Watching the mostly polite and intermittently entertaining Golden Globes ceremony Sunday night confirmed a long-standing suspicion. We may tell ourselves that we’re watching awards shows such as the Golden Globes and the Oscars for the glitz and the glamour, out of a rooting interest for the art we love and in hopes of seeing stars deliver passionate messages to a huge audience. But let’s face it: We’re also looking out for a really good train wreck. The best awards show moments are ones that reveal the gap between the star power and the messy human reality of Hollywood.
I love a glorious ballgown and the sight of a genuinely surprised and deeply emotional award winner as much as anyone. It was lovely to see Golden Globes host Sandra Oh express her love for her parents in Korean and bow to them in gratitude after she won best actress in a drama TV series for her work on “Killing Eve.” I adore Andy Samberg and will root for anything that gets more people to watch his comedy “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” which NBC blessedly saved from cancellation and will return to television this week.
Cumulatively, these awards evenings can feel insincere and exhausting, given what we know about the realities of Hollywood. And given the reckoning with sexual misconduct and inequality that has been roiling the entertainment industry (among businesses) since October 2017, I find myself with dwindling patience for Hollywood’s facades, now that we have a better sense of what often lies beneath them.
Theoretically, this Golden Globes ceremony should have been a break from the awkwardness and occasional jaggedness that have marked the occasion the past few years. There’s certainly some value in proving, as Samberg and Oh’s opening monologue did, that niceness can be just as funny as viciousness, given the right delivery. And it’s good for the industry (and the world) to see stars such as Regina King pledge to use her power as a producer to get women hired in numbers that reflect our presence in the actual population — though of course, it would have been nice to see some men making similar promises from the stage at the International Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton.
Instead, I felt itchy for much of the evening. Samberg’s and Oh’s loveliness doesn’t mean the industry has divested itself of cruelty or bigotry. As much as I appreciated Oh’s rejoicing that some of 2018′s biggest hits looked a lot more like America, I couldn’t help but remember that the number of women directing top-grossing movies actually fell in 2018 from the year before. And while most actresses may have traded the all-black ensembles they wore at the 2018 Globes to protest sexual misconduct in the industry for ribbons and wristbands, that doesn’t mean Hollywood has actually made progress in shaking up its sexual norms or the employment practices that make workers vulnerable to abuse.
Our first instinct might be to say that awards shows aren’t the place to confront these thorny and deeply rooted issues. I would suggest, though, that there is no better setting to reveal Hollywood’s contradictions than on the industry’s most decked-out, self-celebratory nights.
We pore over fashion slide shows not merely because we want to see sweeping gowns and perfectly cut tuxedos, but also because we want to see the misguided fashion disasters that remind us that money (and designers eager to loan clothes to stars) can’t always buy good taste. It can be exciting to see Hugh Jackman nail a big musical number, but there’s something revealing about flubs both major and minor. In 2017, when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announced “La La Land” as the best picture winner instead of the actual victor, “Moonlight,” or when a whole host of presenters seem unable to read the teleprompter, as happened at the Globes last night, the facade that these stars are more preternaturally polished than the rest of us falls away. In a similar way, rude or irreverent hosts can be jarring at what’s meant to be an entertaining event, but they also expose unresolved tensions in a big business where political beliefs and professional practices are less homogeneous and settled than outsiders might think.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s an immoral whitewash for the entertainment business to celebrate the accomplishments of the previous year. If anything, I root for the actors, writers and directors who manage to do genuinely innovative things in an increasingly Disneyfied industry, where the box office is increasingly dominated by a small number of massively popular entertainments.
The thing about truly great drama, as opposed to momentarily satisfying pablum, is that it shakes us up and unnerves us, maybe even challenges our worldviews forever. That’s as true for televised awards shows as for anything else. And with the Oscars a mere seven weeks away and still lacking a host, maybe we’ll get the riveting, revealing train wreck that both we and Hollywood deserve.