And the award for Best President of the United States goes to…
La La Land!
Sorry. I meant…
Donald J. Trump?
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.