I’m not usually one to get excited about the Oscars, but this Sunday, having little better to do, I decided to catch the tail end of the show. I was unsurprised at the performance of the King’s Speech, based on the positive consensus of reviews I’d seen, and satisfied by the performances of Inception and the Social Network, two movies I did manage to see last year.
Similarly, I enjoyed the performances at the show itself. Despite James Franco’s appearing alternately wooden and out of his mind (Nothing personal, James), Anne Hathaway was enthusiastic and festive with her gazillion dresses. The use of Autotune to turn Harry Potter into a musical was also pretty amusing.
And of course, I appreciated the political note of the Oscars. There were, of course, the jabs at Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s anti-union governor, by best cinematographer Wally Pfister, who testified to the benefits he found in his union membership spanning three decades, and Inception’s sound mixer Gary Rizzo, who thanked the “hard-working…people that worked on the production crew. Union, of course.”
Then there was Charles Ferguson, winner of the award for best documentary. His film, Inside Job (which features a brief appearance by economics professor Sigridur Benediktsdottir GRD ’05), features a series of interviews with insiders and commentators that paints a picture of a greedy and criminal Wall Street that let the financial crisis happen. Upon taking the stage, Ferguson lamented that “three years after our horrific financial crisis caused by massive fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail, and that’s just wrong.”
In an e-mail exchange, Professor Benediktsdottir expressed concurrence, saying that she “expected that actions like those perpetrated in the run-up to the financial crisis would lead to jail.” After the Oscars, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Ferguson pointed out that not only had anyone gone to prison, but that “there haven’t even been any criminal prosecutions” aside from a three half-hearted implications of mid-level traders, one of which resulted in a conviction.
Just as events have played out with the prosecution of torturers and accounting for the lies that led us into Iraq, this presidency seems all too happy to brush the past under the rug, and to forcefully insist that bygones be bygones. Whatever happened to the rule of law? Why are we holding hearings on the “creeping threat” of Sharia law and kangaroo courts designed to cast doubt on global warming while letting crooks walk free? What is it about the American public’s goldfish memory that prevents us from demanding accountability?
The answers to these questions are too long for an Oscar speech.