The real winner, though, was the President of the United States, because the stunning Best Picture snafu will forever erase what until that moment had been the overriding theme of the evening: the Trump Repudiation Bandwagon.
From host Jimmy Kimmel to actor Gael Garcia Bernal to “Zootopia” director Rich Moore to The New York Times commercial, the president got more shade than the patio tables at Nerano and was the consensus winner of Worst Performance in a Tragedy.
There were three reasons for this:
1) Trump is an actual menace to American values and democracy itself. Silence = Death.
2) Celebrities often like to be seen as politically and socially aware artists -- no matter how superficial, vacuous or under-informed they may actually be. (This can become tedious and borderline oppressive, even when you largely agree with the celebrity's politics.. If you've ever seen “Team America: World Police,” please know I laughed hard when the Tim Robbins and Sean Penn puppets were mowed down.)
3) An audience on the order of 100 million in 225 countries. Now that is a bully pulpit. If you are embarrassed by your President before the entire world, how do you not grab that opportunity? I'm just surprised nobody has ever taken a shot at Bank of America or Comcast. (Meryl Streep: “They said 4-hour window and I sat there for three days. Three days!”)
But wait. An hour or two earlier, these same celebrities were walking the red carpet answering questions about their clothing, and about their movies, and about the honor of working side by side with whomever, and the even greater honor to be nominated alongside whomever and whatever mindless pabulum ABC and E! could throw at them.
Because the Academy Awards aren't a town hall -- they are a pageant, a chance for all of us little people to gawk and vicariously soak up the glamour of their lives. (Never mind that it's hot, and every actress is starving and Nicole Kidman's heels are killing her and everyone in the room lives in a perpetual simmer of panic because this -- all of this -- is going to go away. Fuck…this is my seat? THIS IS MY SEAT? ROW P?! I HAVE TWO GOLDEN GLOBES!)
All in all, some significant cognitive dissonance at play. An annual tribute to all that is not real, by and for personas that are not real but inhabiting bodies that are, ahem, augmented reality, presuming to weigh in on political affairs that are all too real. Is it inspiring? Is it insipid? Is it self-sacrifice? Is it self-regard? And then there is the question of time and place. Is La La Land the proper venue for this conversation? The winner is? Or the whiner is?
Here I am obliged to look inward.
Since the Trump catastrophe began to coalesce almost two years ago, I have myself used every journalistic venue I could find to shed light on the encroaching darkness.
This includes not just public radio, The New York Times op-ed page, cable news and The Huffington Post, but this very space.
If you look around the immediate vicinity, you’ll see my essays immersed within news of digital traffic, personnel and account changes, ad tech, audience measurement and so on. Which may also seem a bit out of context.
Some MediaPost readers have been vocal about this, on the grounds of “What does his opinion on Donald Trump have to do with media and marketing?” It's a fair point, I suppose, so before I return to the Oscars, let me address it.
1) If you don't think Donald J. Trump is a media and marketing story, I have a wall to sell you. He is a creature of the media and a marketing phenomenon such as politics has seldom seen. Repulsive, but phenomenal.
2) He is also a historic threat to the media business, to the First Amendment that protects us and to the very meaning of truth, which I hope is our product. Not to mention net neutrality, which is fixing to disappear along with a lot of other regulatory law-and-order mechanisms that will alter the business landscape dramatically (and for the worse.)
3) This is an opinion column. If you criticize such a thing for being “biased,” as some have, you are obtuse beyond belief. But unlike some political commentary I can think of, it is argument informed by context, history and documentable evidence -- not “alternative facts.”
4) If, as I often hear, you don't come to MediaPost to read my tirades, I have splendid advice: Don't read them. This feature is not compulsory. If you do not slog through them, you will be neither taxed nor Tazed. This is not Obamacare; there's no individual mandate.
There. I've gotten that off my chest. But of course, that doesn't let me off the hook. I've just claimed that a business publication focused on digital media is unequivocally the appropriate venue for highly political content, yet I also have made clear that Sean Penn and Tim Robbins give me the heebie-jeebies.
I know that's exactly the effect I'm having on some readers. Why should I get to chime in if I just want movie stars to pipe down? How to reconcile this?
It won't be by calculating the effect. Does anyone think Trump voters will hear the acceptance speech of the "Zootopia" director and suddenly have the scales fall from their eyes?
On the contrary, such politicization is probably more likely to increase resentment of “Hollywood elites,” alongside the “media elites,” the "Coastal elites” and the pointy-head intellectuals who are not to be trusted because they know things. The powder-blue ACLU ribbons many actors wore, I promise you, are an alt-right hate meme already.
Nothing was said that was particularly novel or illuminating. You could argue that those celebrating immigration, for instance, were belaboring the obvious to all for whom it is obvious and just irritating everyone else. And with all due respect for Kimmel's irony, ridiculing the overrated Meryl Streep, nobody thinks Meryl Streep is overrated.
Probably not even the midnight Tweeter himself. So apart from some chuckles, what did we get?
Ah…that's it. The chuckles. The joke that's funny because we know it's truth. The moment of shared sanity. The opportunity, in one of the few remaining vastly shared cultural experiences in the world, to realize that we aren't crazy. We aren't paranoiac. We aren't alone.
People we respect, or admire, or like, or at least recognize, are expressing the very doubts or worry or rage we feel. They validate us. They give us permission to be disgusted and afraid. And maybe the courage to resist.
So do I want my annual Pageant of Unreality contaminated with the posturing of spoiled celebrities with $50,000 gift bags? Yes, I do. Bring it on. Speak your mind. Empty your heart.
Except for Sean Penn. He should really just shut up.