|March 8, 2006|
Academy Awards Showcase Hollywood's Progressive Turn
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
New York, March 7: Jon Stewart gave it that old college try as the host of this year’s Academy Awards. He got off a few on-target one-liners but could not light the place on fire. If as the old song has it, “you can’t put a tuxedo on the funky blues,” you also can’t take a TV comic that works in the controlled television culture and assume that because he’s popular in one medium, he will knock the socks off of another.
Jon is in the attitude business, not the news business. He’s ridiculing news media and political pretensions every day and, as a result, has become a counter-cultural hero and an anti-establishment figure.
The Academy Awards is an establishment function, the annual spectacle of the movie business and culture. It is deliberately star-studded and packaged to sell the dream machine and with it the fashions and personalities of the day.
Putting it down while pumping it up is a contradiction that is hard to resolve.
That could be one reason the ratings this year were down.
But what we also saw this year is that a concerned Hollywood is itself taking on the shallow Hollywood, challenging mindless entertainment with films that matter. That’s why we were treated to that montage of social issue movies that Stewart smugly joked about. Jon knows that his own company Viacom, which owns CBS, would never have made a tough film about the network’s glory years. (Notice how many stars plugging movies show up on his show and how few media activists there are promoting change. His Comedy Channel is there to keep us laughing -- not struggling for change.)
Those socially-conscious films all took battles to make and offered the kind of creative commentary we rarely see on TV. “Network” was about TV, not a product of it, and far more radical than the Daily Show because it appeals to its viewers not just to smirk or smile, but to shout “I am mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” (In some ways that’s what media activists are doing today with the upcoming protests against the coverage of the war.)
This is also why George Clooney who won the Oscar for his role in the complex but important Syriana (situated in the Emirates, which have become controversial over the Dubai Ports issue) and also made “Good Night and Good Luck” about TV, which sadly did not win anything, was pissed at Stewart’s dismissive attitude after he sneered “Congratulations to us” after watching that montage of movies that matter.
It was remarkable to see film after film -- in this age of Bush -- taking on important subjects from TV News to job harassment to racial tension to homophobia to Israeli assassination squads. That’s why Clooney, who knows what it takes to make critical films, said he was proud to be part of today’s Hollywood.
And this is also why the right wing punditocracy loves to bash “The Hollywood Agenda” for “homosexualizing America” etc., etc, in the same way it once supported the red hunt in tinsel town.
Watch for a new book by Ben Dickenson, Hollywood's New Radicalism, addressing this trend towards the "political" and putting it in the context of recent social movements against globalization and war.
A review in the Independent noted, “Yet, despite Bush's victory, the mood of opposition among Hollywood talent has not dwindled, as the recent spate of politicized film-making demonstrates. One film, The Assassination of Richard Nixon, summarizes where many Hollywood progressives currently find themselves. It deals with contemporary social issues: distrusted presidents, terrorism, corporate power, racism and war. (Sean) Penn took it on as a pet project.
The crucial speech in the film questions the global leaders of government and business: "Who are these men that keep us waiting at their feet? I will not go quietly."
Neither, it seems, will Hollywood's new radicals.”
A GLOBAL DIMENSION
And the whole world was watching. A French film won the documentary prize and a South African film won for best foreign film with the director championing his colleagues in an act of unusual solidarity. A Palestinian film, Paradise Now, has been nominated.
In Baghdad, the blogger Riverbend was watching and inspired to propose an Iraqi version, writing:
ESCAPISM IS OUT
A closer to home assessment by Ed Rampell in the LA Daily News, notes that “escapism is out, and thought-provoking topicality is in.”
“Not since the 1940s, when the pro-union "The Grapes of Wrath" and the antifascist "The Great Dictator" were Best Picture nominees, have so many left-tilting studio features, indies and documentaries been in Academy Award contention. Clearly socially conscious movies - from "Good Night, and Good Luck" to "Brokeback Mountain" - are back…
“Grant Heslov, who produced and co-wrote "Good Night, and Good Luck" with Clooney, explains: "When George and I conceived this ... it was to (ask): Is the media questioning authority enough? To us, that is the most important job of the fourth estate. Clearly, they weren't doing that during the lead-up to the war." But poor reporting didn't make truth disappear. As Heslov indicates, it moved to other mediums, and progressive Hollywood re-emerged as a sort of fifth estate.”
Yes, Hollywood is dominated by a handful of moguls and big studios. Yes, moviemaking is as much about marketing as messages. And yes, that affluent environment can get self-righteous, clubby and pretentious.
But don’t underestimate the seriousness and creativity of those with something to say and the means and will to say it.
I only wish the top-down environment of TV News could be opened to exploring real issues and offering real news. And that often includes the usually welcome pranks and sometimes sophomoric posturing at The Daily Show.
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
News Dissector Danny Schechter is “blogger-in chief” of Mediachannel.org and author of “When News Lies” and “The Death of The Media.” See www.newsdissector.org/store.htm. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org
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