First, a disclaimer. If, in any way, I seem more anti-social and venomous than usual it is a direct result of the fact that my face is on fire. It would seem that my very near future will involve people digging sharp metal objects into the tender flesh of my sensitive mandibular regions in an effort to expunge a rather stupid wisdom tooth which, like Punxsutawney Phil, emerged briefly, saw its shadow, and then retreated again into the safety of my gums where it surrounded itself with a protective layer of painful sour tasting bacteria. While a pleasant turn of events for the tooth, for me this experience has been not unlike being hit in the face with a molten monkey wrench, which is to say unpleasant. Thus, any ill-tempered or nonsensical comments I might make should be seen as a direct result of spiking pain shooting through my lower jaw, and not as a generalized contempt for humanity.To take my mind off this situation, I spent a great deal of the weekend lying under a blanket on the couch watching television and periodically whining at my wife when she happened to walk past, which I note she did with less frequency as the weekend wore on. Naturally, CNN was always a button click away, but to a greater extend I watched the NCAA basketball tournament as young athletes, who all seemed to have no problems with their teeth, gums, or jaws, performed physical feats as fantastic to me as if theyÃ‚'d sprouted wings and flew. This is not what I want to talk about, however. What I want to discuss is last nightÃ‚'s Academy Awards.
ItÃ‚'s a reasonable and appropriate question to ask why I, or anyone, would watch the awards ceremony. The only thing possibly worse that a group of people as intrinsically vain and narcissistic as those who define themselves as movie stars are those people who syphon vanity by proxy and foster that narcissism, that is to say the adoring and ever interested fan. And yet, Hollywood is as strangely and secretly intriguing to me as disco, a ridiculous parody of itself that IÃ‚'m always ashamed to admit that I kinda like. Hollywood is AmericaÃ‚'s Mount Olympus, and they our media Greek Gods with all the inscrutability and oddly human foibles, living lives that only vaguely resembles that of actual humans, and as a nation we pay homage to them with reverent networks like E!, and awards extravaganzas. The truth is, that even those most critical of our consumerism infatuation with movie stars probably know that Ben Affleck is dating J. Lo, and that Catherine Zeta Jones is carrying Michael DouglasÃ‚' child. Hate it? Fine, but don't pretend like you can avoid it.
Still, itÃ‚'s reasonable to ask why I donÃ‚'t fight my voyeuristic impulse to watch. To answer that question, IÃ‚'ll tell you about the 1992 Oscars, which I watched in a Milwaukee hotel. I was in Milwaukee to enlist in the United States Navy, preparing to take the ASVAB (the standard proficiency and placement test) the next morning. I was a scared but determined kid, doing something that felt both terrifying and noble. Though, I would take a great many tests more than the ASVAB the next day, would finally be offered a slot in the Delayed Enlistment Program so that I could enter a prized space in the Nuclear Program, and would later that summer discover a medical situation that, at a time of budget cuts, would ultimately remove me from service altogether before I even made it to boot camp, that night I was just a scared teenager looking for something familiar. So, I think that night, as Marisa Tomei inexplicably won for her role in My Cousin Vinny, and Clint Eastwood collected a stack of statues for Unforgiven, I formed some kind of emotional attachment to the show.
As I watched last night, I thought back on that evening eleven years past, wondered at the person I might be now if IÃ‚'d spent six years in the Navy Nuke program instead of following the far more twisting course that time has since laid for me. Then I thought about the kids sleeping on the sandy desert in a country that was once just an orange colored shape on a map; kids who are both terrified and determined, and watching the Academy Awards for the familiarity of home. Maybe itÃ‚'s because of them that I didnÃ‚'t mind so much when Michael Moore found a crowd unsympathetic, why I didnÃ‚'t mind that in a tumultuous time we still participated in something that some think is unforgivingly trite.
In the end, I could care less what Adrien Brody actually thinks of the war, though IÃ‚'m pretty impressed that for the rest of his life he can hold his head high and say "I slipped Halle Berry a little tongue in front of the world," but his sentiment was actually neither particularly political or inappropriate. He took a moment of national airtime to say hello to a serviceman in Kuwait, and you know what? IÃ‚'m fine with that. This, in contrast to Michael Moore, who I usually donÃ‚'t take serious exception with, who decided winning an award was a good time to say something intentionally inflammatory and generally meant to disrupt. With all the tact of a class clown making fart noises in his armpit, Moore seemed more interested in building headlines than making a genuine statement. Considering he was in Hollywood, itÃ‚'s significant that he couldnÃ‚'t even make his statement to the overwhelmingly liberal community without generating ire, as surprising as being too conservative at a Phillip-Morris board meeting.
So, the Academy Awards were pretty much what anyone would expect. It was an orgy or self-congratulatory sentiment, and a race to thank as many producers and agents as possible in the short time allotted so they might be compelled to give more work. It was a festival of people who seem to think, by the nature of our decision to put them on national television, that anyone is really interested in their political perspective. It was a night where some people got a little gold statue of a naked man, and others tried to look happy that they did not. It was the Oscars, and it was familiar, and it was somehow a comforting if silly tradition that reminds us that the world is not entirely ruined. In the final analysis, if it made a few soldiers across several oceans feel, for just a moment, like they were connected with home again, then maybe it was worth all the pomp.