Wednesday, March 15, 2006

 

Reason to wince

Annie Proulx is, er, not happy about the fact that Crash beat out Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture at the Oscars. (Via A&L Daily.) Of the two movies, I've only seen Crash, so I can't speak to the merits of the judges' decision. But I had a hard time finding Proulx's "rant" (her word, not mine) credible once she wrote this:
And rumour has it that Lions Gate inundated the academy voters with DVD copies of Trash - excuse me - Crash a few weeks before the ballot deadline. Next year we can look to the awards for controversial themes on the punishment of adulterers with a branding iron in the shape of the letter A, runaway slaves, and the debate over free silver.
There's the promised reason to wince: the suggestion that racism and the aftermath of slavery are "old news," as passé as Puritans and silverites. (One wonders, by the way, whether the public shaming of sinners or the dangers of free-wielding market capitalism are really old news either.) I have very little sympathy for the kind of argument that goes "your cause had its day in the sun, now it's time for mine." Often you hear this kind of rhetoric on the Right: witness the statements of Bush administration officials after Hurricane Katrina that racism was a troubled part of our history, statements which struck me as attempts to downplay Bush's handling of the New Orleans crisis as a peccadillo compared to the sins of the fathers.

But as Proulx demonstrates, you often also hear the whispered insinuation that we should just move on from the Left, although for a different reason. Progressives can sometimes fall prey to a rhetoric that serializes progress: first we dealt with slavery, then we dealt with racism, then we dealt with male chauvinism, now we deal with homophobia. That kind of point, even if made in jest, is usually ill-considered. It imagines that progress is a zero-sum game, that we can't deal with all of these evils at the same time, and it implies that old wounds are fully closed and no longer in need of our attention. The minute we begin to talk as if the principles of justice and equal treatment fall in and out of fashion like Oscar dresses or movies, we've begun to lose sight of the scope of those principles, not to mention the breathtaking amount of work that still needs to be done, on numerous fronts, to secure them.

But maybe I'm making too much of a rant. I do think Proulx makes a good point when she talks about the preference that Oscar voters tend to have for "mimicry, the conversion of a film actor into the spittin' image of a once-living celeb." I agree with her that it's worth honoring actors who invent characters with nothing but the raw material of words on a page. But to be fair, the Academy did honor such actors by choosing Crash, which has one of the best and most convincing ensemble casts I've ever seen, and which also has a subplot about a television producer who has an eye-opening collision with the entertainment world's demand for mimicry.


Collective Improvisation:
I think your assessment of this reaction (and I think it applies to many in a similar vein) is dead on. This:

a rhetoric that serializes progress

is really accurate.

I cannot speak for the merits of the actual films. W/2 little ones at home it is rare I get to see a movie unless the stars are digitally or otherwise animated. But I am really tired of this whole "sour grapes" tone of the post-Oscars discussion.

Posted by Anonymous Yvette on 3/16/2006 08:49:00 AM : Permalink  

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