Oscars Grandstanding: Since When are Celebs our Moral Compass?

For an awards ceremony that hosted its first political speaker back in 1973, when The Godfather star Marlon Brando sent Sacheen Littlefeather in his stead, the Oscars have certainly found their (left-wing) voice.  This past Sunday, 2018 Oscars host Jimmy Kimmel offered the ceremony’s signature statue as a model for the well-liked male: he “keeps his hands where you can see them, never says a rude word, and most importantly, has no penis at all.”  He went on to suggest, as a tip-of-the-hat to Guillermo del Toro’s film The Shape of Water, that 2018 would be known as “the year men screwed up so badly, women started dating fish.”  The quip was an obvious plug for the #MeToo movement, a grassroots campaign against sexual assault begun well before the outing of Harvey Weinstein, yet also managed to dismiss 50% of the box office’s viewing audience as screw-ups.  Kimmel continued his political grandstanding by lecturing on the gender pay gap, supporting gun control protesters, and the purpose of Oscar-winning movies as offending political figures rather than make money.  It was as if the late-night show host had forgotten his real audience: the viewers at home waiting to see whether this Hollywood self-empowerment session was really a celebration of outstanding films.

 In the end, until Hollywood accepts that viewers are done being subjected to its political ramrod, the Oscars will continue to decline, diminishing Kimmel’s favorite “platform” to an expensive echo chamber.

Kimmel’s suggestion that fellow celebrities see the Oscars as “a platform to remind millions of people about important things like equal rights and equal treatment” is telling.  The entertainment industry has long been involved in furthering its own moral and political agendas – that’s nothing new. As Ben Shapiro, editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire, notes in his video for Prager University, Hollywood is often a driver for significant cultural changes, from wider public acceptance of gay marriage to the election of a particular presidential candidate.  What is new, however, is the blatant assumption behind the #MeToo, #Time’sUp, and #GunControlNow movements: that Hollywood should be a major player in setting a moral standard.  “The world is watching us,” Kimmel reminded audiences, as if celebrities might forget that every breath they take is monitored and analyzed by popular culture. Yet the reason the world is watching isn’t to be coached on our political opinions or taken to task for sexual crimes we didn’t commit.  Oddly enough, we actually want to be entertained.

When Oscars ratings came in at a historical low, Kimmel was quick to blame Hollywood’s archenemy, Netflix, for the drop.  Yet clearly the movie industry isn’t dead; just a few weeks ago, “Black Panther” topped $200 million in a fantastic opening weekend, and years of box office domination by PG-PG-13 superheroes and Pixar flicks suggest the public is more than willing to leave the comfort of their homes for reasonably clean action and adventure.  If the Oscars are more committed to surviving the entertainment-streaming giant than upsetting conservative politicians, movie studios need to pay attention to where their bread and butter comes from. Rather than proselytizing leftist causes, entertainers need to get back in the business of reflecting viewer interests, aiming for humor that makes people laugh rather than titter confirmation for a political agenda.  No one’s going to forget that the likes of Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey came from celebrity ranks, or that despite #Time’sUp’s efforts, we still lack a standard definition of workplace harassment (resulting in bloated statistics and confusion of the movement’s purpose).  In the end, until Hollywood accepts that viewers are done being subjected to its political ramrod, the Oscars will continue to decline, diminishing Kimmel’s favorite “platform” to an expensive echo chamber.

Anna Horton is a guest writer for the Review, and can be reached at annajah@umich.edu.

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