Oscars 2019: Culture of Consensus

All you need to know about the state of publicity today is that the 2019 Oscars ceremony, the hottest gig there is, did not have a host, most likely because no one wanted the hassle.

And it’s not the Academy’s particular fault. The global equilibrium of self-promotion vs. self-censorship seems to have reached a screeching deadlock somewhere in the outer layers of our stratosphere, taking all the creative oxygen out of any public concept. We’re now left with a collective void that can only produce mediocrity, because no art ever was made good by committee. Same thing with the art of speech.

Where am I going with this?

Last night’s Oscars ceremony. Made by consensus. So terrified it was of causing offence (to whom?), so intent to be on message (what message?), so desperate to convey the spirit of the times (which spirit?), it was literally the first ceremony I’ve seen that froze from stage fright on-screen. As an entity.

Not only was it bland in its display of pomp, a place where it naturally excels, it came up with a strange combo of award-winners – a direct consequence of having the nominations picked as if by some absurdist software.

Everything about the ceremony lacked conceptual spine, or even any evidence of taste and choice of the voting members – a clear spectrum in tone and politics would have shined through, or at least, some strong industry favourites – all of that was missing, just like its ghost host.

The only real whiff of flesh & bone was delivered by people who got high art & not much they can lose. Like Lady Gaga‘s performance (NB with Bradley Cooper), Ruth E. Carter‘s momentum, Alfonso Cuarón‘s simplicity, or Olivia Colman‘s grace – even Julia Roberts‘s wry wrap up. There were some excellent filmmakers that got to have their word in edgewise,  but all of this random brilliance got engulfed by the massive broad stroke.

One thing stunned me most – the Academy got the diversity right, finally – but that was done almost by numbers, and the best of the best in film art, other than the esteemed few, didn’t get in. I’m thinking Lynne Ramsay, Steve McQueen, Debra Granik, Karyn Kusama… Take your sweet pick. Offering a bit of nuance in there, some depth, a dilemma, bold choices.

Award-shows are in many ways conceptual art with an eye on the popular – they need to be, as our brains naturally understand patterns. This one offered a vacant new model for vacant new times – a broadcasting blank slate, a ‘no concept’: just think of us what you will, but mildly please, and don’t get outraged on social.

The thing is, outrage does not need a good reason. It requires a target.

Your move Oscars 2020. Do what you will, I say. But, please, think.

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