I never thought I'd say it, but Matt Drudge has made me feel better about America.
As manufactured media "news" goes, the right-wing Internet curmudgeon's effort to scuttle Chris Rock's appearance as host of the Oscar telecast Feb. 27 hasn't gained much steam. Which explains my cheerfulness.
As one who hasn't missed an Oscar telecast since childhood, I've always had strong opinions about emcees' performances: Steve Martin was classy, Billy Crystal's trademark opening songs were uproarious, Whoopi Goldberg was oft-embarrassing. I looked forward to Rock's appearance because the comic isn't just hilarious; he's frighteningly honest.
The guy could be a complete disaster -- or one of the Oscars' best hosts. I can't wait to see which.
Clearly, Drudge feels differently. The Feb. 13 edition of his Drudge Report featured a screaming all-caps headline: "HOST CHRIS ROCK SHOCK: ONLY GAYS WATCH OSCARS; ACADEMY MEMBERS ALARMED OVER CHOICE OF COMIC." The "exclusive" report describes how "concerned" some conveniently unnamed members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are over the choice of Rock as host.
Members' concern supposedly deepened after Rock joked to Entertainment Weekly that the only black men who watch the Oscars are gay. Of course, Drudge upped the ante by suggesting that Rock said that only gays, period, tune in. Rock's actual quote: "Come on, it's a fashion show. What straight black man sits there and watches the Oscars? Show me one!"
To which Rock added: "Awards for art are [expletive] idiotic."
Rock's words did stun me -- with their frankness. The telecast has always been a celebration of expensive attire. And it's always been slightly absurd. Oscar often rewards popular and/or profitable films while ignoring brilliance. The 1941 film "Citizen Kane" -- the choice of countless critics and the American Film Institute as the greatest-ever film -- lost Best Picture to "How Green Was My Valley," and won only for its screenplay.
Everyone knows Oscar is a culturally fascinating crock. But what host has admitted it, even in jest? A statement by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation pointed out what Drudge apparently missed:
"Chris Rock isn't making fun of gays -- he's poking fun at the Oscars," GLAAD executive director Joan Garry said.
What's more, some conservative writers and visitors to right-leaning Web sites wondered why Drudge didn't get it. A British observer suggested that the true victims of Rock's comments were those suffering from the "blight of Oscarphobia," and that anyone harboring "unnatural urges to . . . watch a bunch of phony old actors congratulating themselves" deserves sympathy, not condemnation.
Amazing. In an age in which people of every possible demographic are primed to screech, "I'm offended!" folks got the joke. More astonishing was Drudge's suggestion that academy members fear that Rock might "tarnish" Oscar's rep.
Rock would need superpowers to tarnish a show twice hosted by noted pratfaller Chevy Chase, and whose 1995 host, David Letterman, presented a dog that spun in circles whenever the audience applauded. Must I mention Rob Lowe painfully "singing" to Snow White in 1989 or the naked man who in 1974 "streaked" across the stage?
People tune in precisely to see who will cuss, trip or insert a Jimmy Choo pump or Gucci loafer into his or her mouth. Surely Crystal, Chase, Letterman and Goldberg made a discomfiting joke or two before they hosted.