It's fashionable these days to complain about the irrelevance of Washington, D.C. But what about the irrelevance of the Oscars? Between now and March 23, America can expect to be deluged with pomp, circumstance and more information than any 10 Silicon Valley geeks could intake, about a few select movies that, quite frankly, are irrelevant to most of our lives.
This Grinch pretty much quit going to the movies years ago. And guess what? I've not yet been struck dead by lightning. My friends and family still love me and find me an intriguing conversationalist. My cultural life is not over. Parts of it are even fascinating. So when they announce next month that the winner is . . . I will be blissfully ignorant of most of the awardees and their work.Oh, I still like to take in an offbeat flick now and then. I did see "The Full Monty" and some friends dragged me and my husband to "As Good As It Gets." But I fought to the bone all efforts by friends and family to persuade/tug/tow/haul or otherwise coerce me into seeing "Titanic." In fact, I conspicuously avoided that film (my husband, however, went without me) so as not to fall prey to what may be considered the most successful coup of Hollywood hype ever perpetrated on the American public.
Lots of effort goes into making an Oscar nomination; unfortunately, few of the movies selected evidence pure talent or unleashed creativity. The major studios - who still garner the vast majority of Oscar nominations - thrive on formulaic, big-budget, predictable films that are less than imaginative and frequently not even entertaining. Heavy-handed publicity stunts, the wasteful practices of Hollywood spendthrifts ($200 million for a picture? Puh-leeze!), studio bloc-voting by those who "choose" the nominees and finally the momentum created by critics' awards, which are themselves semi-rigged, are most often why some pictures are selected as Oscar nominees and others are not.
We are honoring the wrong thing when we, as a society, honor filmmakers. Actors, actresses, directors and editors are already so fawned-over by the rest of society they hardly need more awards or more publicity. But that is, of course, why Hollywood set up the Oscars - as one more chance to plug an industry that receives far too much plugging already.
What's right with America is our spirit of independence, our love of life, our can-do attitude and our fresh inventiveness. What's wrong is our fixation on money and power and our fawning over the famous. Why give them more of what they get anyway if they do their jobs right? It's a waste. Let's give awards instead to public school teachers who spend extra time trying to straight-en out promising underprivileged students or ordinary Americans who volunteer at soup kitchens each week.
Remember that the most daring and controversial flicks are left out of the Oscar competition entirely. Consider that many critics believe the academy's documentary wing ignores the best work produced by American filmmakers, because documentaries are not the biggest moneymakers. Errol Morris' high-ly acclaimed "Fast, Cheap & Out of Control" didn't even make the final cut of films considered this year, joining previous years' "Hoop Dreams" and "Crumb" on the overlooked list.
So I vote for a new trend. It's not Washington, D.C., that's irrelevant. It's Hollywood. And when they announce the winners on March 23, remember that the real losers will be all those people out there in Television Land who are wasting their time watching.