There’s a new media culture ritual plaguing Hollywood’s endless line of self-congratulatory award shows. Pre-show, major media plugs the heck out of the glitzy event’s course of epic significance, A-list celebrity involvement, and suggest strongly that the entire world will be watching. After the show, after the after-party coverage and the hallelujahs for the gowns and posh political statements, these same outlets publish bold letter headlines how ratings are down for the show for yet another year. Journalism is no place to search for journalistic integrity these days.
Each new year, there are a half dozen major award shows, another dozen or more second tier events, and an endless number of niche luncheons and magazine sponsored handing out of glittering obelisks. Each January, this town Hollywood turns into one massive gifting suite and haute couture sizing station. Central American undocumented domestic help is temporarily subsumed in numbers by men from New York in low cut blouses hoisting bedazzled beauty product bags. Good luck finding a handheld steamer at Barney’s. Nobody eats and everybody is bitchy. It’s a six-week long bride’s suite before the wedding.
All this upheaval for an evening dedicated to an industry that is dedicated to self-promotion, self-importance, and self-pleasure. By way of simpleton contrast, there are no major award shows brimming with narcissism and Bluetooth headset enabled publicists for, say, EMTs, police, fire, doctors, soldiers, plumbers, electricians, community volunteers, or organ donors. We couldn’t live without those people, yet they quietly, occasionally, accept cheap plaques, cookies, and the applause of a half-dozen of their peers. In contrast, the woman who portrays Queen Victoria in a movie requires an in-house crowd of black-tied thousands and a sound system that puts Yanni at Red Rocks to shame. Are we applauding your four weeks of 5am hotel wakeup calls for hair and makeup? My plumber rises at 4:30 and makes toilet works. He doesn’t get so much as a golf clap.
Despite the human heuristic to believe we live in unusual times, understand Hollywood denizen haven’t changed much since the inception. Vanity, smugness, and the unmerited elevation of high school drama student to wisdom spouting guru have been the rule since the talkies took over. Yet these insipid annual galas of circle jerking nonpareil used to draw huge TV ratings. Something else has changed.
EVERYBODY STOPPED LIKING ACTORS
In the way old days, before Internet and cable news and Instagram selfies and TMZ, Hollywood film stars, and TV stars to a lesser extent, had public images carefully crafted by studio publicity departments and paid positive stories in the trades. These were stars. Like the ones in the sky, to be seen from afar without the ability to notice any blemish or imperfection.
The advent of omnipresent, low budget media complete with massively shareable content, and the economies of the business therein, began to put a bounty on dirt, disaster, and the occasionally sexually assaulted woman (or boy) associated with celebrities. It’s not that these frozen-faced people are worse than you and I, it’s that they have more money, more time, and more fragile egos. While People magazine continues to suck up to publicity teams with alarmingly falsely cheesecake stories on their celebrity clients, there’s more money to be had in the gossip columns with scandal and gross behavior, breaking bad tales.
Excesses heralded by Robin Leach in the 80’s, became indefensible Bacchanalian behavior a couple decades later. When these very same vainglorious Brentwood and Manhattan bubblers began entering the partisan fray more overtly during the social media age, they necessarily divided their potential fan base by political leaning, and put into question their right as attractive fortunate folks to comment on the yearning of the masses. Noblesse oblige, the obligation of the aristocrats, has never been looked upon as favorably by Middle America, as, say, summer boaters on Martha’s Vineyard.
Actors and actresses aren’t seen quite as dimly across the board as Congress or Wall Street, but the unlikable numbers are closing. When you have eight million TV options, why tune in to see people you feel are disconnected, smug, self-interested pagans in bow ties and gowns? That’s semi-rhetorical.
SPEAKING OF BOW-TIES AND GOWNS
Women in particular are obsessed with fashion. It might seem odd to a man who isn’t aware that his own less than inspiring hobbies of fantasy football, WWII movies, and milking porn fill the hole where fashion and clothing might be. Women will never truly be equal to men until they rid themselves of the passion penchant for judging how other women look, but that road to equality is for a day in the future that will likely never come. For now, they are spending time, money, and energy on what (and who) everybody is wearing to the big show.
Advertisers, and the media programmers who lick their boots, came to realize that pre-awards shows focused on the apparel, the hair, and the makeup of glamorous women and some men was a surefire way to keep the multi-billion dollar purchasing of things you don’t really need rolling. Cable networks and broadcast networks alike began focusing heavier, longer, and with more fake laughs and trite interviews into these pre-show segments. Often they start hours before the event. Thanks to traffic and security concerns, actors start rolling into these forums three hours prior to the event. That’s a lot of time to sell couture. It’s also a drag, both literally and figuratively, on the people who will continue to sit through the show itself.
When considering the ratings declines of the awards shows themselves, you hear little about the ever expanding, highly lucrative, countless online and offline channels feeding fashion content to millions of sought after consumers. Money is being made. Don’t you worry.
THE SHOWS ARE TOO LONG
We can argue until the Guernsey’s arrive home as to the quality entertainment value in these awards shows. Suffice it to say, most people most of the time find them underwhelming or missing the mark. This has been the general sentiment since their dawn. These are shows where fancy people in fancy clothes hand each other shiny baubles for doing things we commoners know aren’t quite that deserving. Throw in some poorly conceived cruise ship level comedy skits, stilted presenters painfully pretending they’re ad-libbing, and long-winded thank-you-shout-outs to the professional entourage, and you try making a fun and fast-paced show.
You knew the commercial-laden, diatribe riddled events were becoming tediously long when the running inside joke on the show was how long they were becoming. My rabbi used to make the same joke every Yom Kippur morning and everybody would chuckle; deep down, it was understood we were facing a water-boarding track of time as we gritted our Ashkenazic teeth until completion.
Naturally, The Oscars have responded by cutting out awards presentation categories for the hard-working people who actually make the movies. Outside of immediate family, nobody’s tuning in to see the heavyset hairdresser take home the statue for crafting period piece do’s. Somehow, the show still runs long. The Golden Globes only pass out awards to above-the-line talent, and that show runs tortoise slow, without the reversal part where it wins the race at the end. It feels like an eternity. Especially when the hosts are handed and delivering periodontist level one-liners.
IT’S THE POLITICS, STUPID
Granted, a vast majority of Hollywood either are, or pretending to be to save their jobs, mightily progressive partisan ranters. This has largely been the case going way back now. Political speeches and overt virtue signals didn’t suddenly begin in the past few years at these events, but, man, how they have multiplied like Tribbles.
Don’t be fooled by the loudest protestors and boycotters online. They’re blowhards who threaten to never attend a Louis C.K. show again, keeping their lifetime number at zero. The people who say they’re never going to watch “Hollywood Liberals” rail on Trump, or the environment, immigration, racism, or other topics of their double standard choosing, are almost entirely people who never watched in the first place. Or have not for a very long time. It’s a not significant number of people voting in real time with their remotes. I don’t like Spike Lee’s pointless boycott and I’m skipping watching this year. Was that guy watching in past years to see his favorite white actors receive unapologetic applause? Nope.
What these rallying criers do accomplish is the creation of a general negative sentiment toward the events. You might compare it to what CTE is doing to the NFL. The attention seekers online insisting they will no longer watch football because of the concussion traumas is minimal at best. But you do see the overall numbers slipping, and there is a slow move of the consciousness of the general public that maybe watching guys butt heads and slowly retard each other’s brains permanently isn’t as fun as it used to be. Slow but steady drip.
That’s happening with Hollywood awards shows. While theatrical box office set all kind of records this past year, and people are consuming more entertainment product than ever, the awards shows are looking bloated, self-serving, and antiquated. The overt and ever clumsy attempts at the mythical Utopia of “inclusion” play more like an older divorced dad trying to fit in at his kids’ house party then modernization. There’s an undeniable feeling that the band is playing while the hull of the Titanic is slowly taking on water.
AND, FINALLY, SPEAKING OF TITANIC
Throughout most of the history of film and television, Hollywood produced a limited amount of content. Less content means more popular familiarity with each release, more stars per movie or show, and more of a celebration at awards show of the biggest and the best, emphasis on the biggest. Movies used to run for months in first release theaters; TV shows ran for a decade on the limited number of network channels. Everybody knew everybody in celebrity-land. Reading TMZ now requires a constant Google search of names of people they’re covering. Who the hell are these people and how am I supposed to know there are three VH-1 channels and 47 shows about gold-digging wives?
It wasn’t that long ago that the biggest and most awards were thrown as garlands upon Hollywood epics with big scenery, sweeping, vistas, and big stars kissing and fighting. Just 20 years ago it was English Patient, Titanic, Lord of the Rings, Braveheart, Gladiator simply eating up the everything. Big, commercially popular, global powerhouse bits of fun, empty entertainment. Maybe you didn’t like this film or that, but you understood that everybody you else did, or at least was talking about it at the Elks Lodge. I’m guessing there.
Something started to change in Hollywood even as the business thrived with non-thinking popular blockbusters. There became this pressing need to pretend that the industry was one of arts and meaning and social relevance, rather than, well, Michael Bay and his CGI robots. A big game of make-believe. It’s a pressing kind of vanity that most people wouldn’t understand. Sure, maybe the septic guy calls himself a plumber and the last guy on the NBA bench calls himself a specialist, but this was one hard-driving charade of the essence of the business.
Animation and CGI and Marvel Universe and Star Wars reboots and robots and blood and action and silly escapism are dominating the box office, foreign and domestic. But you’d be hard-pressed to see any of these consumer-popular films hailed at awards show outside of technical achievements. Of the 32 films release in 2018 that earned more than $100 million in box office, only 3 received any accolade at the recent Golden Globes. Avengers: Infinity War earned Zuckerberg type money for this town, but nary a peep of praise. It wasn’t a great movie, it certainly wasn’t an “important” movie, but it was fun. What exactly do you want from your Saturday nights?
Black Panther, err, the black Avengers, received more town praise, but not as it had hoped. Green Book may be a fine movie, but it was the 77th most popular film of 2018. Great to see a biography of a slice of Americana during the Civil Rights era be appreciated, but pretending this is the kind of movie the industry makes to make a living is ludicrous. When Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty accidentally announced La La Land as the Best Picture instead of Moonlight, it was as if these two old actors were affected by the melancholy notion that you give the award to the sweeping romantic musical that did gangbusters, not the heartfelt, but unpopular film about the gay black man growing up in Miami. But Moonlight won and sealed the lockstep march of these academies and critics groups praising titles ever more out of touch with the industry customer.
It’s over when the fat lady sings. Or when a minyan of female celebrities claim to have been body shamed.
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