The Oscars — a fitting celebration for a vulgar culture


Old Hollywood, which was owned and operated by foreign-born or first generation European Jews had aspirations. What may surprise some is that these aspirations did not usually include Art (note that capital “A”).

The aspirations — or the absence of low behavior — came about in part because of the Hayes Code and the Catholic League, both of which insisted that Hollywood movies refrain from sullying innocent youth and womanhood. This meant that movies were clean or, if they weren’t as clean as one would wish, the vulgarity was subtle or the bad girl either died or repented at the end.

Because Art since the beginning of the 20th century seems to require human degradation, it was hard for Code-bound Hollywood to head in that direction. These proscriptions, of course, were gone by the late 1960s, which meant that both middle-aged and modern Hollywood leapt upon the opportunity to plumb the depths of depravity.

But it’s too simplistic to say that Old Hollywood controlled itself solely because of the Codes. These newly wealthy immigrants also wanted to belong to the country clubs. They wanted to have social polish. They wanted people to admire how far they’d come and the best way to do that was to ape the classy, high-society manners they portrayed in their own films.

Being human, few of them could live up to their own standards, but they certainly tried. And when they or their stars deviated from these “classy” standards, they had legions of employees whose sole purpose was to keep these forays into vulgarity out of the public’s eye.

The Oscars used to reflect these aspirations. They weren’t interesting, but they were upright. Bob Hope made his clean jokes, the stars wore their fancy clothes (which used to be G-rated too), and the entertainment segments weren’t particularly entertaining, but they weren’t offensive either.

This year’s Oscar show would have appalled the Louis B. Mayers, Samuel Goldwyns, and Bob Hopes. Seth MacFarlane looked like a clean-cut, 1950s boy-next-door type, and his jokes (including the shtick with William Shatner) were as unfunny as Oscar jokes always are, but that’s the only thing the show had in common with the old days. This opened as a tawdry, vulgar, nasty, mean-spirited production (including a paean to various actresses “boobs”), made worse by being broadcast during the family hour throughout large parts of America.

I have to admit that I don’t know whether the show managed to rise up slightly after the first half-hour or if it sank even lower (assuming that was possible). I would have walked out in any event because I was bored. Instead, I double-timed out, because I was both bored and disgusted. Old Hollywood would have applauded me.

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  • Mike

    Didn’t even bother to watch it and haven’t watched the paean to the Oscars in years. And that won’t change in future years. More than half the stuff is crap anyway. Not even decent entertainment like the old,old days.The 50’s was their zenith and it’s long past now.

  • expat

    I didn’t watch, but I just read that Michelle Obama presented the best film award. She just loves our vulgar culture, and she fits right in.


    Self-indulgent ego maniacs throw a four-hour (so I’ve heard didn’t watch) soiree for themselves and then have the audacity to foist upon the public as a ceremony.
    A paean to boobs. How fitting – they’re all boobs!

  • zombie

    Not only did I not watch — I didn’t even know it was on.
    That’s the kind of freedom one gets from not watching television: you don’t even have to keep tabs on what’s happening in popular culture. Ahhhhhh, what a relief.
    I confess that I do own a television, but 98% of its use is simply as a “monitor” on which I watch films checked out of the library (mostly classics, foreign and indie).
    On the very rare times I do watch it as a TV, it is to watch one of two things:
    – The local news (usually Channel 2 KTVU, for some reason) to see what happened with some localized news event I witnessed (or thought I witnessed); or
    – In weak moments of unadulterated self-indulgence, to watch Lost in Space on channel 20.2 for one hour once a week. It’s my last remnant of that terrible hipster affliction, postmodern ironic fandom. Do I watch Lost in Space because I like to mock and smirk at kitsch and bad special effects? Do I watch it because it’s “so bad it’s good”? Or do I watch it because I sincerely enjoy it as an unrecognized masterpiece far ahead of its time? I’m forced to give the despicable hipster answer: I don’t even know any more. God, I hate myself sometimes.
    What’s this got to do with the Oscars? Nothing. I just went off on a sidetrack because I lost track of what I was talking about. God, I hate myself sometimes.
    Ah, OK, Oscars, Hollywood, bunch of nihilistic commies who are simultaneously hypocritical elitist millionaires. Everything they’ve done since Midnight Cowboy is intentionally designed to corrupt Western culture. We all know the drill.

  • bizcor

    I saw one film this year. Clint Eastwood’s “Trouble With the Curve”. I enjoy baseball, have always been an Eastwood fan, and support of the “Empty Chair” speech.

  • Bookworm

    I saw Argo, which was pretty good, and walked out on Lincoln, which I found dull and self-important.  I should add here that I’ve never managed to sit through a Spielberg film.  I do not like his directorly sensibility.

    As for TV, I loved it as a kid but, as an adult, I view it solely as a vehicle for watching old movies via TCM.  My family, however, adores television, so I often find myself dragged down to the TV room for “family time.”  If I don’t fall asleep instantly or walk out eventually, they consider it good.

  • Caped Crusader

    Haven’t seen Oscars in over 30 years. I think I remember Deborah Kerr presenting an Oscar.
    TCM RULES !! Even people like Ted Turner do some things right.
    Another mystery to me is what people today see in basketball, which is a sport originally invented by Dr. Naismith, so short men (under 6 feet) could toss a ball high into the air and see if they could get it to come down (through the rafters in the old gyms and through the hoops). In fact I learned on a history of the NBA show that Jewish men under 6 feet were the dominant players in the original days of the NBA. I had always wondered why Jews had such a fondness for basketball. No skill or mystery why abnormal humans well over 7 feet tall can jump up high and throw the ball DOWN through the hoop — there’s no skill or mystery there! This will SHOCK most of you, for I old enough to remember the first time I actually saw a player jump up off the floor to shot the ball with ONE hand no less– shocked the entire crowd. Got to see the original Kentucky Fabulous Five in the 1940’s coached by the great Adolph Rupp. All American guard Ralph Beard could barely enter the center line and fire a two handed, both feet on the floor, set shot and whoosh the net, not touching the rim — that’s skill and worth going to see!

  • lee

    I quit watching the Oscars way back when, when it dawned on me that no Hollywood-ite was showing up to the awards for my profession, that none of them were remotely interested in who was getting what award for which work in my profession. I guess when they start showing some interest in MY work, I will show a little more interest in theirs.


    The envelope please…<STRIKE> Pass me a bucket, I wanna puke. expat had the scoop (post #2).
    Michelle Obama part of Harvey Weinstein deal that didn’t quite work out.

  • Ron19

    Seconds to Lee.

  • Mike Devx

    Didn’t watch.  But I did look up the results on the web after midnight, because I am a movies fan.  And I am always fascinated by Hollywood’s continued snubbing of Spielberg.  His entertainment movies entertain.  His political movies are reliably leftist in viewpoint liberal, fitting perfectly into the Hollywood zeitgeist.  You’d think they’d love him.   If any “insiders” here have any insider info on Hollywood’s dislike for Spielberg, enlighten me!
    Book, you never made it through ‘Schindler’s List’?  I was mesmerized by that one when I saw it opening night that year.  I thought Spielberg did a masterful job on that one (only after I saw it at the theater many times was I able to admit that even that one had a number of facile, too-shallow Spielbergian touches that detracted from the movie).  The scriptwriter for Schindler’s List was truly excellent, as was cinematography.
    And then we get Michelle Obama presenting the evening’s most important award, Best Picture.  I read that headline, saw a picture of her video image domination within the Academy hall, and was instantly reminded of Eva Peron.  And then a few seconds later, images swam into my mind of Iraq streets, with endless statues of Saddam, and paintings of Saddam.  And from there to Lenin, everywhere they would look as they drove or walked through Mother Russia.
    The Cult of Personality!  Obama here, Obama there, Obama Obama everywhere.
    Will we ever be able to escape the presence of the Obamas?  Even after 2016 rolls around, and Obama moves off to the United Nations, will we be able to escape them?  Will the media and Hollywood let us escape them?

  • jj

    TV’s always on in the background – always.  It rarely has our full, or even the lion’s share, of our attention, it’s generally competing with books, laptops, etc. – but it’s always on.  We’re news junkies, and television is a prominent piece of both our backgrounds.  Don’t watch “prime time” (wonderful phrase, makes you wonder why you bother to be awake the rest of the day), on the networks, Fox News is generally on until 9:00, after which Hannity drives us to a movie.  (I can take limited doses of Sean, even as background noise.)  Generally when either of us notices we’re listening to him, around 9:15 or so – shows you how much attention we’re paying – it’s movie time.  The new shows we do sample are usually those to which there’s some connection: we watch Go On more or less regularly because we both know and like Matt Perry; I can stomach a little of The New Normal now and then because Ellen Barkin is an old pal and one-time neighbor (and because she threatens you if you don’t promise to at least sample her new endeavor); and we occasionally watch Veep because Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the Iron Butterfly once stole a bus at a network meeting in Baltimore and were side-by-side on their backs on top of a bar having shots poured into them when the cops came in to inquire about the bus.  As the guy pouring the shots into them was a scion of the DuPonts, and it was Baltimore, and the president of the network offered to buy the irate driver a new bus to shut him up – and could effortlessly have done so – it turned out not to be a problem.  (Long story – like most of them.  But I admit, I had been unaware my spouse could drive a bus.  Through city traffic.  In heels.)
    So we watched the awards last night with some friends from the east coast, who were all ready to go to bed after the show until they realized it was only 9:15, not nearly as late as they’re accustomed to.
    Thoughts about the show.  My review.  Even with Shatner to help, Seth got off to a horrid start – above which he never rose.  It was awful, but then it’s always pretty awful.  This is because of the way the “Academy” (what a notion, there’s an academy!) views the hosts to which they have access these days.  The last hosts they actually trusted were Hope, Carson, and Crystal.  Everybody else scares them, so they write every word for them and try to tailor it to the personality.  This works about as well as you’d expect.  Hope and Carson brooked little interference, used their own writers, and, if you recall, were (this is important) at their best when bombing.  They were very, very good – both of them – at rescuing a disaster and turning it to gold.  They – and Billy Crystal – also worked the show non-stop, so a lot of the references as you went along were to the events of half an hour previous.  Crystal was quick, and pretty trustworthy, so he worked well, but when Hope or Carson walked out on stage, everybody relaxed and leaned back, secure nothing bad would happen, and there’d even be some fun.  Crystal was next-most reliable.
    People ask how come they don’t give it to Robin Williams – they did once, he had plenty of co-hosts (read: “people ready with nets”) and even so it was ulcer-inducing.  You can’t trust him, you don’t know what he’ll say – neither does he – so you don’t go there.  The natural for the job would be Leno: he’s a relaxing presence, and utterly reliable – but he won’t do it.  He’s been offered the gig on more than one occasion, but turned it down, primarily because they won’t let him have control.  (His own writers, his own script – all the stuff Hope and Carson got.)  He isn’t going to put himself into other people’s hands, so the answer is no.
    Part of the reason the show was cringe-inducing was the producers were terribly miscast, and totally shameless.  Craig Zadan and Neil Meron decided that the theme of the show would be a celebration of the last decade’s great musicals.  Name two.  They were – I bet you couldn’t guess this – the producers of Chicago back in 2003 (the beginning of their notional decade) so – for reasons no one who didn’t know that (i.e., four fifths of the country) could guess – we were treated to a plug after plug for, and a reprise of Chicago last night, and Seth even mentioned, ex cathedra, what geniuses Zadan and Meron are.  This is the Academy Awards, boys – not the Tonys, and not an ad for you.  (And your NBC venture, Smash, is a BOMB!)
    The other big moment was the 50th anniversary of the Bond films, which featured a tribute that looked as though it had been cut together by a grenade.  Made no sense.  It was also chopped off in the middle, because they were pretty sure they’d have all the Bonds on stage.  And they would have, too, if Connery and Brosnan didn’t hate the Brocoli family/operation for – in their view – robbing them, and both refused to have anything to do with Bond, ever.  This left kind of a hole in the celebration, so skip the appearance by the Bonds and cut to 76 year old Shirley Bassey trying to get her voice on top of “Goldfinger.”  She got a standing O for trying – and deserved it.
    In Memoriam – thank God they gave up trying to synchronize a live singer to the film of the departed.  Streisand came out and did “Memories” as a tribute to Marvin Hamlisch.  Excuse me, and I apologize to the audiophiles for saying it, but Marvin was not remotely the biggest gun who fell silent last year.  Not remotely.  And you always forget somebody, but the forgotten shouldn’t be as obvious as Harry Carey Jr., Anne Rutherford, and Andy Griffith for Chrissake!  Or Lupe Ontiveros.  Or Alex Karras.  You want to see a good memorial, watch “TCM Remembers.”  They’re a goddam TV station – and they’re a hundred times better than you are, Academy.  A thousand times.  They look like they care.
    The mention of the Governor’s Award (the actual award’s in the fall) brought forth a strange sound, way off in the distance.  Then we realized it was the sound of thousands of Disney and Dreamworks employees laughing to the point of vomiting at the notion of Katzenberg being named a humanitarian.  All these years there have been plenty of names for him, but that one never occurred to anybody.
    Either there are a lot of people in Hollywood smarter and better educated in history than we think there are who resented the nonsense and untruth Lincoln has promulgated that they didn’t vote for it as Best… nah – that’s not it.  Everybody’s just jealous of and hates Spielberg, that’s all.  That’s where it lives.  They didn’t, and will never, know the “history’s” dreck, they just hate him.  And Affleck whined so much about not being nominated for director they just said: “Jesus, he won’t shut up – can we give him something?  Please?  To shut him up?”  So they did: Best Picture to Argo.  With what it was up against it probably deserved it. 
    See what you missed?  All you elitists who don’t watch the goggle-box!

  • Charles Martel

    jj, I want you to know that I just finished reading your comments to my wife. I told her about your background in the business, which, when combined with your writing chops and often acerbic take on things, always makes for a memorable read. She quite agrees.

  • Ymarsakar

    If Satan was terraforming his future throne… this would look something like that.

  • Oldflyer

    I had a choice; watch the Oscars or go watch my 49 year old daughter play  with her “over 30” soccer team.  I loved to watch her  play when she 16, and I still do.  They enjoyed a rare win last night.
    We seldom go to the movies because I am such a Curmudgeon about them; but my wife enjoys them and I have a standing commitment to take her if she really wants to go.  She  wanted to see ARGO for some time, so given the results last night, I felt really obligated to make it happen today.
    Damn.  Parts of the movie were very good.  But, they had to get the Leftist licks in at the beginning, and that turned me off a bit from the start.  Then there was the language.   I have a dirty mouth in certain situations, but I control itl in polite company.   It is what I used to call “ready room language”, or maybe “drunk as a skunk” language.  Still, nothing turns me off faster than gratuitous F bombs in so-called entertainment (or in teens Facebook posts, etc.).   What is the point?  Is this supposed to tell us that the speaker so important and powerful she/he can talk garbage anywhere and anytime , regardless of the audience?  Is it meant to show that they are really serious?  There are times when some artful profanity would demonstrate how extreme the situation is, and modern sensibilities are prepared to accept that.  The verbiage in this movie had no artistic context or justification.  
    Oh, the scenes of the airliner flying into Tehran, and then the take off and departure scene were about as phony as they could be. 
    The Afleck character was likable, and I thought he did a credible job of portraying him.  Too bad they finished offf with a self serving  cameo statement by Jimmah Carter, rather than an appearance by the real John  Mendes.
    End of review.

  • beefrank

    Your description about Hollywood is right on.  As most baby boomers, I grew up influenced by the ‘magic’ of Hollywood and awed by the its glitter and larger-than-life personalities.  However, a childhood visit to Universal Studios revealed how manufactured and fake the ‘magic’ was.  You mean sets were built to emphasize or diminish actors’ heights?  Everything was a ‘prop’?  I grew up favoring ‘period’ films for the simple storytelling rather than some of the celebrated ‘message’ films during the 70s. After reading ‘An Empire of Their Own’ and discovering the Oscar event  simply started as a dinner event where a handful of power brokers feigned praise for one another, my interest in the award event waned.  The idolatrous attention to ‘celebrities’ is obscene and contaminates our political process.  My favorite film is still one my parents took me to view when I was twelve in a San Francisco neighborhood theater, Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, the original 3+ hour version.

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