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And the award for Best President of the United States goes to…

La La Land!

Sorry. I meant…

Donald J. Trump?

Barak Obama?

Daniel Day Lewis as President Abraham Lincoln?

It has not been a good weekend for fans of lavishly produced American showbiz events of indeterminate point or relevance. First Donald Trump RSVPed organisers of the White House Correspondent’s Dinner to tell them not to bother ordering his favourite soup (Campbell’s, if we are to believe last week’s presidential meeting with his soup people). Then, on Sunday night, there was the second biggest mistake in Oscar history (the first being The English Patient winning Best Picture in 1997) when Bonnie and Clyde were set up by the notorious outlaw gang of PricewaterhouseCoopers.

There might, perhaps, have been a time when the UK had reason to stay up until 4am to watch this ritualised bloodbath. There might also have been a time when Oscars represented something meaningful. Yet, if there was, it’s hard to remember what those reasons were or what that meaningful something looked like. The Oscars have long since lost all connection to the experience of viewing movies. Great acting increasingly overlaps with bad acting and ‘Oscar worthy’ usually means a tough three hours stuck in the cinema because you don’t want to look so callous as to walk out during the star’s death scene, which given some recent movies, lasts the length of the entire movie. Meanwhile, Suicide Squad can now call itself an Oscar winner and all those clever, heartfelt movies that were only nominated for awards will forever go without. Whatever next? A damehood for Margot Robbie for services to hotpants? Don’t rule it out if it means bringing the hotpant industry back to the UK.

For once, cynicism is perhaps warranted. Last year the Oscars were condemned for being too white, whilst this year’s awards did look like they went some way to rectifying that. It might be brazenly political but at least we’ve finally rid ourselves of the ridiculous illusion that a film ever won because it was simply better than the rest. Was Kramer vs Kramer really better than Apocalypse Now or was it that the latter was still too political and anti-American in 1979? Rocky won in 1976 but is it really better than Taxi Driver, or was it just more conservative that Scorsese/ Schrader’s descent into madness and the darkly prescient coda that lay beyond all the exploding fingertips? Was the politically fuzzy Argo better than politically bleak Zero Dark Thirty? The sentimental stew of Forest Gump better than the grim world view of Pulp Fiction or The Shawshank Redemption?

The Oscars have always touched on the politics of the wider sphere and we should at least be thankful that they’re finally acknowledging it. Even the organisers of awards have recognised the need to make award ceremonies relevant. In addition to making up for last year’s omissions, this year’s Oscars had the added spectacle of Hollywood delivering a high profile rebuke to the President. You might not agree with it (and, in truth, it all gets a bit risible) but it makes more sense than celebrating Stephen Fry ‘tutting’ and ‘pishing’ his way through another interminable BAFTA ceremony or Ricky Gervais insulting everybody at the Golden Globes.

We are, perhaps, finally in a post-award age when we recognise that the glitz, the glamour, and the marketing don’t do enough to make the penguin suits look any sillier. Not only do the results mean less, there are too many. Whether it’s Book of the Year or Teacher of the Year, there’s something distinctly groan-worthy about handing awards over for something so utterly subjective. It’s why there’s not really that much to lament about the other news this weekend.

Donald Trump won’t be attending the White House Correspondent’s Dinner but, in truth, the event was always tinged with ridiculousness. There’s a good argument to be made that journalists should never be the story but, that said, it was always depressing to see an interview with some hard-serving print journalist cut short in order to fit in some more banal words from the celebrity of the hour. Does it really matter that Donald Trump will be the first sitting American president (without a hole in his gut) to skip the dinner since Nixon in 1972? Well, clearly not.

Except in one respect…

Even if his absence isn’t really that notable, Donald Trump is obviously making it for all the wrong reasons. Like so much of the past month, it’s all too easy to over-intellectualise Trump’s motives. Analysts work till they boil their brains trying to figure out why America has changed its policy towards China when the obvious answer was always that Trump had been blabbing off to Taiwan. Ditto Canada, Mexico, Australia, Sweden, Iran, taxes, healthcare, infrastructure, national debt, the banks, the wall, and, of course, terrorism…

Trump might be skipping the Correspondent’s Dinner but does anybody really think it’s motivated by the ideals of the presidency or some abstract notion of journalistic objectivity? Does anybody really believe that Trump would rather spend the night washing his hair if he’d been enjoying huge popularity and could have anticipated a warm but mild ribbing from the chosen comedian of the day? Trump would not more skip one of the most celebrated events in the Washington diary, at which he was the star attraction, than he would skip a chance to park his Presidential limo across Arnold Schwarzenegger’s big toe.

That, really, is the oddest part of this weekend: that we have reached a point where the business of presenting awards to movie stars is so very political whilst figuring out the President of the United States has become a matter of a hyper-emotional personality and a few overblown performances.




8 Comments on "Crass Ceremonies Don’t Give Trump An Excuse"

  1. David, I have just been playing the Walking Dead game on the PS4. I say game, it is in reality an interactive movie where the decisions you make affect how the story plays out. Absolutely gripping, myself and my wife spent about 14 hours playing it at a cost of not too much more than going to the cinema and as an experience it was so much more engrossing. I’ve played a few of these type of games and eventually they will kill cinema, especially if it continues to be stuck in the rut of rehashing old movies and churning out the same old blandness across the action/horror/romcom genres.

    I like to look at the online comments people make on these types of awards and I have never seen such antipathy from the general public towards the ‘stars’. They really do seem to have lost the respect of the ‘average joe’

    I’m stlll reserving judgement on Trump. His behaviour is way out there but then again so is that of the press who would not have dared speak to Obama in the way they do Trump.

    • I’ve plated the Walking Dead game (and a few more of the Telltale games — Game of Thrones is good too) and, I agree, it’s fun. Then again, I’ve been playing games since I was a kid. So it’s good but not brilliant. The writing is pretty strong but the actual gameplay has too much of what are called ‘quick time events’. It means you have moments when you have to quickly mash a key to produce a result. The absolute best zombie game in terms of writing, graphics, and story is by Naughty Dog. It’s called ‘The Last of Us’ and I highly recommend it, even though it’s actually an old PS3 game updated for the PS4. I recently finished their latest Uncharted game which, I think, might be the finest game (perhaps The Last of Us which is more emotional) I’ve ever played.

      Because I’m such an old gamer, I don’t entirely share your enthusiasm. I think games are an extremely important medium. I detest the snobbery that, until quite recently, has dismissed them when they are already a bigger industry than film. However, they require active involvement. There’s something quite powerful about the passive nature of film. It tells a tale and I like that I can’t choose where the story can go. It’s why I have games, movies, and books in my life. I need all three because they fulfill three different requirements. Incidentally, if you have a PS4, there’s also PSVR available. Really want to try it but it’s far too expensive but, possibly, a new frontier in gaming. The new VR Resident Evil game is apparently amazing.

      As for Trump: from the start, I’ve tried to praise him for what he does well and condemn him for his foolishness. I said he has a gift with crowds unlike any politician I’ve seen. I said he’d win because he connects with his voters more than Hillary connected with hers. I’ve said that some of his picks are good picks. I also think he shows signs of charisma that might yet prove an obstacle to Democrats. He’s one of those guys who can get away with murder and still manages to win people over with a quip or a smile. That said, his executive orders, so far, are largely foolish and worrying. He cannot ignore an insult, puts the ‘bully’ back into the bully pulpit, and is spreading fear. His promise to increase defense spending seems motivated by something other than necessity — dare one say ‘small penis syndrome’? More worrying of all, he is perpetuating a belief that experts and facts are somehow wrong. You can spin that any way you like but his attacks on the media are deeply troubling. The world is better when it operates according to law, science, reason, and working from empirical data. Admittedly, US networks do show bias (but none more so than Fox News) but he’s wrong to attack journalists who actually write about facts. He would have us return to the mystic supernatural world where we lynch people because they are possessed by the devil. That really worries me about Trump. He chases ghosts (Bowling Greeen massacre, Sweden, ‘the worlds a mess’, ‘I inherited a mess’, ‘carnage’) that are no different to the gods that drive others to jihad.

      I can’t see why you would think Trump is getting an unfair treatment from the press. They give him far too much credit. Do you honestly believe that Obama would have got away with the Putin praise, pussy grabbing, ‘enemy of the people’, or half a dozen other things that are now forgotten from just the first month? There is the very real possibility that the Russian intelligence service put Trump into the White House yet they try to laugh it off as a Clinton strategy. These are the same people who spent years spreading vile racist material about Obama (Trump’s links to Carl Paladino are pretty damning) and questioning his birth certificate. Some will say I’m an Obama fan and, to a degree, I am. I liked him as a man, even if I think he struggled to marry his idealism with the demands of the job.

      My own feeling is that Trump is very malleable and that is not necessarily a weakness. He listens to advice. That could make him a good president if the excesses of his temperament could be controlled. By the same measure, he’s making a bad president because he’s always listening to the wrong people. Bannon, I think, puts stuff into his head and spreads a poison. Stephen Miller is just bad news. When Trump does well, he’s being controlled by more moderate personalities such as Jared Kushner. That will be the story of the next three years: to see which side wins the President’s favour.

      • I’ve been gaming too since I got a spectrum aged around 10. I agree the Last of Us is a great game though my favourite in recent times has been Witcher 3. We still have to play the latest Uncharted after I got it for my wife for Christmas as Witcher just took so long to finish.

        I don’t have a beef against cinema per se, I was a member of the BFI for many years and spent more hours than I care remember watching obscure foreign and silent films on the South Bank. That’s the problem though, I found so little in modern western cinema to like that I ended up searching further afield. Don’t remember it ever being so derivative or lacking in creativity. I would say that you are seeing a better product come out of some TV producers nowadays than Hollywood.

        I just find the tone of reporting on Trump to be snidey and sneery and the way that the press deal with him face to face to be rude. The fact that his behaviour is bad is no excuse in my opinion, if the press want people to respect their reporting of Trump they need to be calm and measured and yes polite, whether they think Trump warrants it or not. The Washington Post for example was hideously biased during the campaign, result, I take what they say about Trump with a pinch of salt. That is worse than it sounds. It may or may not surprise you to know that the party I have voted for the most during my life are the Liberals. I believe in freedom of speech, expression and pretty much everything else going, the only area I’m particularly hardline on is law and order because I grew up somewhere where it didn’t exist. So if I find the way the press report on Trump making me more and not less sympathetic to him then they are clearly doing something wrong and it begs the question of what it is doing for his stature amongst real right wing voters. George W Bush presided over 9/11, Patriot Act, Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and the nations financial meltdown. He had Rice, Rumsfeld and Cheney as his advisors. Yet even at the end of his tenure the media never heaped the amount of scorn on him that they have on Trump, or not as I remembered it they didn’t.

        Trumps exec orders have been a mixture of good and bad.
        Travel ban- bad
        Coal waste- bad
        Regulation-probably good
        Obamacare, Border security- who knows, wait and see.

        If the press want to combat Trumps fake news narrative then they need to be very careful, balanced and thorough in their reporting which as you know is often not the case. Take the Sweden comment, Sweden does have a problem with the integration of migrants regardless of what the Swedish government may say, unemployment for example is huge in that community. The last time crime statistics included ethnicity they showed a disproportional amount were being committed by non Swedes. There may be many reasons for that but it doesn’t change the data. Now it’s not World War 3 on the streets of Gothenburg and it pales compared to some of the inner city violence in the USA, but the tensions exist and to report the Swedish governments response to Trump as if it is gospel is misleading. You then find that lo and behold events and subsequent reports contradict the original MSM narrative and another X number of people stop believing. If a news organisation can’t trust its reporters to not put a spin on a report then it should stick to bare reporting of facts and let people make up their own minds, generally people will come to right conclusion. It is unfortunate that there seems to be too few journalists around today of the calibre of John Simpson and (risking accusations of crawling) Tim Marshall who gave a fully balanced view with context.

        With regards to Trump being put into the White House by the Russians I am always minded of the Zinoviev letter when these sort of accusations surface. For those who aren’t aware, surfacing four days before the 1924 General Election the letter showed Labour was in cahoots with the Bolsheviks. MI5 and MI6 vouched for it and a Conservative government enquiry after the election concluded it was genuine. It turned out however in the fullness of time that it was a fake and that MI5, MI6 and probably the government knew it was a fake. Indeed it is considered likely that the security services were complicit in its production and leaking. So if it was being thought of and done almost 100 years ago it is reasonable to suppose that similar activities may be going on today.

        • Rob, for the past year, I’ve had people send me articles quoting Sweden’s crime rates but I’ve not yet seen conclusive evidence. In fact, I usually just see the same rape statistics that stem from the same alt-right websites. When I try to find the real data, I find articles such as this which seem far more measured.

          That Putin is involved in information warfare against Europe and America cannot now be questioned. We’ve known for a few years about the way he’s trying to shape public opinion through large scale operations, such as Russia Today and Russia’s troll army (aka their web brigades). I also find it very hard to believe that there’s not dirty money in our political systems and that’s helping to attack what you call ‘the mainstream media’. Trump may well be innocent but there’s enough evidence mounting to demand serious attention is paid to his connections in Russia. I really hope Trump is proven innocent or we’re facing dark days. IMHO, though, we’re already at war. America’s attack on the Iranian nuclear program through Stuxnet was just the most obvious example. It would be naive to think we’re not constantly under attack. Propaganda has been around for centuries but this is new. The hacking of public opinion is war’s newest frontier.

          • David, Sweden stopped producing crime figures based on ethnicity in 2005. The last set of figures produced by the National Council For Crime Prevention which is under the Swedish ministry of justice covered 1997-2001. I have dug them out for you but as they are mainly in Swedish you will have to go down to page 70 for the English summary (make sure you read it all).


            It says that migrants commit crimes at a higher rate than native Swedes and attempts to suggest reasons for this. It was obviously uncomfortable reading for the Swedish government as they haven’t produced such a report since. This lack of transparency will ultimately prove to be counterproductive much as the cover up in Rotherham was.

            I have noticed that a number of links to this data have disappeared since I last looked so I will also include this link to the expat paper the local which references the report.

            I think everyone is engaging is cyberwar and disinformation but if there was any evidence that Trump was Russias man he would never have been inaugurated.

          • Forgive me but doesn’t this beg the question: why would I want to reference a 12 year old report when fact checkers have recently taken a wider look and see little correlation? Doesn’t this look like picking the data that fits a narrative?

            Even if I hold out the possibility that you’re right, I do keep getting the horrible feeling that so much of this edges into that worrying area where we are meant to doubt everything except the whispers of ‘common sense’. You talk of ‘lack of transparency’ and ‘cover up’, as well as data that’s disappeared. I agree that there’s cyber warfare going on but disinformation? If so, then we’re already lost in the Orwellian nightmare. This whole area becomes so murky and leads to that whole line of septic argument that leads straight into the world of ‘alternative facts’.

            As for Trump: I can’t see that there was much to stop him getting inaugurated. The electoral college didn’t work and some were legally required to follow party lines.

  2. “Forgive me but doesn’t this beg the question: why would I want to reference a 12 year old report when fact checkers have recently taken a wider look and see little correlation? Doesn’t this look like picking the data that fits a narrative?”

    Because the fact checkers have no access to data that references crime by ethnicity. As they don’t, then whatever they say about recent crime and ethnicity is meaningless. The report I cited showed a long term trend in Sweden, had it changed the Swedish authorities would be shouting the fact from the rooftops, not failing to produce a follow up.

    As for the data in your link which I did you the courtesy of reading it does indeed show there is no huge upsurge in crime in Sweden, but then I never suggested there was if you reread my posts. I suggested that data was out there that showed migrant crime rates were disproportional and provided evidence.

    The fact checker you listed doesn’t state that homicides in Sweden actually fell by less than those in Western Europe as a whole according to the WHO and by far less than in neighbouring Finland and Norway, yet I never intimated that you were cherry picking data that fitted your narrative.

    I actually found the insinuations about me in your last post very disappointing. Rather than offer a rebuttal to those I will simply shut up.

    • Come on, Rob. There were no insinuations and I’ll happily apologize if there was anything there to make you think I was implying anything unfairly critical. I am merely frustrated with people sending me the crime statistics about Sweden (and, again, this isn’t about you but three specific articles I’ve been send in the past 12 months which banged on about the same fake rape statistics). I simply don’t know who or what to believe and that, I think, is part of the ongoing problem that everybody is having. The alt-right, in particular, are employing a clever strategy of muddying the waters and undermining the press. I picked out your language because yesterday and today I’ve been writing an article about the use of rhetoric that undermines our ability to know the world. The fact that you talked about suppressed data and disinformation, frankly, disappointed me because I’ve always held you to be one of the saner voices. That you would think that we’re being deliberately misinformed was a shock. Of course, the fact that you take offence continues to convince me that it’s almost impossible to have a meaningful exchange online. Everybody is on edge, ready to take offence, and willing to read the worst into other people’s questions and motives. Perhaps I was stupid to write a reply late at night when I was probably too tired to reread and look out for potential misreadings. I apologize if I phrased things poorly. It won’t happen again. I’m just a big dumb lunk who thinks it’s only fair to engage with a person who leaves comments. I should do as other writers do and cut myself off from the world. I have enough enemies that I don’t need to make more.

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