The Oscars and the Nervous Twitch that isn’t Laughter

Roxane Gay: How a Wound Heals

I linked to Roxane Gay’s post because she says it in ways I can’t, because her perspective is direct and from a more acute angle, while mine is second or third hand, filtered through empathy.

The Oscars were pretty terrible. I often like Seth MacFarlane, but he looked scared shitless and played it incredibly safe, using jokes that would have been shocking when Dice Clay used them, but today just make us uncomfortable. Not in the way Louis C.K.’s humor makes us uncomfortable, with a hidden truth, but with a self-perpetuated falsehood, that it is okay to say these things, because they garner little nervous snickers. “Did he just say that?” Which is the same flush we get when we think, “Did our friend just say a doody word in front of his MOMMY?”

Seth wasted half the show on self-deprecation meant to let Hollywood know that he’s just as messed up inside as they are. He was great when he embraced what he loved: song and dance numbers and weird cultural references. I thought this show was better than the Franco/Hathaway one, and his jokes weren’t as bad as some of Billy Crystal’s, but Chris Rock and John Stewart managed to pull it off better, in my opinion.

quvenzhane wallis

What was worse was that The Onion thought it was funny to call a 9 year old girl a cunt on the biggest day of her life. There was plenty to satirize at the show. The Oscars are almost painful to watch in best of times, because most actors are the pinnacle of validation-hungry self-absorbed performers, something I sympathize with as a writer. Many of them become grotesque avatars of this need for attention, fame and applause. There are plenty of targets, but The Onion had to attack a young girl whose only crime was not acting how we expected, like Honey Boo Boo or some precocious little robot. Idiot reporters called her “Little Q” or “Annie” to her face because learning to pronounce her name was too difficult. They an say “WA KEEN” Phoenix just fine, I noticed.

(Admittedly I called him Joe Quinn Phoenix until he played Johnny Cash and heard his name all the time). Can she just have one night before they try to turn her into the next Honey Boo Boo? Or is that what they truly hated in her, that she seemed unaffected by it all. Flexing her arms like her character did, telling reporters that little kids see things adults can’t sometimes, because they’re not so busy. Not acting like a tiny adult crammed with needs and neuroses, not a barely functional automaton that runs on cocaine and applause?

Not all actors are like that. Ever since Garbo they’ve mocked performers who act like human beings instead of need machines. We want the magic, we desire the spectacle. And we’ll tear you apart with our teeth if you don’t play along.

That said, I’m glad Life of Pi won a handful. It was a beautiful film in a sea of reboots, remakes and safe bets. Argo, despite its veracity problems, was well made and a good story. I wish The Invisible War, about rape in the military, had won best Doc. But like Errol Morris’s excellent Standard Operating Procedure, about our use of torture, it was a truth too painful to bear.

I hope after the Oscars, the Onion tweeter and Seth went over to Octavia Spencer’s house for cake.