There is no one who can wear the paradoxical mantel of prideful self-loathing like Steve Martin, the host of Sunday’s Academy Awards, and no one can make 500,000 off-color jokes about Halle Barry seem so dang amusing.
The Academy Awards were strangely poignant this year, giving seeming reverential deference to the fact that, as a nation, we are going through some trying times. They even forewent the traditional red-carpet procession of celebrity that precedes the event, leaving people like Mary Hart and Melissa Rivers wondering how they would safeguard their careers for another year.
On the whole, everyone behaved rather well. Everyone except Michael Moore.
Moore, the outspoken director of the documentary “Bowling for Columbine,” a caustic look at the gun culture in the United States, won the coveted little statue for “Best Documentary.” During his acceptance speech, he began to talk about how, as documentary producers, he and his fellow film makers like non-fiction. This seemed like it could be a nice plea for Hollywood to make more movies about spelling bees. It wasn’t.
It became a tirade on our “fictitious President,” who won a “fictitious election,” who was making us fight a war for “fictitious reasons.” It was bitter and inappropriate and angry, and almost un-American, with the exception that it was very American. We live in a country that protects the dissenter as much as the party man.
It’s not what Moore said that was surprising. “Bowling for Columbine” doesn’t exactly paint conservatives in the best light. What was surprising was that he said it at all. For weeks, the nominees had been admonished to not politicize the Academy Awards.
And for Moore to use the platform in a fairly belligerent manner was hugely inappropriate. For anyone to use the platform as a political forum is inappropriate. That’s what their art is for. Not the awards.
It’s also not surprising that a lot of very vocal Hollywood players are against the conflict in Iraq and definitely anti-Bush. (Where are you when we need you, Tom Selleck?) Again, this is their right. What was surprising about Oscar night was that, despite the prevalence of liberal within the echelons of Hollywood, what met Moore’s statements was a fair amount of (insert confused shock) booing.
Because, deep down, regardless of what you think of the war, there is still decorum that must be protected. There is an appropriate time and an appropriate venue for dissent. Michael Moore is a director of documentaries, for crying out loud. What more appropriate venue could he ask for?
Nicole Kidman said it most tactfully. The Oscars are about art. Or at least about 500,000 off-color Halle Barry jokes. To use the venue in such a way, regardless of your position on the engagement in the Middle East, is to use it inappropriately.
There is a time for free speech. There is a time for dissent. And then there is a time to simply thank the Academy.