Sunday, February 26, 2012

Academy Awards Tonight!

I’ll be in my pajamas early this evening but I’m prepared for the inevitable exhaustion tomorrow. I’ll be staying up late to watch the Oscars and I’m not alone. The Oscar ceremony is the highest-rated entertainment show of the year, second only to the Super Bowl.

Why such an audience to see movie stars walk across a stage? Well, we live in an awards culture in which everyone seems to be judging or being judged and Oscar night is the night to enjoy as much judgment as you want. From the purely cosmetic to the politically controversial, every kind of statement will be made—and critiqued. 
You can join in.  Make your self a set of Olympic-style score cards and rate everything: the hair-do’s, the dresses—best and worst-- and of course, the acceptance speeches.  We can expect to hear good, bad and ugly thank you speeches. We can hope for the outré and the tears, prayers and peace signs. That’s all part of the show .The Academy Awards is a show about shows. It’s style on steroids.  And part of the appeal is that this is one of the last remaining experiences we have of live television.  There are fewer of us now who remember when most television was performed live and therefore had the greater creativity that comes with spontaneity, improvisation, accident and recovery.
I know some people like to pretend they are too smart for the Oscars or that this is some kind of Culture-Lite.  I don’t buy it. As Yogi Berra taught us, “You can see a lot by watching”, and it’s truer than ever when watching the Oscars. After all, the Academy Awards is a television show about filmmaking which underscores the ultimate state of our visual culture. When the Motion Picture Academy Awards each year wins an Emmy award for television production we have the paramount example of a recursive universe. 
It’s also tempting to disdain movies as just entertainment, but we have to remember that movies, even bad ones, become part of us. They are now what plays or poems were in the past: important sources of metaphor and imagery that we draw on in our own identity formation. Human beings are always making stories and talking to themselves. Stories with pictures are even better.
The best movies, of course though, are the ones in which we star.  No need to be embarrassed, it’s a fact: Most of us are narrating our own story a lot of the time: “This is me shopping, this is me eating, this is me walking down the street.”
It’s one of the reasons that retailers—even outdoor shopping plazas-- have piped-in music –is that it facilitates this “story of me” narration that we constantly do in our heads. In the movie version of our lives we’re always seen from our best side so we deserve the car, the dress, the shoes, the meal. Having that little sound track helps the fantasy —and the spending.
Our need for stories and the editing of our own story come together this Oscar night. So pile on the rhinestones with your favorite pajamas. Serve up good snacks and be prepared: What will you say if they call your name tonight?

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