- - Monday, February 29, 2016


Nothing illustrates the trivialization of the American culture, such as survives, like the annual presentation of the Academy Awards. The deceit, sanctimony and pretense are writ large enough to make a Pharisee hide his face in the latest issue of Photoplay magazine.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is eager to demonstrate that “art” is what Hollywood does, and that if motion pictures are scientific (calling them “the movies,” like everyone else does, is so down market) the artists can’t be as dumb as they usually sound when they open their mouths without a script. The Oscars are all about marketing, since making movies is only about making money, as anyone in Hollywood would tell you.

No one has ever improved on the description of Tinsel Town coined by Ed Gardner, a radio writer in the 1940s and often attributed, wrongly, to Oscar Levant: “Scratch beneath the phony tinsel,” he said, “and you’ll find the real tinsel.”

This year the academy, stung by accusations that it had slighted black movies and black actors when it did not nominate a single black actor or movie for this year’s awards, tried to make amends by making race the dominant theme of the evening, and hitting the audience as white as a snowbank over the head with loaded jests as often as possible.

Chris Rock, an entertaining fellow whose occasional vulgarity rivals that of Donald Trump, set the tone early with a pointed jest that the only blacks of the evening were those “who were shot by the cops on their way here.” Black lives matter, just not their movies, he reminded everyone later.

Mr. Rock, who bases his entertaining shticks (like Donald Trump) on poking fun at the politically correct theology of the secular culture, warned early that, although admiring the expensive gowns in which the female guests are undressed is one of the attractions of the evening, no one is supposed to notice. “Don’t ask about what [the women] are wearing,” he said.

The women of the audience obviously spent most of their day at the beauty shop, sampling the wares of the billion-dollar cosmetics industry and being fitted into gowns designed to show off what they think would interest everyone most, but the correct question to ask any of them must be about quantum physics, the relevance of Shakespeare to a Hollywood script or, best of all, how the movie colony might end hunger in the precincts of what was only yesterday called “the third world.”

Indeed, Leonardo DiCaprio, who won the Oscar for best actor, could feed a medium-sized African city for a year on red beans and rice with the $20 million he gets for acting in a single movie (or motion picture), and he usually doesn’t even have to submit to being raped by a bear as he was said to have been (since denied) in the making of the movie for which he won his Oscar.

But he’s into global warming this year (we think he’s against it), and used most of his acceptance speech in behalf of penguins and ice floes that actually don’t need anyone’s help.

But the surprise of the evening was the appearance of Vice President Joe Biden, who made a speech about sexual abuse (we’re pretty sure he’s against it), and urged everyone to take an oath to intervene if he sees someone being abused. He didn’t say how, but good ol’ Joe once advised anyone troubled by a prowler to go out on the back porch and fire his shotgun into the night. But aim high and use birdshot. You might hit Oscar.

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