Move Over, Gramps

I’m barely hanging on to middle age and by some measures I might have passed it.  So I can say this without impunity.

Old people that cling to power and long to bring us back to their glory days with quick or violent or exclusionary wars or “fixes” are doomed to failure.

We see it in 70-year-old Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s crazy train, unprovoked invasion of his Democratic neighbor, Ukraine, this week.  A last-ditch attempt to topple a free country and force it to unwillingly abdicate its freedoms in order to become a part of his planned Old/New Soviet Union.

Here we go…

We feel it in 66-year-old Sen. Lindsey Graham’s hysterical mid-week tweet proclaiming the nomination of the first Black female to the U.S. Supreme Court, Ketanji Brown Jackson, a woman he enthusiastically voted into a federal judgeship two years ago, now means the radical left has won.

And we can even notice it in the decision of the Motion Picture Academy and ABC to suddenly cut EIGHT Academy award categories (Note: A full one-third) from being handed out live during its Oscar telecast, an anxious Hail Mary pass to somehow reclaim the big money, outsized ratings and audience of its pre-streaming, pre-pandemic past.

None of it will work or ultimately change anything in their favor.

You got that right

Because nothing can bring something old to heel like the massive power unleashed by a series of unfavorable tweets, videos and interconnected social commitments calling out all the unjust, desperate wrong-headed moves by the old-guard powers-that-be.

Recent history has shown us this with everything from the Vietnam anti-War movement of the sixties, to the fall of the Berlin Wall in the eighties and, now, to the current Black Lives Matter movement.

The supercharged comingling of actions and thought that technology and social media has wrought has especially helped most recently.  A young person actually filmed George Floyd being murdered and that one horrifying post gave birth to thousands of others until the break towards justice became inevitable, if still all too slowly undeniable.

Remember this when it feels long

See, it’s not that our ancestors didn’t organize well back in the olden days.  It’s more that they didn’t have the means to begin to topple their oppressors using their virtual powers in the name of justice with such dizzying speed.

And no, the revolution has nowhere near concluded.   In so many ways that we right now can’t possibly see, it’s only just beginning.

As the world closes in on Russia, freezing its assets and access, Putin thus far remains seemingly steadfast in leveling to the ground the very country he is trying to take over.

He may have sent in 150,000 troops (approximately one-third of Russia’s heavily armed forces) but he didn’t count on the massive resistance of a young country of approximately 44 million led by a feisty leader almost half his age who used to be an actor – and a really good one (Note: As opposed to an aging real life Bond super villain).

Won’t back down

Meaning, it’s really hard to convince the world you’re trying to topple a neo-Nazi regime when that much younger than you president is Jewish, handsome and posts daily videos from his war-torn streets proclaiming he and his cabinet will never surrender or leave and that every Ukrainian who wants a gun will be given a government supplied military style weapon to defend themselves.

Certainly you can wipe out thousands of Ukrainian soldiers in traditional warfare, but what do you do when millions more citizens keep springing up from all sides armed from not only their country but the growing majority of countries left in the global community? 

The horrific story that stood out most to me this week on social media was the one about the 13 Ukrainian border guards stationed on the country’s 40 mile Snake Island, who died defending it and will now all be awarded the country’s highest military honor, Hero Of Ukraine, by Pres. Zelensky.

As an invading Russian vessel approached that tranquil island, a voice bellowed:

This is a Russian warship.  I ask you to lay down your arms and surrender to avoid bloodshed and unnecessary deaths.  Otherwise you will be bombed.

To which the Ukrainian soldiers responded, after a brief pause:

!!!

It’s not that I know for sure the thousands and thousands of young people, old people, middle aged people and very elderly people I have since seen on Twitter and Instagram pointing, holding and aiming military style government supplied weapons are all a direct result of this now viral story.

It’s that I’m not even barely convinced, not one scintilla, that it is NOT related.  Or that it isn’t indicative of something a lot larger.

The whole world is watching

When educated young people especially are forced into hiding below ground on subway platforms and in bomb shelters, watching pregnant women give birth and premature neo-natal care units trying to revive infants struggling to breathe with makeshift respirators to the intermittent sounds of bombs, the actions of one short, withering 70 year old billionaire madman isn’t quite the deterrent he believes it is.

As a college professor I remind myself weekly, and can reliably tell you, that when you’re in your twenties you don’t have logic.  What you have is passion.  And anger.  The energy to act no matter what may happen with the belief it will only happen your way.  #UkraineLives

Meanwhile, here in the United States we sit as the majority of Republicans in Congress have predetermined they will not vote for the first female Black nominee to the US Supreme Court. 

We needn’t go through Justice Jackson’s decades old, top drawer resume – from former Supreme Court clerk to the Justice she’s replacing – Stephen Breyer – to prestigious legal defender of the downtrodden – to esteemed judge on the state and federal court level.

What much of their current objections really come down to is the fact that a little over two years ago this woman, then merely in her late forties, had the temerity to rule against seventy something Pres. Donald Trump and his legal team in their plea to ignore multiple subpoenas from Congress to answer the more than many questionable goings-on in his White House.

In a 188-page ruling that agreed with every previous court opinion on the subject, Justice Jackson noted that Presidents aren’t kings, and that this one’s closest advisors had no right to ignore the concerns of another co-equal branch of government under our Constitution under the guise of executive privilege.

Yes!

Though, well,  it also didn’t help that this judge was Black.  And female. 

Nevertheless, it’s not hard to imagine the late Ruth Bader Ginsberg smiling from the Great Beyond when this new Justice is sworn in some months from now.  When asked after her own confirmation at what point there would be enough women on the nine-member U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Ginsberg simply and famously replied:

When there are nine.

Which brings us, in quite a strange way, to the Oscars.

Chair takin’ us on a roller coaster ride today!

Here’s the thing. 

Do you know how many people tuned in to see the finale of the TV series M*A*S*H in pre-streaming, pre-cable 1983?

105.9 million.

That’s a huge number that nothing can reach these days.  Not even the 2021 Super Bowl, which topped that year’s ratings at 92.8 million.  And not the AFC Championship game, the #2 show that year at 42.5 million.

But do you know what show didn’t even make the list of the top 100 TV broadcasts in 2021? 

The OSCARS. 

Yep, we all know it

Its ratings cratered and didn’t even come close, at 9.85 million.  That was a gigantic drop-off from the 23.6 million that tuned in the year before. Forget about the 48 million who watched the Oscars in 1983 AND may or may not have watched the M*A*S*H finale..

Nevertheless, cutting the live presentation of awards for best editor, production design, short films, makeup and hairstyling, musical score and sound from live TV in favor of god knows what kind of comedy sketch, song and dance, or flat, feeble attempt at an Insta/TikTok moment of relevance from a bunch of people over fifty or sixty or beyond, won’t bring this year’s 94th Oscars back to 1983, or even 2020 levels.

That’s what the kids say… right?

The fact is, 2021’s best picture winner, Nomadland, was about half as exciting as the 2020 winner, Parasite.  And this year’s battle between The Power of the Dog and Drive My Car, will probably be that much less, well….spellbinding.

Yet when Black Panther was in the running in 2019, 29.6 million people were miraculously watching. 

Hmmmmmm.

Though QUESTION: Can anyone think of perhaps ONE other reason for all that viewership in 2019 (and further back) aside from Black Panther?  ANSWER:

……….THERE WAS NO GLOBAL PANDEMIC AND WE WERE ALL ACTUALLY GOING OUT…TO SEE MOST MOVIES…IN MOVIE THEATRES………..

Oh right… that

What the Oscar producers and ABC fail to see is that time has marched on.  They might not like the facts of this pandemic, of movies debuting on streaming platforms or even the subject matter of the many nominated films, but that is what 2022 has wrought.

So instead of penalizing that young or middle aged person who has worked like hell and actually gotten even a short film off the ground that could speak to an international audience, perhaps they could figure out a way to get….creative…and given them a moment or a shot?

Embrace the unplanned, the glamour, the irony, the history and the reality of these filmmaking times. 

Nope… this is better

Because nothing turns off younger people more than older people or organizations trying to pretend they’re hip and young.

This is why in a classroom of college students I never attempt to act like I truly understand how to navigate our widescreen television from HDM1 to a streaming platform to DVD (Note: The latter a giveaway) and back again without severe anxiety.

Instead, I simply embrace the obvious, make jokes about myself while I’m struggling before them and then, very likely, grovel and beg for their help.

How to admit you’re old without having to say you’re old

They appreciate anything and anyone older than them admitting they don’t know everything and are not necessarily superior simply because they have lived longer and are less supple.

Moreover, they really like it when those in command willingly give in some to generational change instead of turning away or silencing the voices of those less powerful and far more…taut.

Sheryl Crow – “A Change Would Do You Good”

Oscars So… Popular?

The now Oscar-winning Avengers: Infinity War was being touted as the new gold standard of how art meets commerce among many industry executives backstage..

Hangover 4 rebooted the entire franchise with its recent Oscar win and Warner Bros. is now talking multi-episode story arcs along the lines of Star Wars as Bradley Cooper circles a revamped multi-pic deal with the studio through his freshly-minted Wall Street-backed production company as director-producer-star…

Of course, THE viral moment of ANY Academy Awards ceremony occurred back in in 2019 when seven-time Oscar nominee Glenn Close, finally a winner for that year’s The Wife, was forced to pick up her trophy during a commercial break in a filmed off-camera segment and tersely growled I’m not going to be ignored! – an oft-quoted line from her box-office hit Fatal Attraction – before justifiably storming offstage and out the doors of the Dolby Theatre…

Oh yes, it can happen. And more.

Don’t toy with me, Chairy

This week the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences announced without warning to its 6000 plus membership – and us – that its Board of Governors voted for some noteworthy changes to future Oscar ceremonies that include:

1- The addition of a new Oscar for Best Popular Film.

2 – The presentation of some Oscars off-camera (who knows, it may even be backstage)…during commercial breaks…in categories to be determined

3- An earlier airdate from late February to early February.

This is certainly not an emergency situation given what is going on in the world at the moment. Still, if you’re an inveterate Oscar watcher – whether as cheerleader or snide, smack-talking comment-maker – it is one more assault on one more of the dependable and seemingly scarce growing pleasures left on the planet Earth.

but for real… when does it end?

It seems that millions and billions of dollars in profit should be enough, doesn’t it?   No. Michelin will soon be awarding 4 or 5 stars to the top McDonald’s franchise, People Magazine will no doubt be forced into doing a Sexiest Armadillo Alive issue for disenfranchised pet lovers and the Nobel Peace Prize for Best Villain Whose War Was Prevented by a Treaty of Nations could most conceivably and likely be awarded to our current sitting American president at some future date he deems to his own liking by way of Oval Office pressure privately applied.

The latter analogy is apt because changes by organizations like the Motion Picture Academy don’t just happen, even when they seem to be doing so. That’s like believing the mere election of a Person of Color as a U.S. president created the corrupt crop of American racism aka Nationalism that is sweeping the country. It pays attention only to the mere tipping point without acknowledging the tides of this nature that have been sweeping and swirling about for decades, if not centuries.

ABC-Disney broadcasts the Oscars and the show’s ratings have been steadily declining in recent years. In fact, last year they dropped a whopping 19% to an all-time low of 26.5 million viewers, marking the first time in 10 years they registered at less than 30 million.

Big Bang Theory has the highest weekly ratings on TV with approx. 18 million viewers per week. #PERSPECTIVE #embarrassmentofriches

This means that even though The Shape of Water was a genre film and more popular than the previous year’s indie best picture winner, Moonlight, it didn’t seem to matter. In fact, research over the last few decades showed the only times the ratings could be counted on to seriously tick up was when blockbuster grossing films like Avatar or Lord of the Rings were in serious contention.

Nevermind the general decrease in television ratings among younger demographics and the competition of online and streaming entertainment. Something had to be done.

The urgency of this can be certainly be attributed to commerce. Networks justifiably do not like to lose money, especially when we keep being reminded of how well the economy is doing.

But…well…there is something about these changes that smell a little to those with a sensitive sniffer – or who are just sensitive (Note: Which used to be the euphemism used for all artists, not to mention the gays and lesbians among and outside them).

See, Disney – that is half of ABC-Disney, in case this is becoming too complicated – is also the distributor and defacto partial financier of all Marvel Films. That’s pretty much the majority of all the Oscar overlooked superhero hopefuls.

So yeah.. basically this.

It’s also the distributor and defacto partial financier of all Pixar Films. That’s pretty much the majority of all of the Oscar overlooked animated films before the installation of the best animated Oscar category in 2002.

Not to mention, it also distributes and serves as the defacto partial financier of all the Star Wars/Lucasfilm movies.

These are all very POPULAR FILMS. In fact, consistently among the MOST POPULAR. Though certainly they are not among the biggest Oscar winners. And often they are…gasp…not even in contention.

Well… except for Best Visual Effects

As a person with year-round season allergies, even I CAN SMELL something rotten here in Hollywood beyond the phony Donald J. Trump Walk of Fame stars some right wing conservative group pasted directly onto the streets last week.

BARF

We seem to be living in a world where money is not enough and massive amounts of fame proves to be inadequate for the insatiable. The next bastion seems to be legitimacy in the form of some type of higher class of award or recognition usually reserved for the artistic and/or intellectual.

Next, we resurrect Edward G. Robinson to give away the award for best false idol

Of course it’s impossible to argue at this point that all Oscars are consistently high class, intellectual or even the most artistic. Yet if over the years you compare the winners to the Golden Globes, People’s Choice and MTV…well, our standards are our standards.

Yet somewhere it has now been decided that the producer/director of a short film or documentary who did something brilliant and/or original (and is likely maxed out on their credit cards) doesn’t deserve that kind of international attention for artistic achievement, especially if it can be given to someone the world is already familiar with.

Sort of like an American president pushing the president of a tiny country – say, Montenegro – out of the way in order to get one more photo op to add to the many millions accrued previously or to be added in the future.

There is no known cure

Never mind the fact that all outstanding leaders in their fields deserve some attention, even those of more modest means, in those rare moments when the spotlight happens to turn on them.

The more categories included, i.e. the more awards given, the more diluted and less prestigious any honor will become. This is one reason why the Oscars has managed to maintain whatever star quality and specialness it has left – it limited itself to 24 categories, eliminating some others while adding a few more over time.

Then, some years ago, when ego and commerce and the omission of a best picture nominee like Dark Knight dictated – rules were changed to include up to TEN best picture nominees – with hope for some more superhero or at least commercial inclusion, if not winners.

because all movies are the same…. right?

When that didn’t work…well…now there’s the popular film – dragging along all the other Oscars along with it so they can be awarded TWO OR THREE WEEKS earlier in hopes they can at least capitalize on some additional amorphous awards buzz along with everyone else. Forgetting entirely that sometimes you want to stand out from a group instead of delivering a cheap imitation of what everyone else has already grown so used to.

This kind of strategy slowly makes irrelevant not only a date of broadcast but the very awards themselves.   Much like a bad leader can do to any organization, corporate leader or country.

Wicked Cast – “Popular”