The Contest

... and we're off!

Competition is as American as reality TV.  And like reality TV, as opposed to reality, which we’re all trying to avoid as much as possible these days, it’s everywhere.

The Oscar nominations were announced this week and I can remember as a boy, before there was buffering and such a thing as an internet feed, a time when there was a shiny, unexpected anticipation as to what great slight and/or inclusion might transpire in those categories of five.  Now we have:

  • Up to 10 best pictures nominees (nine this year despite know-it-all media hounds swearing it’d be only six, or seven at most)
  • Handicapping on all four major networks and most cable stations as opposed to just Vegas bookies, bitter industry people and know-it-all relatives
  • And general awards weariness because the Oscars are the last in a gaggle of trophy races run by SAG, the producers, the writers, the Hollywood Foreign Press, every major city where there is a film critic and every ethnic group that reproduces a human being.
Of course,  the Razzies (those statuettes for the worst films of the year) haven’t yet been announced so there is still something to look forward to – especially when there is the potential that an actress with the sense of humor of Halle Berry will show up and accept the award live for her bad performance as she did in 2004 for “Catwoman.”  (Note:  I actually didn’t think she was that bad in the movie.  I mean, have you seen Keira Knightley in “A Dangerous Method” this year?)
  • "I'd like to thank my new kitchen. I did this for you!"

But I digress.

The Oscars are probably our international baseline of competition.  Or is it sports?  No – the Oscars because I’m not much of a sports fan and therefore don’t want to write about it.  Okay, fine – Tebow, Manning, Brady, blah, blah, blah, football –- now can we go on?

As I was saying – Oscars are the baseline – and even include sports because I actually thought one of the best films this year was “Moneyball” – the sports movie for non-sports fans.  And it received six Oscar nominations, two of which were for Brad Pitt, one of our true cultural prom kings/class presidents/and all around Mr. Popularity Renaissance Guys of the day.  Plus he’s “married” to our beautiful but sort of dangerously naughty senior class vamptress and all around perpetual queen of our never-ending fantasy prom, Angelina Jolie.

Voted "Best at existing" 40 years and running

Yes, as they say and I’ve said – the entertainment business is high school with money.  But I digress.  Again.

Anyway, with the Oscars as the baseline, then it shouldn’t be surprising that pretty much all competitions have become entertainment and vice -versa.

Tune in one of the 32,123 Republican debates, Okay, take the fun one on CNN in South Carolina.

Last week, you were treated to very expensive logos that popped off the screen with the words GINGRICH, ON THE RISE (what a scary thought, literally), ROMNEY, THE FRONTRUNNER (well, that was a week ago), PAUL, THE INSURGENT (Uh, okay); and SANTORUM, RENEWED MOMENTUM (the least catchy but somehow that seems fitting too).  This was all behind sound effects usually reserved for an ESPN boxing match.  You sort of half expected them to emerge in brightly colored satin boxing trunks while praying (even if you are an atheist) , please, if there is any taste left in the world, that they don’t.  Or perhaps like a line up of thoroughbred race horses,  with hooves, a bridle and a number on their backs – and praying (atheist or not), if there is any justice in the world, that they actually will.  Sadly, that didn’t happen either.

It’s all a hybrid of hype, but what is being hyped?  By all accounts – both politics and the Oscars are having a mundane year.  Is that all it is — the overall mundaness of the movies and the candidates?   Or do we simply not really care about any one competition when everything feels like it’s a contest?

The contests of today try to remind us of the public spectacle of the Roman times in the Coliseum when warriors would fight to the death.  As for the competitors of today – when you think about it – do any of them really lose?  The political candidates become lobbyists, consultants, book writers with huge advances or continue in government with upper middle class pensions and life long health benefits.  As for Oscar nominees – their price goes way up and so do the deals, meetings and offers.

In the end, as is often the case in times like these, there seem to be no real losers.  Except us.  The (or their) audience.  But of course, we’re not onstage.  We’re just paying, in more ways than one, and hoping to experience something through all of this that amounts to a real win.

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