March 24th, 2003

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life without red carpet

Last night the television broadcast the Academy Awards.
Adrian Brody won Best Actor, and gave a very good speech, with a polite call for peace at the end. The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers lost the Best Picture Oscar, to the stylishly rote filming of a Bob Fosse musical. In twenty years, the Peter Jackson film of the Tolkien books will be remembered as the classic of this film year (and, I suspect, each of the three film years of its release), and Chicago merely as an elegant footnote. Last night they gave Peter O'Toole a special achievement Oscar, which merely served to remind me that Lawrence of Arabia, one of the best films of all time, did not win an Oscar in its day, either.

The mood last night supposedly reflected the more somber tones of our war-infested time. In fact the understatement was fairly slight, and in many ways a quite welcome retreat from the excess of recent Oscar seasons. The leavening of the scripted material with inevitable political commentary neither enhanced nor diminished the show. We live in a time in which big corporations and the celebrities they create (including, curiously, a few anti-corporate celebrities) tend to say most of the words on television, on either side of any issue. Steve Martin as host reminded me of how far he has come in his quest to become a piece of Americana. I like him now, whereas twenty five years ago, I found him staid and obvious. I think it's because he humanized himself someplace along the line.

I wonder if I am the only person who feels that Roman Polanski did not deserve a standing ovation as if he were a hero in exile. He is not a hero in exile--far from a hero in exile. The same people who will revile misconduct in the anonymous blue collar fellow will forgive any sin in a celebrity. Of course, Eminem, for whom I feel anything but admiration, has gotten some primatur of respectability--it really doesn't matter what one stands for, the theory goes, as long as one stands for it with talent and aplomb. I follow a different theory, in which an Eminem would be disregarded, not glorified. His film showed that misogyny, homophobia and hate can be repackaged as commercial Hollywood sentimental product--but this surprised nobody.

Although I'd like to pretend that I am above celebrities and their ways, I find myself watching as the camera pans the audience, focusing on the actor and actresses, focusing on who I'm seeing and how they look. The movies cast their spell, and I'm not at all immune to the potions and charms in which they ensnare me, so long as the popcorn is good.
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on being yesterday

"Hand me my costume, please won't you pass me my mask?
I have appointments that I must keep with my past"--Bill Nelson

Tonight the AM radio commentator belted out xenophobia with a fervency that would have done Father Coughlin proud. But he was just a prelude to a dial-changing for me. I feel perpetually as though twelve factoids consume all my media outlets. I have heard that in Hell, one must watch Fox News, and in the deepest circle, the programming is all news commentary.

I'm seeking my share of mental escapes from the mix of banality and poignance in which I find myself immersed. I've said my twelve words of peace and militancy. Now I'm casting back through my mind for memories--happy and sad--things which rouse my thoughts from talking heads who feign surprise when major military assaults result in lives lost on both sides, or who debate the Geneva Convention's terms, but never debate the Golden Rule.

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