Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Nationalism, Politics and Frivolity

The Oscars just blew into town, leaving nothing but despair and destruction in their wake. Apparently, Mexico and Kenya almost went to war over the nationality of Oscar winner and classiest new star since Audrey Hepburn, Lupita Nyong'o, a daughter of Kenyan diplomats who was born in Mexico and left at the age of one. Lupita gamely averted an international crisis by saying that she is Mexican-Kenyan or Kenyan-Mexican and she loves carne asada tacos and both countries equally.

Poor Alfonso Cuarón is first lambasted for not making films in Mexico, then treated like a national hero for winning a bunch of Oscars. National pride surges to an all time high, since his cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, is also Mexican. Some Mexicans consider the Poncho-Chivo-Lupita a Mexican axis of world domination. The last time this happened was when the Three Amigos (Del Toro, Cuarón and Iñárritu) all had nominated films.

Venezuelans bent on overthrowing their abject, incompetent, irrational, yet democratically elected government, organized a campaign asking Hollywood people to mention Venezuela's plight in their Oscar speeches. Apparently, Best Supporting Actor Jared Leto got the memo and mentioned, among other things, Venezuela, Ukraine, his mom, AIDS, etc. A lot of people liked his speech. I was not that impressed.
People who win Oscars are suddenly foisted upon a soapbox in front of a billion people, but they are still in a circus called Hollywood, not in the circus called the United Nations. Increasingly, I think they should stick to thanking their agents and costars and directors and moms. If they want to do something for world peace, they should do as Angelina Jolie and actually work it.
I know many Venezuelan friends will disagree with me on this one, but asking people who have nothing to do with that country to give it a political shout out at an entertainment ceremony is absurd. Why Venezuela and not Syria, where things are far more dire? Why not some war torn country in Africa? What makes Venezuela so special? The request is both disproportionate and inappropriate, as was the Venezuelan government's response delusional in the way that only ideologically perverse regimes can muster: they banned the Oscars. Reductio ad absurdum on both sides of the divide.
People have been trying to call the world's attention to sundry plights at the Oscars since Vanessa Redgrave lashed out against Zionism and Marlon Brando sent a Native American to retrieve his award. Except in very few instances when the issues are relevant to the films, broadcasting them from the winners' perch is misguided and frequently embarrassing.
And even when relevant, as in the case of 12 Years A Slave, it was rather jarring for Steve McQueen to mention that almost 30 million people are still slaves today, then jump around the stage like an overgrown schoolboy with his coveted Oscar. There is a tonal conflict at work. The possibility for gravitas is almost nil.
Bringing serious issues to the most frivolous event in the universe belittles and cheapens those issues. Unless the winners happen to be intelligent, articulate and self-possessed enough for impromptu eloquence, they all look like pompous asses trying to be something they're not when using their thirty seconds for some cause or another. Lupita Nyong'o did more against racism and for women with her poise and her refreshing lack of ego than any bombastic speechifying ever has.