Hollywood studios make two kinds of movies: those that offer escape and those with an inescapable message. Rarely is this dichotomy so neatly represented by the two frontrunners for the Academy Award for Best Picture: the dopey but spectacularly space-glittery Gravity and the solemn 12 Years a Slave, wagging its finger sternly at slavery. Host Ellen DeGeneres joked in her monologue that the room would prove itself racist if the producers of any movie but 12 Years took home statues, and dutifully the Academy voters bestowed Brad Pitt, Steve McQueen and some other people in the background with Oscars before ABC syndicates switched to your local nightly news. It was a victory for prestige-picture storytelling, for middlebrow movies with a social conscious. But, despite winners Jared Leto (!) and Lupita Nyong’o speaking directly to troubled audiences in Ukraine, Venezuela, Africa, and elsewhere, the telecast—as usual—was about escapism, which explains why Gravity walked away with seven awards, sweeping the technical side: Director, Cinematography, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects, etc.
But what’s Hollywood so interested in escaping? Just before the show started, Kevin Spacey explained that moviemaking is a job just like any other—that there’s nothing glamorous about showing up to the soundstage for a full day’s work—and that the Oscars gives all these people a chance to take a step back and have some fun. Which, nice for them, I guess; the industry grosses enough bank that it can slice off a chunk to throw a party. But a tone-deaf classism was on display last night throughout the ceremonies, from outside to in.
The worst of it came during the red carpet show, when Jimmy Kimmel did an astonishingly mean-spirited bit in which he crawled through the camera into the home of a few ordinary Americans (ugly fat white people with cheeseball-dust all over their fingers) and, because they had Tweeted mean-spirited things about what celebrities were wearing, proceeded to mock the way they were dressed in great detail. That Kimmel thought this would be funny perhaps speaks to how unfunny he is; that no one—not the network, the Oscar producers, even the fucking actors who participated in the skit—thought to mention that it makes no sense to spend several minutes insulting the people watching at home suggests perhaps too many people blinded by the bubble they’re in.
I’ve never watched an Oscar preshow before last night, at least no more than glancing at a muted screen. I got the sense from Twitter that last night’s was particularly bad, the Good Morning America crew & friends proving themselves especially obnoxious, inept, idiotic. But the celebration of red-carpet profligacy felt awful in general, with its designer clothes and my god the jewels, and I started to sympathize with the people who make Worst Dressed lists (who previously struck me as shallow or catty): ugh, fuck these Hollywood kajillionaires with their lip-service bullshit to the people living through war. Look, they’re taking selfies! Look, they’re chipping in hundreds of dollars to pay for three pizzas (though props to Ellen for ordering a vegan one)! The movies offer escape. The Oscars just throw how hard you’re struggling to get by back in your face.
Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart