February 28, 2013
I thought Seth MacFarlane’s bawdy opening number at the Oscars, “We Saw Your Boobs” might pass by my radar but the story continues to gain traction, the latest commentary coming from the California Legislative Women’s Caucus. In a formal complaint written to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences the group claimed his gig “struck a new low in its treatment of women.” More excerpts from the letter can be found here. The gist of their argument is that women have a hard enough time gaining respect for their contributions in Hollywood, let alone society in general, without sophomoric displays like Seth’s bringing them down and on one of the biggest stages in the world no less.
I won’t disagree. However, I will say that Oscar and Hollywood have objectified women for years, often without comment. It seems every other movie features women in highly sexualized roles, many of them beloved by both sexes. And I’m not just talking about “B” movies, though those are obviously the most blatant examples. but what about the so-called “Bond Girls” which have become a huge part of that cannon’s attractive lore?
Are not these ladies merely eye candy for James and every other Tom, Dick and Harry? Of course they are. And while a few of these actresses actually could act it was for their bodies they were cast. One literally in gold. Save for ardent feminists nobody complains, least of all the actresses, whom as far as I can tell, covet the part.
There are countless examples of women being subjugated, objectified and demeaned in film and television. That doesn’t make it right but it does make singling out questionable episodes in the industry, well, questionable.
Still, it’s hammering on the Academy Awards that trips me up. For hours leading up to the ceremony itself media from all over the world line up to photograph and film the actresses as they sashay into the auditorium. People adore the spectacle, especially women. On both sides of the camera. So much so it is called it the “Red Carpet” and it is considered a must-see. The next day hundreds of “critics” pass judgment, many of them cruelly. But we laugh. We vote. Indeed, we pass judgment ourselves. Is this not text textbook definition of ogling?
One might reply that it is their clothes we are looking at and not the ladies. True. But it is the dresses that show more of the ladies that draw our attention and the slavish commentary. True? Furthermore, why should actresses be obligated to parade in front of the entire world in flamboyant, revealing gowns in the first place? Especially while most of their dates don black tie. What does that have to do with their acting chops? It doesn’t.
The Red Carpet is tradition. And women adore it. Even I dare say the California Legislative Women’s Caucus. I could end there but I have one more thought. Is Seth MacFarlane taking it on the chin because he’s a man? Let’s say Tina Fey was hosting the Oscars (not a stretch) and she sang the exact same song (not a stretch), would that make it wildly funny instead of wildly inappropriate? You know the answer as well as I do.
February 11, 2013
After seeing Argo with my wife we discussed it in a nearby wine bar (ah, date night!), where she commented on how much she appreciated the history lesson imparted by the movie. We were both children during the Iran hostage crisis and I can still remember seeing all those yellow ribbons. I also recall the fervor of anti-Iranian sentiment sweeping the country. The Ayatollah Khomeini was Public Enemy #1 and our society’s hatred of him equaled, and to my memory, even exceeded the vitriol directed toward Osama Bin Laden thirty plus years later.
In any event, my wife’s remark made me think. Accurate or not, Argo is indeed a history lesson, as are many of the other big Oscar-nominated films, especially Zero Dark Thirty and Lincoln. Even Django, for all its Tarantino-infused brio, brought forward a difficult time in our nation’s history to tell its story. Granted, Tarantino’s film is patently (and sublimely) ridiculous but still: I couldn’t help but wonder (especially as newspapers and books fade from the popular culture) if movies and videos are becoming our new teachers.
While Hollywood has always trafficked in “true stories” culled from history, rarely have they been portrayed with so much attention to historical accuracy and detail. Django aside, one really senses these new filmmakers passion for trying to get the story right, even if rubbing audiences the wrong way. For example, Kathryn Bigelow’s excellent Zero Dark Thirty depicts American torture of Muslim extremists with complete objectivity, evoking much criticism from concerned groups, including factions of the US Government. This criticism may even hurt her film’s chances for garnering top honors at this year’s Academy Awards. Yet, because of the way in which she made the movie, almost like a documentary, I believed her depiction far more than not. The same can be said for Argo and to a lesser extent, Lincoln. In all these films we get the distinct impression the makers of them are aspiring to accuracy over drama. Perhaps we have You Tube to thank for this?
Either way, this is new. In the past Hollywood loved to infuse countless fictionalized storylines into their fare. War and Western movies always had love interests. In addition, there had to be a hero and a villain. The filmmakers were compelled to portray good and evil in black and white. Not so much anymore. Lincoln is shown to compromise his position on equal rights for black people in order to rid the country of slavery. In Zero Dark Thirty The United States employs illegal torture to try and find out where Bin Laden is hiding.
“Inspired by true events” used to mean a germ of truth might exist in the story. Now it implies journalistic integrity. Whether that’s bad or good I don’t know. However, I do know that were it not for these films I likely wouldn’t have learned about these seminal events in world history. Neither would most people.