Bring the Pain

Photo by Alison DyerIf you spent the past few weeks living in a damp, drafty cave, completely isolated from your fellow humans and subsisting solely on scummy rainwater and the meat of whatever small rodents you could catch with your trembling, claw-like hands, consider yourself lucky: you've managed to miss all the pre-Oscar hype.

Look, I'm a complete dork for the movies—I readily admit that. I watch movies for a living. I read silly magazines about the movies; I watch silly TV shows about the movies; my house is packed so full of DVDs it's threatening to sink into the earth and take a few of my neighbors' homes down with it. I often have arguments about movies I've never seen and have no intention of ever seeing. And yet I would rather superglue my tongue to the floor of a public restroom than sit through an Academy Awards telecast in its entirety.

Perhaps if you had some personal stake invested in what happens at the Kodak Theatre Sunday night, if you were nominated for an Oscar yourself or one of your dearest friends was, thenit would make sense this show would interest you. But otherwise, there is simply no reason why you would willingly subject yourself to a show that plays like a four-hour, grossly expensive high-school assembly. After all, this isn't the Nobel Prize ceremony or some other genuine celebration of the best humanity has to offer: it's a bunch of millionaires presenting one another with little golden statuettes celebrating their ability to shed tears on cue.

Recently, Chris Rock, this year's Oscar host, caused something of a stir when he observed in an EntertainmentWeeklyinterview that the Oscars are basically a big, boring fashion show watched mostly by women and gay guys. “Nothing against people who aren't straight, but what straight guy that you know cares? Who gives a f—?” He also pointed out how rarely blacks are nominated and even had the temerity to suggest that all awards for art are “fucking idiotic.”

Conservative commentator and crocodile sphincter Matt Drudge immediately attempted to whip Rock's remarks into a major controversy, posting an item on his website titled “HOST CHRIS ROCK SHOCK: ONLY GAYS WATCH OSCARS.” Now, it doesn't take a conspiracy nut to deduce that Drudge had some ulterior motives in attempting to brand Rock as a nutsy homophobe. Rock has been an outspoken critic of the Bush regime (he recently characterized Bush's response to gay marriage as “fuck them faggots!”), and getting Rock booted from his Oscar gig would have been another nice little coup for the conservatives. But fortunately, Drudge's attempt to manufacture a scandal didn't go very far. Most of America responded with sensible indifference, and in a statement, the Gay N Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation pointed out the obvious: “Chris Rock isn't making fun of gays—he's poking fun at the Oscars.” On his website, Drudge had quoted one unnamed “veteran Hollywood mogul” who sputtered, “(Rock) is out there saying 'awards for art are f—ing idiotic,' and he is hosting the show produced by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences? I guess the joke is on us!” Well, duh.

Rock's remarks were hardly the stuff of revolution or revelation; after all, Howard Stern has been making essentially these same jokes every February for years. Rock's remarks do sting a little, issuing as they do from the smart mouth of the fellow who is hosting the stupid show in question. But this was nonetheless exactly the kind of honesty we've come to expect from Rock, a smart, gifted standup comic who somehow manages to build his routines around unpretty truths without ever really pissing anybody off. Rock is usually more impudent than genuinely rebellious, and where Hollywood is concerned, he nibbles, rather than bites, the hand that feeds him. For a guy who clearly disdains Hollywood bullshit, he's hosted more than his share of bullshit awards shows; he shows up at these things for the money and the exposure and makes no bones about it, but his disarming, mile-wide grin ensures that, even if he occasionally insults his hosts, he has no need to worry about not being invited to their next party.

Having Rock host the Oscars this year is a respectably bold attempt on the part of the show's producers to liven up the proceedings, but in the end, having the host point out how pointless the show is isn't really going to make it any less pointless. After all, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is the same esteemed body that proclaimed HowGreenWasMyValley1941's Best Picture over CitizenKaneand has, ever since, rewarded the safe and successful over the risky and the (even remotely) controversial. Say whatever you like about them, but Michael Moore's Fahrenheit9/11and Mel Gibson's ThePassionoftheChristboth scandalized audiences and earned many ecstatic reviews. Of course, both movies were profoundly divisive and both directors are annoying as hell, so neither one scored a nomination for Best Picture or Best Director. So what movie will the Academy proclaim “best” this year? TheAviator,probably. Maybe Neverland.Something watchable and professional that doesn't leave you all twisted up inside afterward. MillionDollarBabyalmost certainly won't win, but come Monday morning, all anybody will be talking about is Hilary Swank's gown.

If you should need me any time over the next few days, drop by my cave, just outside of town. I'll catch a bat and treat you to a meal you won't soon forget.


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