014 Cate Blanchett, between her ensemble and jewels, was reported to be wearing $18.1 million, but that was extreme in which her nude Armani Prive dress was embellished with countless Swarovski crystals. Last year’s upper crust dresses seemed to average in the $100,000 range, and I’ll let you guess what they spent on shoes and accessories.

Never mind the hundreds of millions spent on parties for the pampered after the show.

What’s the point of all this? I wonder if it occurs to any of them that by cutting back on conspicuous consumption, especially on frocks they might wear only once, they could divert significant amounts of money that would turn a number of less fortunate lives around.

How many struggling single mothers, wishing for a way to pay for their kid’s college and buy them a car, could have their dreams come true by one starlet dressing down to a reasonable prom level, and spreading her cash to a more uplifting use?

Think of just one well-known actor, deciding to wear last year’s tux instead spending loads on a new outfit by a designer with an exotic accent, and using said money to help a financially strapped young couple move out of the ‘hood with their new child to buy a modest and safe suburban home.

Imagine if a few high profile actors did such a thing and made it known, starting an Oscars’ tradition of taking their spending down a notch and proudly using an equal amount of money to deliver anonymous gifts to families identified to be both deserving and in need?

I know. My inner Democrat is colliding with my external politics. But I don’t ever want to lose that part of my humanity. Next year I will squirm again as the self-indulgent, self-congratulatory, overly pampered Hollywood set gather on the red carpet to outspend one another for the voyeuristic public occupying lower levels of life, pausing for cameras so the world can heap praise on them simply because their face was on the screen we watched while they did their job.

Despite these perturbations in my head, I thought Justin Timberlake did a bang-up opening, and for the short time I watched, host Jimmy Kimmel was just the dose of self-deprecating humor the gathered royalty needed and seemed to appreciate.

Now go see “La La Land,” and take your kids to show them a universal story of life, well done with a light touch in the rapidly disappearing genre of a musical.

[Terry Garlock of Peachtree City occasionally contributes a column to The Citizen.]