Before the Oscars, there is hope and there is hype. Afterward, only desiccated resignation. Like your teenage years, the hard lessons are all tied up with disappointment, promises that never come true, and a growing sense of self-loathing. Of course, the Oscars are the creatures of very old people, not teenagers, but instead of creating immortal statues, it’s mostly decaying zombies. A show incapable of surprising you is rewarding movies incapable of surprising you.
I guess the Oscars sold the magic to Netflix and Disney, who didn’t bother to show up. There you find stuff people love, look forward to, and cannot tire of throwing money at. I bet they’re busy right now thinking up new ways to attract our attention, and the more the Oscars disappoint, the more the businesses who make it their business to ruin Hollywood succeed. 2018 is going to be great by this measure.
And this is not even news! The Oscars have followed one bad year with a worse and one slate of movies people didn’t really care for with another, at the very moment Hollywood needed the Oscars to put a good look on a scary future for the industry. The Oscars are an absolutely necessary advertisement for a notoriously unprofitable business. And yet they fail, again and again. See the best newsman in Hollywood for more on this.
But what’s bad for the Oscars really is bad for America. Movies are far more important for our sense of right and wrong than we like to admit. Even our self-understanding is tied up in them, or else we wouldn’t be having nostalgia periods, like the 80s nostalgia now gripping audiences. Perhaps in another generation or two it will be computer games, but in the mean time, the movies crystallize our opinions about everything that, put together, is America.
Talented story-tellers are still around and this year Christopher Nolan, the best in the business, had “Dunkirk” nominated in eight categories, only to lose all but two of them. That movie has the touch of greatness required to survive for another century. It also happened to be the best compromise between prestige and popularity. Nolan is the most impressive director now working and the movie made almost $200 million in America and $500 million worldwide. For once, the people and the Academy could have come together.
The Academy, however, despises the people above all. They can’t help it! They don’t mean anything bad by it! But the only thing to do is to sacrifice all Boomers in one desperate attempt to preserve hope for the future. Every chance they get, they waste. We can even be merciful. We can still save Hollywood, let’s just ship them all off to a comfortable island somewhere, without any means of communication to the outside world.
This brings us to the crisis of the Oscars, a haughty impotence seen only among aristocrats on the eve of a revolution that will ruin them. This failing-and-flailing attitude is bad for audiences, worse for movies, and worst of all for liberals. The Academy promotes increasingly obscure movies to the halls of prestige for the benefit of decreasing audiences. Then they add insult to obscurity, trying to piss off half the nation. It’s a good thing these people are not intelligent enough to count, because the numbers, which were very bad last year and have gotten worse, should horrify them.
So it’s time to rethink the Oscars. Look at the numbers and remember Tocqueville: What we love, but can only get in Hollywood, is drama on the largest scale, The Epic. Our taste commonly runs to the banal and the everyday — but we only give our hearts to the splendid and the proud. That’s what’s memorable. America loved “Titanic,” “Gladiator,” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” Oscars. Compared to that, we’ve already forgotten all the woke, sentimental little movies the Academy favors. There’s room for these puny spectacles at the Oscars, but they’re not the main attraction. The people want heroism. If the celebrities give them misery, they go away.
Tocqueville’s teaching is proving truer every year, however much it’s ignored. The audiences get smaller. Hollywood has to learn that prestige and popularity are not identical in America and, of the two, popularity is stronger. All prestige can do is educate popularity — without arrogance or impatience. No one can say no to the people, even if what they want is another Disney princess or another sarcastic superhero. The will of the people is stronger than law.
The only way forward is to go back. Prestigious productions will die or they will attempt the heights of art known to previous ages, to enchant audiences with myths they cannot get on an everyday basis in streaming. Prestige productions cannot compete with forgettable entertainment for billion dollar sums, but they have to be about as profitable and as impressive as Christopher Nolan’s movies. Our times are now the property of Netflix and Disney. You want greatness? Do what Nolan did and learn about the past, maybe starting with Greek tragedy. You may laugh, but how many blockbusters and how many classics have you made?
In some sense, we’re all in this together. Neither the dying film press nor the angry-at-Hollywood conservatives have anything to gain from the misery of the Oscars. Conservatives need good movies that tell important truths about America as much as liberals do. We all need a venue that can attract and reward great talent, without which we can all look forward to utterly mediocre tripe that can only distract us from our inevitable, unpredictable mortality — until the mediocrity gets so bad that it cannot do even that. Netflix shows won’t save us, because they will soon face the same choice between an evil arrogance that’s economically unsustainable and an uneducated consumerism that strangles talent to death in its embrace.
Prestige and popularity have to live in some balance. Massively popular entertainments will be less and less American as they have to please more and more of the world and they slip further and further away from reality into fantasy. So we need to reward artists who love America enough to reflect seriously on what’s happening to us and to tell us an artful story about some part of the national story. It’s ultimately America we want to see glorified. Anything less is un-American.