Post-Oscar Bitching, a Chance to Prove How Young and Hip We All Are
Wikimedia Commons Billy Crystal at the Oscars
Ew, old people. They're so old! Especially that Billy Crystal. What is he, 105? Get off the stage! In your electric walker!
If you buy into the prevailing narrative of the post-Oscars Twitterverse, all Academy voters are elderly, with a quirky fondness for nostalgic moving pictures about moving pictures, such as The Artist and Hugo, which belong not at the Oscars but on the dusty VHS shelf at the Wheelchair-By-the-Sea Retirement Home. Last Sunday this band of old men conspired to send out their avatar, the ancient Billy Crystal, to perform the kind of offensive, Catskills-style vaudeville act that would make Al Jolson wince.
It's a narrative that has given everyone within 10 miles of Hollywood a license to try to prove how hip they are.
I actually found Crystal amusing, if not groundbreakingly hilarious, which for an Oscar host is pretty much the target. I'll admit I'm not a tough audience, as I also didn't mind the much-debated performances of Jon Stewart or Chris Rock, and particularly enjoy the Hollywood cynic sensibility of Steve Martin. I actually think it's the supposedly more hip and irreverent Ricky Gervais who's overrated as an awards show host, as his jokes tend to feel a step behind what we've all been thinking already.
I was, I'll admit, surprised by the recent L.A. Times study that found the median age of Oscar voters is 62. But my surprise was tempered by the realization that any voting group is going to be arbitrary, especially one as rarefied as this one. It's like saying, "You know this group of Hollywood millionaires who vote on Oscars -- we really need to change things up and get some YOUNG Hollywood millionaires to start voting on Oscars." These people picked The Artist. A group of "regular" people might pick Harry Potter 7 1/2. The National Society of Film Critics picked Melancholia.
The problem is not with the Oscars so much as the importance we put on them. Any pain we may feel when Viola Davis loses to Meryl Streep stems from the fact that Davis has possibly forever lost her chance to be called an "Oscar-winning" actress. But if we simply stop caring so much about that title, we'd all feel a little better.
Not that the Academy shouldn't work to create a more diverse voter body. But every demo has different opinions. The observation that the Academy likes obscure indie films that the general public doesn't want to see used to be somewhat interesting -- but has, in the last several years, been beaten into one of the biggest Oscar cliches.
Another is griping about Oscar ratings decline, especially at a time when network ratings are declining generally. It's difficult to separate the two trends with any scientific precision. Commentators brush aside the fact that the number of viewers rose from 37.9 million last year to 39.3 million this year, and that ratings among that oh-so-coveted 18-to-49 demographic stayed steady at 11.7, despite the fact that last year there were two hosts whose ages combined barely matched Crystal's.
Complaining that the Oscars is stodgy is a little like griping that Law & Order is predictable. Sure, we could all imagine a dream Oscars hosted by Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, with video sketches from Lonely Island and the Portlandia duo. But I don't think you could do that every year, as these comedians would only be successful if the Oscars maintains a bit of its establishment dignity for these comics to bump up against.
When I called my grandmother for her birthday, which happened to be Sunday, she said, I think rightly, that while Hugo was the superior movie, The Artist would win mainly because it's unique, because it's in black-and-white and silent (no mention of nostalgia). They should ask her to join the Academy. I'd be fine with that.