Watching the Oscars for the political statements is, I find, something like watching the State of the Union for the fashion. If you expect much, you are bound to be disappointed.
Somehow, we expect more from the Oscars. I don’t know why. But every year, we do.
“This,” we tell ourselves, “this is the Oscar year that those people dressed in costly fabrics whom we pay to make faces for a living will tell us correct and nuanced political opinions.” We sit down in front of our televisions and load up our second screens.
It would not be so disappointing if, every so often, some people did not rise to the occasion. Sometimes people say powerful, poignant things that are not “I, Jared Leto, Have Decided To Become The Messiah/Elf-King Thranduil With A Beard/John Lennon in Later Life.” (I realize this is not specifically what he said, but it is definitely what his outfit said.)
Twitter tends to magnify this hope. Twitter is ready to transcribe your slightest political musing or inspirational moment. The Golden Globes had quite a few such moments this year, between Gina Rodriguez and Maggie Gyllenhaal, acknowledging the power and role of storytelling to let people see themselves. It can happen. Many things can happen.
And even at the Academy Awards, it is not impossible to say something profound and useful. John Legend and Common managed to use their Oscar acceptance speech to address the attack on the Voting Rights Act and the problem of incarceration, with Legend noting that there are “more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850.” It was powerful.
But this is the exception, not the rule. Usually when stars get up to the microphone, by the time they have thanked their agents, children and dogs named Larry, you are lucky if they manage to blurt out some buzzwords they dimly remember from being quoted on a Beyoncé album.
On principle, watching the Oscars hoping for cogent, nuanced political commentary is like giving the microphone to that roomful of typewriter-monkeys whom we have been expecting for years to come up with the complete works of Shakespeare. The odds aren’t good. Hollywood is good for many things. Obviously, pop culture is political. Who gets to colonize space in our imaginations and whose pictures get rewarded for doing so is a matter of no small significance.
But what we are hoping for is rarer than the unicorn, as Erica Jong once said of something else.
This year, Patricia Arquette’s remarks on wage equality offered a pretty classic example of all the pitfalls of the Hollywood Political Speech. She said, “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America” —
which was ground-breaking, because it was 1972 which was still nice to hear and got Meryl Streep quite enthused.
But then she kept talking. And the backlash came.
Here is a diagram of my feelings on this subject.
This is why it is better not to hope. This is why it is ridiculous to base whether or not you are a feminist on whether or not your favorite movie stars are feminists. You wouldn’t ask them to help you with your math homework, either.
Get your fashion secondhand from Hollywood, absolutely. Buy all the stars’ recommended shampoos and perfumes. But your political opinions? Better to find a different supplier.