How I used to anticipate the Academy Awards show! I'm not sure when I became attached to it, but I used to care so deeply about watching it. (When I used to lecture at colleges around the country, my contract used to specify that if I appeared at a university on Oscar night, I'd be done with my talk by 9 pm so I could watch the big show. I'm serious, and also a little embarrassed about it.)
Needless to say, this was in the 20th century, before I knew anything about the movie business. But even as the blinders were lifted from my eyes and I knew more about the business and more about the people nominated and more about studio politics, and how the balloting works…. even then I couldn't wait for Oscar night. And in those days I might not have even seen all or most of the movies. But I cared deeply about everything, as one did.
My best friend -- who inconveniently for me lives on the other coast -- and I made elaborate plans for the evening together. Some years we could manage to be together in Los Angeles; most years we watched over the phone together (before the Internet, baby), and shared a personal, gossipy, fun night of excess and celebrities together.
That's so over now.
- Here's (in part) why: By the time the Oscars come along, we've been up to our teeth in award shows. We've seen pictures of the same stars coming and going: at the gym, leaving that highly-trafficked Starbucks on La Vicente, getting their hairs done, going to Sundance, SAG, Grammys, Golden Globes, Peoples Choice, MTV, Independent Spirits, and on and on. In my memory part of what made the Oscars grand was that these movie stars were not constantly available. It's not their faults. The insatiable news cycle demands constant replenishment, even if it's just another shot of Reese Witherspoon's new It Bag.
- In the old days there was a sense of danger -- Cher would come up with her own ideas about why to wear and you knew it would be interesting. Now of course, the whole pageant belongs to the highly-rewarded stylists, who are now more in-demand than the actors and actresses themselves. In turn, they become celebrities with their own short lists and everyone looks tasteful in their priceless couture gowns. So not only do we see everyone over and over, they're all dressed similarly and tastefully.
- The Red Carpet Blather: Listening to what passes for conversation on the red carpet is demoralizing.
Bobble head host: Who are you wearing?
Styled Star: This is Lanvin/Armani/Saint Laurent/Chanel/Prada,etc.
BHH: You look amazing!
BHH: Are you excited tonight?
SS: Yes. I mean It's so great and like, it's just an honor to be here and we've had such a great time with this movie and I'm going to have a great time tonight, no matter what happens.
If we're going to watch a spectacle, maybe they should just play music over the banality, the profoundly dull words of ill-equipped interviewers.
- The Show Itself
Following (what feels like) 5 hours of pre-show, the home audience, especially those on the East Coast and in Europe are already tired by the time the official broadcast begins. The show -- no matter who hosts and who produces -- cannot win. Big production numbers, comic monologues, "funny business" in the audience…. it's hard to steer the big ship in the right direction. Mostly it seems the best moments are moments of true emotion that come out of the winners' mouths. Everything else feels more or less canned.
And I always end up feeling sorry for the hosts. It's a thankless job being blamed for technical glitches, bad writing, and stilted moments. The hosts cannot control any of that.
Well, look at what I did! You'd think the Oscar show was important to me.
The very best part of watching the show is that you know everyone else is watching it to, so there is a feeling reminiscent of the Good Old Days ™ when television watching was a communal activity. When the choices were more limited, and you could only watch the show once when it was broadcast -- everyone could talk about it the next day, whether it was the Oscars, or "The Man from U.N.C.L.E."
At my house last night, everyone was busy (myself included) writing judgmental tweets and Facebook posts. So we had some community, but not with one another. Actually, that's not correct. We'd read aloud our posts as we typed them into our thingies.
And my friend in Los Angeles? Of course we were in touch. She texted me a couple of "Not funny" or "She's annoyings" and I returned fire with "Agreed" and "Disappointings". Then we said we'll never watch again.
Which we said last year.