ap_nph_mt_150222_16x9_992

A raw “moment.”

The Academy Awards are hard not to watch. One just feels compelled to share “Hollywood’s Biggest Night.” And I was no exception, although, I must say, I was not so much riveted by the show as buzzed by it. Having the TV on, the family with me, a half-assed dinner being consumed. Telling the kids to shut up so we can hear who won. Them not listening. Them saying, “like, who are all these old people?” Um, sweetie, that’s Robert Duvall. Sean Penn. Michael Keaton. Emma stone they recognized. And because I share a house with four ladies eyes were on the clothes and hair.

It’s a palpable buzz.

One thing I noticed in the coverage and after-coverage was the pointing out of “moments.” When Neal Patrick Harris sent up Birdman by taking the stage in his undies. When John Legend emotionally sang and totally delivered the evening’s best song, Glory. The perspiring, young writer of The Imitation Game beseeching all of us to ‘embrace our weirdness.’ All those Latinos up on stage for Birdman. 

The definition of “having a moment” has got to be winning an Academy Award. I remember winning a few big advertising awards… how giddy I felt stumbling up to the stage. Of course I was drunk –I always was drunk- but I still remember those moments. I can’t recall a thing I said and that’s just as well.

I believe in moments. Life is a puzzling journey. We mark the trail with moments: Graduation. New Job. Closing a deal. Or is it a drama? Fair metaphor as well. In this case moments are like plot points: Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl back. Babies are born. People die. There are countless plot points to every life. Pretty cool way to look at it.

No wonder so many brands try to own them. It’s the perfect hash tag for the Academy Awards, if not life itself: #Moments

images-2
Following tradition or just a boob?

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?

images
“Ah, so women do have value!”

images
Shaken and stirred!

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?

jennifer-lopez-grammys-dress_0
It’s the Grammy’s so that doesn’t count…

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.

gallery_enlarged-kristen-stewart-4-new-moon-premiere-red-carpet-photos-11162009-04
“This has nothing to do with my ability but I LOVE IT!”

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.

Argo-Review-starring-Ben-Affleck-and-John-Goodman
Is it real or is it Argo?

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?

Scene from movie 'Zero Dark Thirty'
Breaking into Osama’s hideout: Zero Dark Thirty

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.


“Stop Tweeting and pass the gaucamole!”

I was struck by a recent Tweet from mutual friend and follower, Tim Leake: The twitter chatter during the Oscars was almost enough to make me watch in real time. Could social media be a DVR-killer?

I Tweeted back: Could be a big deal, actually.

His reply: Certainly makes real-time chatter-worthy programming more valuable to advertisers. Perhaps it needs to be cultivated more.

Up until Tim’s Tweet, I hadn’t tied these thoughts together, even though I was one of the multitude of Oscar watchers Tweeting about it in real time. Forget that this year’s telecast was painfully dull (so much for youthful hosts making it “hip and relevant.”), the Academy Awards (like the Superbowl), attracted a huge audience. A huge live audience. In other words, people didn’t Tivo the show and watch it later. The vast majority consumed it in real time. It was more than just entertainment. This was an event. Eventainment.

Given the Oscars and Superbowl involve winners and losers, God forbid anyone miss the live feed and have to get the results from some benign website or doofus at work. No surprise both events are on Sunday, furthering their popular appeal, giving everyone something to talk about at the water cooler on Monday.

Put an asterisk on that last comment. Because, regarding the Oscar’s, I’d argue the water cooler chatter began on the Red Carpet, with fans Tweeting about this star’s dress and that one’s hair. When the telecast actually started fans were already entrenched in conversations with their “followers” and “friends.”


Log on your show’s on!

Everyone in Adland needs to vociferously thank Facebook, Twitter and other applications for making real time TV relevant again. Since the advent of Tivo, advertisers have understandably grown wary regarding the numbers of viewers watching their shows. But with legions of fans following and commenting in real time, they no longer fast-forward through the commercials! They can’t. Ironic this turnabout, given social media and the Internet are supposedly television’s great assassins.

Granted, event television is special but imagine if ordinary programming captured real time audiences the same way, by exploiting social media. If fans wanted to join the conversation regarding their favorite shows they would have to tune in to the live feed, just like in the olden days!

I’m guessing numerous shows are starting to figure this out, especially reality programs, which are largely driven by their oversize personalities. Still, if I’m a network exec trying to create more audience (and value) for my show, I’m thinking social media campaign. If one knows that “followers” of a given show are actually watching the show when they’re supposed to that gives power back to the networks (and myriad ways to advertise, promote and sell), while at the same time feeding people’s desire to stay current. A win-win. And an unexpected one at that.

Tim Leake is a Creative Director at Saatchi & Saatchi NY. He often speaks at the Hyper Island Master Class in Digital training. His Twitter handle is @tim_leake


You deserve your nominations and my apology.

“Mo’nique rolls over twittery actresses” This was one of the many tweets I made during the Academy Awards telecast last week. Obviously, it pertains to the winner of best supporting actress, Mo’nique for her brazen portrayal of an abusive mother in the controversial drama, Precious: Based on the novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire. Tweeting during TV events like the Super Bowl and Oscars has become quite a phenomenon. Nice to see old and new media benefiting from each other. Fun to be a part of it.

Integration of TV and Twitter would make a great topic for a post but it’s not the subject of this one. For that we must go back to the actual content of my above tweet. Read it again: Mo’nique rolls over twittery actresses. The line has been haunting me ever since I wrote it. The reasons why are complicated and difficult to write about, which is precisely why I must. As a copywriter and, moreover, a human being, I need to know the truth behind those five words.

First off, I chose the words carefully… very carefully. You need to know what I would have tweeted had I not edited myself. It would have gone something like this: “Baddass Black woman flattens flighty white chicks!” Awful right? But that’s what I was thinking. Equally offensive to blacks, whites and women in general, I feel embarrassed for having conjured the thought.

True, I did not actually write anything offensive. (Thank God.) Or did I? In retrospect it’s clear I coded my words, giving them the potency I wanted, without resorting to politically incorrect language.

Look at the verb. I used the word “rolls” instead of “flattens.” ‘Rolling over’ the competition is an accepted cliché’. Yet, I must admit I also liked the veiled allusions to “fat.” A steamroller is heavy. Fat people have rolls. I was aware of this when I chose the word “rolls.”

Now, about the adjective: twittery. What did I mean by that? This one is harder to explain. Besides not being black, the other actresses (those I saw anyway) played career women, in particular the nominated pair from Up In the Air. By calling them “twittery” (as in fidgety or nervous) I now feel I held that against them. I implied they were made anxious by their lifestyle choices, and the fact that they were single, with no men to define them. The word “twittery” also suggests (to me anyway) someone prone to outbursts, short and constant. In this context, my word choice, and comment as a whole, can be viewed as borderline misogynistic. Using it as an adjective to the noun “actresses” intensifies that point. Twittery actresses.

Finally, just writing the winners name, Mo’nique, in all its righteousness, communicated plenty.

Why am I going into this? It flatters no one, least of all me. As a creative person I always question my thinking. When I struggle with something I write about it. A writer writes. Even crazy ones. Especially crazy ones.

From a copywriter’s point of view, things get more interesting. We are paid to choose words carefully. After all, we typically write so few of them. Each word, by definition, is often fraught with meaning, double meaning, and even trickery. What seems like a sentence or two about this or that product has often been worked over for weeks. They must be, in order to grab someone. If the product being sold is controversial, the copywriter uses precise language to circumvent danger or vagaries to disguise it. Even casual banter is anything but. My seemingly benign tweet is a perfect example of this, which is why I’ve dissected it here.

Final thought: Social media forces us to let go our editing instinct. Writing is about the here and now. Wait to long in order to ponder a subject and the group moves on. While the dissemination of information speeds up, sensitivity and thoughtfulness ebb. Censorship decreases but at what price? As we write faster (be it tweets, texts or even body copy) we must learn to think faster. Or face the consequences.

Steff on Twitter

My novel on Amazon

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 12,365 other followers