Bestness and bullshit and the Oscars

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So, the Oscars. There’s a fundamental problem with the Academy Awards, and that fundamental problem is that they are total bullshit. There is no sense—none—in which it makes sense to identify a Best Picture or a Best Performance for the year in film. There just isn’t. There’s just what the Academy chooses to honor. We know that, but at the same time, that honor is a competition, and when the Academy chooses to honor one thing and not another, it is, but in wording and in essence, saying that this thing is the Best, and it is Better than the other things. Even in sports, it’s not clear that the Champion is in some reasonable sense the Best, but in film? It’s bullshit. We know it’s bullshit, and it is bullshit. I mean, if Lupita Nyong'o was the Best Supporting Actress in 2013, was she better or worse than Penelope Cruz in 2008? The question is bullshit, and we don't even ask it.

That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t give out Oscars! I love the Oscars. They're great fun. And there’s nothing wrong with picking a performance or a film and saying This was great! We want to make sure people have a chance to see this! There isn't anything wrong with them saying, in effect, that they have limited ability to draw people's attention, so they have to pick a few performances to do that with, and they've decided on these. They may not be the best, but they're damn' good and that's reason enough to give those actors a little gold statuette and the attention of a billion people for a few minutes. They already changed the verbiage (instead of the winner is they say the Oscar goes to in order to, um, something) so it's not as if there's a problem there.

Why is this bullshit problem linked to the #oscarssowhite problem? This is of course just Your Humble Blogger's angle on it, but it seems to me that the problem is that people both inside and outside of the Academy somehow believe the bullshit, or pretend to themselves that they believe it, that the twenty nominated performances are the best twenty performances of the year. And if they are, in any sense the best, then (a) sure, it could happen in any particular year that those particular performances were given by white actors, either by coincidence or because of systemic differences in opportunity, and (2) you can't do anything about it without rigging the nominations to keep a deserving nominee from getting their deserved nomination. In truth of course, it's all bullshit, and they are just picking twenty really good performances to draw attention to, and they could easily ditch every single nominated performance and replace them with new nominations, and get a perfectly good cohort of nominees.

Digression: I could swear that at some point I wrote on this Tohu Bohu about the idea (which come to me only a few years ago) that if one year the entire freshman class of Harvard (f'r'ex) were at the last moment not to matriculate (being, perhaps, bodily assumed into heaven, or put up against the wall and shot, or something along those lines) the University could easily just admit the next two thousand people on the list and no-one would be able to tell the difference. Not the faculty, not the staff, not the eventual putative employers or investors. Applicants numbers 2,001 through 3,999 are distinguishable from those in that top rank only by the admissions office, and then only because they have to choose. That's pretty much obvious, right? And this applies to a large number of things—it's not entirely true of community theater casts, but it's more true than you would think. It's true for party primaries. It's true for many hiring searches, including every one I've ever been involved with. It's not true for, you know, marriages, or friendships, but those are different. End Digression.

If we all admitted that there are a dozen or more performances in each category that are terrific and worth paying attention to, and that it's only the exigencies of the awards event that require a short list, then, I think, we could more easily adjust to the notion that we should keep a special eye out for non-White, non-Anglophone performers. After all, those are the ones that casual filmgoers are most likely to miss. And we could stop talking about how somebody got robbed. Nobody is taking those honors away from anyone. Yes, somebody is sixth in the voting, or seventh, or tenth, but so fucking what? Nobody thinks it's the tenth-best performance. It's a great performance, is what it is, so awesome.

See, it's astonishing to me that Angela Bassett didn't get nominated for her supporting performance in Chi-Raq. Not because it's a great performance, which it really, really is, but because if you were The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and you had eaten shit last year over twenty-out-of-twenty white acting nominations for 2014, you would naturally, I think, look to see whether Angela Bassett had been in any films in 2015. And she was! And she was terrific! So put her on the list! But no, I suspect that many individual voters got caught up in wondering whether it was a better performance than Kate Winslet's or Alicia Vikander's. Was it better? That's a bullshit question! The question is was it great? It was great. They were all great. We know that there are many more great performances than nominations, and if we leave behind the bullshit about ranking them, we can decide to include a few great performances that aren't by white American and English actors without panicking about robbing anyone.

And when we choose not to draw attention to any of those great performances by actors who aren't white and American or English (or occasionally Australian) we can understand what it means and why it's insulting and mean-spirited. Right?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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