MovieGeek: You're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat

Spotlight: Why The Oscars and #Oscarsowhite Mattered

From what little I saw, Oscars host Chris Rock didn't just address the elephant in the room; he rode that (white) elephant all around the stage. And if that was a little uncomfortable for the blindingly white, tuxedoed and gowned millionaires in the room, so be it.

However, I did not watch or live-tweet the Oscars, primarily because my antenna had other plans. I think CultureGeek HQ needs a new antenna. I'll catch the salient bits (and weep over the obit reel) off Hulu tomorrow.

I did keep up with the awards via Twitter, knowing all along that Spotlight would never win. This proves I should never actually gamble in Vegas.

To be fair, I've made an unofficial study over the years of the resoundingly negative portrayal of the news media in television and film (and books, to a lesser extent), and so expected no real groundswell for a movie in which reporters are heroes. I've done several presentations 0n the subject at conventions, and gave one such presentation just Saturday, with some very interesting discussion.

I do not believe it is a coincidence that as the portrayals of journalists have become increasingly unrealistic and negative, the public's opinion of journalism and journalists has become downright hostile. 

I pointed out to the audience on Saturday that when journalism movies are portraying real life, the movies tend to show us as heroes. Oh, there's always a Shattered Glass or two. But when there's a Veronica Guerin, The Insider, Good Night and Good Luck, Frost/Nixon, All The President's Men or Spotlight, you see the work we really do, and sometimes, the bravery it takes.

I told the audience in that presentation that I really hoped Spotlight would win, because we deserved it for all the years of J. Jonah Jameson. So when Twitter piped up with the news Sunday night, I squealed loudly enough that CultureGeek Jr. emerged from his room, making sure I wasn't dead.

It's easy to dismiss the Oscars, because at its heart it is a popularity contest among uber-rich celebrities. The people who vote for the Oscars are the people who made the movies; if they let the movie-goers vote, Transformers would have won best picture. Shudder.

Who cares what spoiled millionaires think was the best film of the year? For that matter, why care about films when there are real problems, when real people are hurt? From what little I was able to garner of Rock's monologue at the beginning, that's a real reason for the lack of protest in, say, the 1960s. "We had real things to protest," he said, or so I think, before my antenna died. 

But it matters. Movies matter. Popular culture matters. That's the reason for this blog, why I've kept it going in my (ha ha) spare time after it was canceled. That's the reason for #Oscarsowhite.

If journalism is the first rough draft of history, popular culture is the first rough draft of the artistic legacy we leave behind for future generations. 

That means skillfully crafted works of art like Spotlight and dregs of the film industry like Ted 2. If that last one makes you shudder, just imagine if that was the only surviving example of the 21st century's film legacy left for future generations to study.

Since the beginning of civilization, art has been a reflection of the society that humankind has built. Whether it's Michelangelo in the pay of wealthy patrons and under the thumb of a Pope painting a ceiling, a woman writing an audacious novel about a slave named Uncle Tom, a group of screenwriters appearing before Congress on allegations of treason based on their jokes, or a story of five journalists digging into rumors around the Catholic church in Boston, the art we create reflects the times in which we live, for better or for worse.

By studying popular culture and its representations of heroes and villains, of races and genders, both good and bad, we learn about ourselves, then and now. And in future generations, the art that survives tells them about what kind of people we were, about the world we built for ourselves, and perhaps more about from whence they came.

If that seems like too much to put on a highly commercialized industry like Hollywood, you might be right. But it matters. It's too easy to dismiss as spoiled celebrities patting themselves on the back before they go off to make more millions entertaining us in overpriced theaters. The art that survives is the art that resonates with us, even moreso than the art that makes money. 

Something about Spotlight resonated with us. And to me, that's enormously important. Spotlight showed journalists doing what we do best: shining the light on a problem, because it forces those in power to do something about it. That means there might be hope yet for the rest of the country to recognize what we do, and why it's important. To them, and to all of us.

So, congratulations not only to the cast and crew of Spotlight, but to Martin Baron and the real journalists who conducted the Globe's investigation. May history remember what they did, and why it was important, through the art that depicted it and better days for all the survivors.


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