This is what they have stooped to? An idiotic singalong of we saw your boobs? Frm 50 shades to #oscars after the breakdown: still in dark ages! What a freak mockery of liberalism!! Gone are the days of love, slow burn, romance the luxury of time and incandescent desires! All is fast food from to deen to dunya! quantity over quality to choke ur scared heart out! Disgusting ppl of disgusting world!
When the Oscars booked Seth MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy and Ted, to host the Oscars they probably expected a bit of 1950s style Hollywood crooning with the odd near-the-knuckle joke thrown in: the sort of thing to make an A-list audience wince without leading to mass walkouts. What they got was rather less palatable.
For a community that prides itself on being edgy liberal outsiders ahead of the curve when it comes to social justice—(e.g George Clooney’s unbearably smug acceptance speech that credited Hollywood for every single meaningful social gain from the civil rights movement to LGBT rights) this year’s Oscars swung the pendulum from strangely apolitical to the polar opposite when it peddled propaganda.
There was no mention of any kind of armed conflict. No mention of uprisings or wars, no mention of drone strikes. The room had a strange numb quality to it. There was no 2003 moment when a director was practically booed off stage for criticizing President Bush and the Iraq invasion. Actually, this year, there was no mention of politics of any kind, except when the first lady bizarrely showed up surrounded by military service personnel in dress uniforms declaring Zero Dark Thirty and Argo, two propaganda films widely criticized for manipulating true events as moments of pride, and in the case of the former, outright lying by suggesting torture led to the capture of Osama bin Laden. Having the first lady—and by extension, the White House— at Oscars present an award to a pool that included propaganda films was, at best, creepy.
It’s all rather par for the course that the Oscars is a white-centric, Western-oriented affair, but this year felt even further removed from the reality facing millions of individuals every day. Artists are supposed to force people from their comfort zones and make them confront sometimes painful truths. Banality and jingoism were rewarded this year, as were sexism and racism.
MacFarlane, intentionally or otherwise, spent the evening demonstrating how little he thinks of women. even the marketing this year was stupid. An Academy Awards for men? As opposed to what? With a 77 percent male Academy membership, every year is a men’s Oscars.
The common knowledge includes all the other goofy stuff that happens at the Dolby Theatre: the wardrobe disasters; the unfunny jokes; the weird dance routines; the embarrassing acceptance speeches; the unexpected appearance of Michelle Obama on a large screen above Jack Nicholson’s head. (Yes, I ended up watching the last forty-five minutes.)
Good, bad, or indifferent, each Oscars ceremony can be relied upon to provide plenty of this sort of trivia. If you are in on it, you can use it to start conversations with your friends and workmates, look smart, and appear au courant. If you don’t know what’s going on—if you choose not to join the network of people connected by having viewed the Oscars—you risk appearing dim, antiquated, and anti-social.
The shared experience is what is crucial. If you thought nobody else was watching, would you really give up your Sunday night for such an event? Perhaps you would, but I would guess you are in the minority. The awareness that others are watching, and that you will be able to communicate with them about what happens, changes the cost-benefit calculus of the potential viewer. To relapse into the lingo of economics, it provides viewers with what economists call a “positive network externality.” The more people that are watching, the more the potential viewer stands to benefit from joining them. Hence almost everybody ends up watching, and moaning about how long the show lasts.
Of course, providing people with fodder for their water-cooler conversations has always been one of Hollywood’s functions. But the rise of online communication, by enlarging people’s circles of friends and acquaintances, has undoubtedly accentuated the importance of certain cultural happenings, such as the Oscars. It’s one thing not to have much to say to your co-worker in the elevator. Missing out on an event that dominates your Facebook and Twitter streams for the ensuing twenty-four hours comes with a higher degree of discomfort.
In short, the existence of social networks increases both the benefits of acquiring common knowledge and the costs of failing to acquire it, which enforces a certain level of conformity. Contrarians and post-structuralist critics may take pleasure in defying the crowd and ignoring hyped-up manifestations of mass-market consumerism. These days, though, such folks tend to be thin on the ground. And even for the budding Derrida or Lacan, the smart thing to do may be to watch the show so you can say how much it stank. (From what I saw on Twitter last night, that appeared to be a common strategy.)
Ultimately, it is all a matter of n-person game theory, which social scientists have been studying for decades. In his interesting 2001 book, “Rational Ritual, Culture, Coordination, and Common Knowledge,” which referenced television events like the Super Bowl, Michael Chwe, a political scientist at U.C.L.A., wrote, “Public rituals can…be understood as social practices which generate common knowledge…A public ritual is not just about the transmission of meaning from a central source to each member of an audience; it is also about letting audience members know what other audience members know.”
In the past, Chwe pointed out, many public rituals, such as coronations and executions, were ultimately concerned with maintaining existing systems of authority. (For potential troublemakers, the common knowledge that dissidents got their heads chopped off served as an effective disincentive.) Some old-school leftists would claim that the Oscars perform a similar function—“bread and circuses.” But regardless of whether that’s true or not, the ceremony is increasingly difficult to ignore. Even for the most rational viewer.
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.
Broadcasters and advertisers should do better, for our kids’ sake. But as long as their sexist and violent content generates buzz and profits, they won’t. So it is up to us.
if you believe violent ads are irresponsible when young children are watching, if you think parents — not advertisers — should decide what’s appropriate for their kids, then speak up. Join MissRepresentation.org in using hashtag #NotBuyingIt on Twitter during this week’s Super Bowl, to let those brands which fail to accurately portray women and men know that sexism will no longer sell. Sign Common Sense Media’s petition on change.org to tell CBS and the NFL that you think they have a responsibility to families. And if you’re watching on Sunday with your kids, make sure you keep those lines of communication open. Talk to them about what they’re seeing. Share your values. And don’t be afraid to hit that mute button or even change the channel for a few minutes. No matter what, inserting your thoughts and feelings as a parent is an important part of the puzzle when it comes to raising smart, respectful, and savvy kids — who are tomorrow’s consumers.
It’s troubling to consider what our sons and daughters will take away from these sexist misrepresentations. What meaning will they derive about the roles of men and women in society, after watching a Go Daddy or Carl’s Jr. commercial that depicts women as objects or men as unfeeling brutes? What kinds of dreams will they build for themselves?
Like all parents, we want our girls to dream of success in a world where they are valued for more than their youth, beauty, and sexuality. And we want our boys to imagine happiness without the pressure to be physically aggressive and dominant over women.