Feb. 25 (Bloomberg) -- Did you watch the Academy Awards last night? Excuse me, did you watch the Oscars -- apparently we’re not supposed to call them the Academy Awards anymore.
Did you see Jennifer Lawrence trip up -- not down -- the stairs to get her best actress award? What about the beautifully turned out Helen Hunt on the red carpet, popping the haute couture balloon with her dress from H&M? Did host Seth MacFarlane go over his quota of unfunny bits, leading with a song about boobs and interjecting a crack about how “the actor who really got inside Lincoln’s head was John Wilkes Booth”?
Maybe you had to be there, and fortunately several hundred million of us were. The Oscars is one of the only shared cultural experiences we have left, and for that reason alone it’s worth celebrating. Or criticizing, as the case may be. The important thing is that we do it together.
To borrow a phrase from Samuel Johnson, it’s not that the Oscars are done well, it’s that they’re done at all -- and are available for immediate commentary. We can all talk today about all kinds of things without having to explain ourselves (who else agrees that William Shatner is past his sell-by date?) or worry about being a spoiler (who else was impressed by Daniel Day-Lewis’s acceptance speech?).
Think back to those spoiler-free and free-flowing conversations about the last episode of “MASH” or what happened to J.R. I don’t remember what my colleagues thought of the dream sequence in “Dallas,” but I do remember what they thought of the show’s depiction of conspicuous consumption and corruption, and what that depiction said about American culture.
Contrast that with last week, when American viewers risked being ostracized for bringing up the finale of the third season of “Downton Abbey.” I am not blameless in this regard: I’m in the middle of the second season, streaming on Amazon Prime, so I had to walk around the office shunning anyone who’d watched the night before. It was hard for me to get perspective on the effect World War I had on British society, in particular the aristocracy, without my friends’ take on it.
But no one records the Oscars to watch later. (If you do -- SPOILER AL ... -- on second thought, no. I will not alert you.) So I feel comfortable asking if the Obama administration has gone too Hollywood, with first lady Michelle Obama helping to announce the Academy Award for best picture live from the White House.
Yes, the award could have gone to the sexually violent “Django Unchained” (“a date movie” for Chris Brown and Rihanna, MacFarlane called it). Luckily for the White House aide who pushed this idea, it went to “Argo” and the family-friendly Ben Affleck, the guy with the heartwarming backstory. He’d had a dry spell since 1997’s “Good Will Hunting,” and been snubbed in the directing category (MacFarlane again: “Argo’s” plot, about a CIA plan to rescue U.S. hostages in Iran several decades ago, “was so top secret, the film’s director is unknown to the academy.”)
Did the White House press office get advance word from the academy and its accounting firm that the best-picture winner wouldn’t be the movie with a lot of violence and liberal use of the N-word? If so, how far in advance? What did Michelle Obama know, and when did she know it? I’m on it.
What all this joyful, carefree discussion of the Oscars tells me is that the era of the spoiler alert has passed -- for me and everyone else I know. Technology may make us richer by allowing us to see more, but we are left poorer if we are unable to talk about it.
Get over your TiVo and streaming video services and join in the conversation. More valuable and enlightening than any movie or TV series is what we say about it afterward. Consider the water-cooler chat as a kind of book review. You should be willing to tolerate some hints about what happens, or even a few actual plot developments, in order to give and get reflections on what it means.
In the meantime: I keep coming back to MacFarlane. For me, he balanced all the bad with his successful needling of the big-studio public-relations campaign for “Lincoln,” which included the detail that Day-Lewis was addressed as “Mr. President” by the entire crew at all times. MacFarlane mused whether, if Lewis had run into Don Cheadle on the studio lot, he would have tried to free him.
Will MacFarlane come back, like the perennial Bob Hope, or did the groan-o-meter banish him to Bad Host Land, along with David Letterman and James Franco? Did MacFarlane make too many cracks about Jews in Hollywood, Latino accents and post-Oscars orgies? Or maybe the question is, is even one joke about these subjects too much for the academy?
(Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)
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