I wouldn’t have thought that the way to raise the Oscar broadcast’s viewership was to make it more like the Tonys (the only awards ceremony even deeper in the ratings basement), but I’d have been wrong. As with the Tonys, it turns out that you can make an entertaining and watchable awards show just by adding Hugh Jackman, a traditional tuxedo-and-walking-stick dance number, a decorated arch that makes the Kodak Theatre look more like Radio City Music Hall, plenty of awards for little-seen productions without recognizable stars (yep, even the creation of Oscar-winning Best Pictures is now being outsourced to underpaid kids in India), and a fair amount of proudly gay content.
Maybe all of red state America had already tuned out by the time, late in the broadcast, that Sean Penn gave his thanks (see video above) to “you commie, homo-lovin’ sons of guns.” I wasn’t sure if he was addressing just the assembled Academy members (many of whom were showing their support for gay marriage by wearing white knot emblems on their lapels), the Hollywood community at large (which has been active in the effort to repeal California’s Proposition 8), or America. When I first saw Milk, right around the time California voters passed Prop. 8 and banned gay marriage in their state, I was depressed at how little had changed in the 30 years since Harvey Milk won his uphill battle against another anti-gay California initiative, as depicted triumphantly in the movie. But after months of belated anti-Prop. 8 backlash, coupled with lavish (and deserved) critical praise for Milk (and Penn’s performance in particular) and a relative lack of complaint from the usual suspects about the film’s gay-rights politics, I’m thinking that maybe this really is a different America from 1978. Hell, it’s even a different America from 1996, when the openly homophobic Braveheart won Best Picture, and Academy voters still thought Tom Hanks was unimaginably brave for playing a gay man with AIDS a couple years before in Philadelphia. Back then, no one dared greenlight a mainstream Hollywood movie about Harvey Milk (though many tried to develop such a film and failed). Since then, however, Ellen DeGeneres has become a fixture in daytime TV, Will & Grace (and its syndicated reruns) became ubiquitous, and no-big-deal gay couples have popped up everywhere in both popular culture and many people’s real-life families. Continue reading
My erstwhile colleagues at Entertainment Weekly have a cover package this week on Barack Obama, who these days is the only celeb big enough to upstage the Oscar nominations (which take up the bulk of this issue’s feature well). Much marveling over what rock stars the First Couple are, at a time when celebrities-as-brands have lost much of their influence and allure (see Cruise, Tom). Of course, the flip side, unexamined here, is that stars can fall out of favor just as quickly as they rise; media outlets are just waiting behind the rodeo gate to unleash the backlash at the first sign of an Obama misstep. At that point, I imagine, EW will create a “Can this career be saved?” article, listing a media plan for the tarnished president to restore his image. (Expect them to recommend visits to Oprah, Saturday Night Live, Larry King, David Letterman, The Daily Show, and other usual stations of the cross for penitent media figures.)
There’s also a decent sidebar listing the powerful Hollywood supporters (from David Geffen to Jennifer Aniston to will.i.am) who helped Obama get elected, though it’s unclear if any of them expect or even want to have Obama’s ear now that he’s in office. Another sidebar, listing some of the president’s own pop culture faves (he likes The Godfather, Meryl Streep, SpongeBob SquarePants, and Bob Dylan, but then, who doesn’t?), which also raises the unanswered question: Just because he has good taste and is tech-savvy enough to work an iPod and a BlackBerry, does that mean good policies will follow? Anyway, check it out.