Oscars took a break from politics as usual

It was a strange stroke of mercy to see Hollywood back down from politics at this year’s Oscars. Remember last year, when the A-listers went to town? Their first move was to call upon Jon Stewart to host with a mix of comedy and crowd-pleasing Bush-bashing, only to respond with silence when he poked fun at the Democratic Party. Then there were all those issues movies: “Crash” and “Brokeback Mountain,” of course, but also “Good Night, and Good Luck,” “Syriana” and “The Constant Gardener.” George Clooney thanked the filmmakers for continuing to challenge American viewers. Yadda yadda yadda.

What with November’s Democratic victory and the endless Clinton-Obama debate, the Academy must be feeling pretty deflated to have restrained itself from doing a victory lap on Sunday night. Ellen DeGeneres steered clear of any controversy, and even the montage of America in the movies could be called tame in comparison to past years’. You have to wonder if Hollywood feels like its job is done now that its favorite party is controlling Congress, or if it’s just taking a catnap before gearing up for the Final Battle in 2008.

My bet is on the catnap. Last year, when things were looking pretty bad, the movies prescribed a rousing dose of racial tension and gay cowboys to remind us that there were plenty of problems that needed confronting. Now, with the Democratic Congress seeming to represent some kind of progress, or at the very least a placebo for the crushing state of world affairs, bring on the popcorn flicks.

Are we about to shovel 20,000 more troops into Iraq, or aren’t we? Is Hillary Clinton going to change her rigid ways and admit that she was wrong in voting for war? I, like most other Americans, need a break from these heavy questions: Give me “The Departed” over “Brokeback” any day. Not that I want to disengage from fighting the good fight, but sometimes, entertainment has to be entertainment.

Too bad no one passed the message on to Al Gore. After all, the Oscars wouldn’t be the Oscars without a little bit of self-indulgence on the part of the audience. There stood our former vice president, accompanied by a sincere-looking Leonardo DiCaprio, telling us that we were witnessing the first eco-friendly Oscars. You can’t make this stuff up. According to Leo, “For the first time in the history of the Oscars, environmentally intelligent practices have been thoughtfully integrated into the planning of tonight’s event to make our world healthier and help combat the threat of global warming.” It’s pretty adorable to claim that the Oscars have actually contributed positively to the global environment, but who are we to deny the Academy their warm-fuzzies?

Gore tried to do the best thing, though, in reaching out beyond the celebrity world and directing viewers to the Oscars’ official Web site for ideas about how to help the environment. Fortunately, the suggestions posted there for ordinary people to follow were much more concrete than anything Leo said to the celebrities. Buy a more fuel-efficient car; use public transportation; don’t waste electricity by leaving the lights on. It’s hard to imagine the red-carpet crowd hitching up their gowns and hopping on a bus to their after-parties. The only thing that seemed like it would appeal to a celebrity was the section on buying organic food. Touchingly, the Academy ended its list by appealing to farmers to cut down on pesticide use. You know how it goes: If Hollywood celebrities don’t come out and say it, who will? Maybe American farmers will take inspiration from this and agree to go organic if the Academy cuts its broadcast down to two and a half hours.

Next year, I suspect, Oscar will throw us back into the thick of politics. Sean Penn will pop up to give his two cents, Scorsese will have been sated by this year’s win, and all eyes will be on a controversial indie. For now, I’m grateful that we have British royalty and mob violence to do what Hollywood does best and offer a temporary distraction from reality.

Alexandra Schwartz is a sophomore in Saybrook College. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.

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