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The Night Oscar Fell Flat on His Face

‘The Oscars feels like it has devolved into the kind of joyless and self-abnegating paean to the political that is the polar opposite of entertainment’

Rachel Shukert
February 29, 2016

It’s a terrible cliché to complain about how boring the Oscars are, but this year were really, stupendously, exceptionally boring.

Feel free to disagree with me, of course. Although, if you were anything like my Twitter feed last night—a stream that, due to my own particular demographic quirks, is normally able to work itself into a breathlessly catty froth over everything from the Independent Spirit Awards to the latest episode of American Crime—you probably don’t have much to say at all.

It’s a weird thing to say that a huge, splashy awards show that spills generously over its allotted running time felt under-produced, but that’s exactly how it seemed. There were high points, as there always are, such when host Chris Rock hilariously called out a room full of self-regarding Hollywood types for being “sorority racist,” as in, “We like you, Shonda, but you’re not a Kappa”; or when Tracy Morgan lampooned The Danish Girl in a 1920’s-style silk slip that clung oh-so-provocatively to his always delightful troll doll-like belly; or my personal favorite, when presenter Sarah Silverman referred to her “heavy Jewish boobs.” (I have dealt for years with the same challenges in regards to eveningwear, and I would have happily sat through a 30-minute set from Silverman on the subject.)

But conspicuously missing from the Oscars were the classic moments of trainwrecky pretension that have made the Oscars such a gloriously lampoonable event for the better part of a century. Absent were nine-minute montages paying tribute to hilariously arbitrary aspects of filmmaking, like, “An Ode to the Car Chase” or “A Brief History of Cooking in Motion Pictures.” There were no hokey Borscht Belt medleys or interpretive dances. It all felt oddly… perfunctory. Rote. Colorless.

And perhaps that’s exactly how it was meant to be; this was, in fact, the show billed as #OscarsSoWhite. From the beginning of broadcast, when a rainbow of sparkles swirled together to form the Oscar statuette, it was clear that ABC was going to do everything they could to ameliorate the egregious lack of diverse nominees even if it meant trotting out every single actor of color who has barely been in a movie but happens to star on an ABC show in existence. (Sacha Baron Cohen, who reprised his Ali G character, even committed this type of empty tokenism in order to make fun of, however gently, the Minions and their “tiny yellow dongs.”)

This theme formed the basis of Chris Rock’s frill-free but effective opening monologue and virtually every joke that followed. In one genuinely funny bit, Rock quizzed audience members at a movie theater in Compton, all of whom had seen Straight Outta Compton but seemed not even to have heard of The Big Short or Bridge of Spies. This set-up allowed the honored nominees to truly grasp their utter irrelevance to the lives of vast swaths of Americanswhat with 22 states set to deprive thousands of people of basic nutrition, is the fact that Will Smith failed to be nominated for an Academy Award really such a big f-ing deal? By this point in the show, even Sam Smith was jumping on the inclusion bandwagon, shyly but incorrectly claiming to be the first openly gay man to win an Oscar. So was Lady Gaga who emoted about sexual assault all over her piano, even inviting survivors onto the stage with her.

With last night as the expiring icing on a once-sweet cake, the Oscars feels like it has devolved into the kind of joyless and self-abnegating paean to the political that is the polar opposite of entertainment. Past ceremonies have been buoyed by their corporate connection to social media (remember Ellen’s selfie, anyone?) but this may go down in history as the Oscars that Twitter killed.

And for the record, Straight Outta Compton was the best movie of the year.

Rachel Shukert is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great,and the novel Starstruck. She is the creator of the Netflix show The Baby-Sitters Club, and a writer on such series as GLOW and Supergirl. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.

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