News & Politics

The 10 Worst Things About the Oscars

While we ogle the pomp and circumstance, here are some things to keep in mind.

Photo Credit: Dave_B_ via Flickr.

The 2012 Academy Awards are marching onward, scheduled to air their singular brand of glitz and self-congratulation on Sunday. While they’re often fun to watch and as much of an American pastime as the Super Bowl or, you know, apple pie, there are also plenty of things to criticize about them, and not all of them are obvious. We'll be tuning in. But while you ogle the pomp and circumstance also keep these things in mind: the 10 most annoying, offensive, and stupid things about the Oscars.

1. The 1 Percent

No-brainer, right? Hollywood’s consortium of producers, directors and actors are some of the highest-paid people in the entertainment industry, and this is the night when they don fancy and expensive costumes, sip champagne, receive free gift bags worth tens of thousands of dollars, and then ride in limousines to after-parties in the most exclusive clubs. Even though Hollywood has a reputation for being liberal (its actors, anyway), and certainly savvy participants such as George Clooney, Don Cheadle and Matt Damon will recognize the tenor of the country and act accordingly. And certainly there will be some awesome speeches, hopefully some mentioning and recognizing all of these things (and OWS!). But at the end of the day, the Oscars are about rich people hanging out and luxuriating together. Which is inherently gross, particularly now.

2. The MPAA

The Motion Picture Association of America, the organization that represents the vast part of corporate Hollywood, was one of the biggest supporters of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which would not have curbed piracy but would have set a precedent for corporations to exert more control over than the Internet than the rest of us. Clearly it's beholden to big interests, but it also shows how disturbingly out of touch organizations like the MPAA are with digital technology, and its decided lack of willingness to try and innovate new ways to gain online audiences, rather than sticking to a plan invented in the early 1980s and censoring the rest of us living in this millennium. There will surely be some sort of corporate speech at the Oscars lecturing all of us commoners on the dangers of pirating while champagne glasses clink and diamonds glisten, and it will be gross, hypocritical and lacking in imagination, so we will ignore it.

3. The Help

We don’t want to hate on The Help too hard, because Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, who earned SAG Awards, totally deserve to win for their talents. But as many have pointed out, why do African Americans have to play ancient stereotypes—i.e. Mammy, Magical Negro, Jezebel—to receive accolades for their efforts? Anyone who’s been paying attention to the interviews that Spike Lee and James McBride were giving at Sundance concerning systemic racism within Hollywood will have this on their mind.

As McBride put it: “This is 73 years after the first African American to win an Oscar, Hattie McDaniel, garnered the award for the same role – as a maid, and a slave maid at that, winning the Oscar in the Best Supporting Actress category on Feb. 29, 1940. And here we are, in the year of our Lord, Jan 25, 2012. Maybe I’m getting old, but the irony of this is too much.”

There’s a Tumblr meme going around right now: just take the entire cast of The Help and put them in a different movie, please.

(Viola Davis for her part, had a different perspective when she appeared on Tavis Smiley, which we can respect; read a summary of that here.)

4. No Eddie Murphy

Brett Ratner is not only a total creep for the sexist, homophobic and racist rant that got him kicked off the project of producing the Oscars, he is such an asshole for ruining our lifelong dream of seeing Eddie Murphy host. Murphy agreed on the position under the condition that Ratner was running the show—and no doubt would have clowned on everyone in the audience, then laughed his amazing laugh at himself. But as soon as Ratner was out, Murphy quit. Now we’re stuck with Billy Crystal (what, you people didn’t like Ricky Gervais?), which is okay, but we’ve seen it all before (eight times before, to be exact). It could have been so beautiful, Eddie!

5. Crappy New Rules

The Academy has established a new rule: for documentaries to qualify, they have to have been reviewed in either the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times. This is apparently meant to help cut down on the number of documentaries submitted, and to narrow the range, as well—in 2011, jurors had to watch 124 submitted documentaries. Besides the most obvious problem—why are they outsourcing their jobs?!—this new decision is completely classist, narrow and myopic. Certainly the Times papers of both coasts are well-respected and thorough, but their movie critics can’t possibly watch everything—and even if they could, the new rule will automatically eliminate worthy films that don’t have the budget or the breadth for distribution in the pricey New York and Los Angeles markets. (Also, love Manohla Dargis, but there are plenty of other great critics out there, and this gives the Times writers unprecedented power over the industry, while eliminating the opportunity for consensus.)

As the Guardian put it, the decision leaves the Academy “open to charges they are handing control to an outside organisation, militating against non-distributed, low-budget films, and reinforcing the American bias of the awards.” Can’t believe I’m adding this because I live and die by New York, but it also reinforces the Awards’ metropolis bias. There are other papers in America, dudes.

6. Boring Nominees

Honey, when USA Today is calling your shit boring, you know you have got a problem. But it’s the general consensus, and speaks yet again to the apparent reliance of the Academy on critics to choose their entries. Seriously, you all felt consensus about Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close?! (And two Brad Pitt movies, one of which was Tree of Life?) As someone who makes a living as a music critic, sometimes we are wrong. It’s okay to deviate. And, perhaps most appallingly, HOW COULD YOU SNUB HARRY POTTER? Special Effects is too easy.

7. Incessant Talking

In the past, the self-congratulations of the Academy Awards has at least been broken up a bit by the musical performances. And they’ve produced some classic ones: Jennifer Hudson and Beyonce’s songs from Dreamgirls, Michael Jackson doing Ben, and two stints no indie rock or rap fan will ever forget: Elliott Smith’s “Miss Misery” and Three 6 Mafia’s “Hard Out Here.” But this year, only two songs are up for Best Music Oscars—”Man or Muppet” from The Muppets, and Sergio Mendes’ “Real in Rio,” from Rio—and neither will be performed. (We’re also betting on the Muppets song getting the damn statue, a travesty to Mendes fans.) But the rumored, despicable reason for the lack of music this year, via the Twitter of the Daily Beast’s West Coast editor Kate Aurthur: "A good source has told me that the Academy's music branch holds so little sway at the #Oscars that the two sad nominees WON'T BE PERFORMED." That said, at least we're getting a small bone with the score, which was created by celebrated composer Hans Zimmer and super-producer Pharrell.

8. Pre-Show Brouhaha

If you’re trying to avoid the Academy Awards, you should probably also avoid your television, because a million channels will be airing the red carpet leading up to the ceremony. Fashion-wise it’s interesting from both a sartorial and sociological perspective, but it will barely matter as the hosts of these shows (awesome Joan Rivers excluded) tend to be the most banal humans on earth, and if they venture into interview territory beyond “What are you wearing?” disaster potential is great. Who invented Ryan Seacrest, really? Our dream red carpet interview combo might be some freaky triumvirate of Chris Rock, Joan Rivers, and, like, Snooki. Who wants to give us a television station?

9. Bad Joke Writers

In addition to Crystal as host, we also have to contend with the string of presenters quipping from a teleprompter, very few of whom will have any semblance of comedic timing (and an overarching need to act regal in their tuxes and gowns). It’s like a cardinal rule of the ceremony. And while we don’t doubt the ability of the cast of Bridesmaids to deliver when they present together, we preemptively mistrust the joke.

10. 2013

Next year, the Academy will install an electronic voting system to tabulate votes. While it boasts that the new system will undertake a rigorous security and user-acceptance testing process, and the Academy seems to trust it, we learned from the Republicans never to trust electronics when doing important jobs. Not to get all Mission Impossible on you but...these things can be cracked. Although, if their system is hacked, we can only hope it’s the work of Anonymous.

Julianne Escobedo Shepherd is an associate editor at AlterNet and a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and editor. Formerly the executive editor of The FADER, her work has appeared in VIBE, SPIN, New York Times and various other magazines and websites.
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