It’s not that I missed Melissa and Joan Rivers on the red carpet. Okay, maybe I did miss them, the way they’re morphing into one creepy, ill-informed trophy date for a myopic billionaire. But the main reason I was bothered by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ decision, in deference to the war, to abandon the traditional red-carpet entrances at the Oscars was that it shows how horribly Hollywood misunderstands itself. The choice has all the fake humility and overinflated self-importance that makes everyone hate the movie industry only slightly less than they hate the snarky-sophomoric-columnist-who-replaced-that-wonderful-Encore-page industry.
The fact that the Academy thinks it’s significant enough to have anything whatsoever to do with the war isn’t so bad. Lots of people think their actions can affect the war, including the United Nations. The offensive part is not only did the organizers of the world’s second most self-congratulatory annual event (after P. Diddy’s birthday party) believe they could somehow parse the frivolous from the crucial, they got it wrong.
The culturally significant aspect of the show isn’t the anointing of the year’s Best Picture — a designation more accurately determined months before by the combination of critical opinion and box office grosses — but rather who’s dating whom, who wants us to know they’re gay by bringing their mother, and who’s dressed like a total slut. During wartime, people depend on this kind of mindless escapism: It’s Hollywood’s patriotic duty to show us the Oscars’ circuslike pageantry and Catherine Zeta-Jones’ cleavage. Now that the days of enlisting stars for service are long gone, that’s the best way the industry can contribute to the war effort. Trust me, no one is letting Keanu anywhere near an Apache.
The Academy’s shame in its true nature is insulting. Not even Osama would argue that Mary Hart asking Renee Zellweger who she’s wearing is indicative of an evil culture, that vapidity somehow implies immorality. It’s leftover puritanism, an inability to see what has become truly great about our country. The political, religious, and economic freedoms we allow each other to share — luxuries only a sated, stable society can afford — are precisely the gift we want to give the people of Iraq. Someday, if what George W. Bush promises comes to pass, there will be a Sunni Julianne Moore and Shiite Nicole Kidman vying for Best Actress statuettes in movies like The ExxonMobil Redemption and O Brother, Where Art Thine Oil?
The truth is, I don’t like the Oscars. I wouldn’t watch plumbers honor each other or attend an I.T. Guy coronation though I’d consider a Little League ceremony, depending on the quality of the free pizza. For me, awards shows bring back memories of those cheap trophies I got from every organized team sport I ever played, which amounts to this bowling league I joined to satisfy a treaty with my parents that granted me one hour of TV time for every hour of social activity. Or perhaps it’s just that maladjusted losers hate seeing the hot kids win.