- - Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Academy Awards are the Left Coast’s great cultural event of the year, more important to the stars than a Hillary Clinton fundraiser.

Like them or not, movies drive the culture, reflecting and reacting to what’s going on around us. They require our awareness. They can’t be dismissed simply because they’re the stuff of fantasy.

Fantasy is in vogue on the Right Coast, too. The Washington Post, once one of the president’s most cheerful enablers, observes in an editorial that “President Obama’s foreign policy is based on fantasy.”

He seeks the happy endings of Hollywood’s movies, where wishes come true not because they make practical sense, but because believing in them makes them so. Unfortunately, as he’s learning now, we live in Kansas, not Oz.

If Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine is “a 19th-century act in the 21st century,” as Secretary of State John F. Kerry describes it, it’s not a costume drama or historical romance.

The president imagines he’s a Hollywood star. He dresses, talks and acts like one, taking his dramatic persona and fashion styles from the actors. He no doubt thinks the popular television series “West Wing” was the reality, and he prefers that to actual real life, where life is tough and three out of three people die.

Mr. Obama’s fondness for heroic rhetoric — in crises in Egypt, Iran, Syria and now Ukraine and Crimea — is backed by nothing more than more rhetoric. Alas, Russian President Vladimir Putin knows very well that he’s not a player in a Tinseltown melodrama. He’s the villain, and those are real soldiers he’s moving into Ukraine and Crimea.

Jared Leto, who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, picked up the president’s theme of fantasy, appealing to “all the dreamers out there around the world watching this tonight in places like Ukraine and Venezuela.”

He seemed to think that those about to be invaded and their freedoms taken away were thinking only of the Academy Awards and of whose dress showed the most bosom. It was a charming appeal to pleasant dreams in the midst of a nightmare. Whimsy, maybe, but not reality.

The emphasis this year was on “niceness,” in sharp contrast to the familiar attack mode in Washington. Snarkiness was out (for everyone but Liza Minnelli, accused of being a drag-queen imitation of herself).

Hollywood didn’t want to imitate the push-pull polarities that plague the relationship between Congress and the president. But the audience could appreciate Kevin Spacey, who in the character of Frank Underwood, the evil politician he plays on the television show “House of Cards,” expressing his sinister delight in being out of Washington for the weekend. Touche.

Conservatives don’t much like Hollywood because they’re not welcome there. Hollywood mocks the old values dear to conservatives, whether political or social. If the president lives in fantasyland and stays out of touch, sometimes critics who imagine themselves sophisticated are, too.

Matthew Brody of The New Yorker simply couldn’t bear Matthew McConaughey’s “weirdly confessional speech” with a “taste of old-time religion,” thanking God for his success and spontaneously enjoying his dead father’s imagined celebratory romp in heaven.

One reader asked whether the critic had ever known even one person of faith, and whether believers should “silence their expressions of gratefulness to their Creator.” That’s hardly necessary, since thanking God, once commonplace, is now unique at the Oscars.

The Academy Awards reward good actors, whose acceptance speeches, while usually narcissistic, sometimes address cultural realities. This year, the awards confirmed that we’re not only a nation of diversity, but one that can reward hard work and talent.

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