Why you should care
Because the Academy has plenty of its own injustices within.
It’s Oscars night — and 60-time nominee Sappy DeSaprio walks up to a stage filled with glitz, glamour and too much perfume. He accepts his award, Most Melodramatic Scene, with crocodile tears. Then, the moment we’ve all been waiting for — a centuries-long speech about the dangers of climate change, the woes of indigenous peoples, the trials of tampons and the terrors of Zika, delivered in one shallow breath. Cue the orchestra.
Could we close the curtains now?
Each winter, the Oscars ceremony brings a flurry of celebrities who all have a different cause to champion. In recent years alone, there was John Legend’s tirade on incarceration rates, Jared Leto’s impassioned speech about AIDS, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s call for immigration rights, Patricia Arquette’s demands for equal pay. These are worthwhile issues. But at the risk of sounding callous, the Oscars stage shouldn’t be a soapbox for global change, not this year or any year. Just grab the award and skedaddle — and then take a hard look in the mirror: Your own vaunted institution has plenty of its own problems.
In any case, a simple “thank you” would do. But during Hollywood’s most extravagant night, it appears that the art of brevity has been cast aside for what journalist James Bartholomew calls “virtue signaling”: a verbal gesture that shows you are kind and decent, without actually doing anything meaningful. Prostitution, pollution, Putin — you name it, it’s all being parlayed for popularity points. Instead of pithy speeches that express gratitude, we get a snoozefest of self-promotion. Bartholomew quit watching the Academy and BAFTA Awards long ago for the simple reason, he says, that “it is actually boring to hear people boast about themselves.” And this year, with the Academy bumping each winner’s list of thank-yous to a scroll at the bottom of the screen, we’re expecting a lot more speeches gushing with virtue signaling.
Perhaps it’s not just an act, says Jeetendr Sehdev, an expert on celebrity branding. By making it personal, he suggests, award recipients help “humanize” this “larger-than-life” event with social causes that are near and dear to them. According to Sehdev’s 2015 study “The O-Effect: The Exact Power of Oscar,” Oscar winners are 62 percent more likely to be admired and 37 percent more likely to be seen as trustworthy. And rather than turning on the waterworks or reading a cookie-cutter acceptance speech, they can leverage their 45-second spotlight to bring awareness to an issue that might otherwise never see the light of day.
Fair enough, except that we’re reminded of the old adage: Charity begins at home. Ideally, red-carpet activists would be working, 364 days a year, against racism, gender bias and other evils within their own industry. But if they can’t bear the self-scrutiny, here’s what we recommend: Skip the activist grandstanding, take the damn trophy and exit stage left.