By Courtney Sheehan
An Academy Award-winning director once proclaimed the Oscars to be “the greatest promotion scheme that any industry ever devised for itself.” The idea of the good people of Hollywood concocting an event for their own self-aggrandizement is…not surprising. But take a moment to consider the surprising number of similarities between the Oscars and another grand old time created by and for a particular group—the tree house club of childhood (here I am referring to the mythic ideal of tree houses found in pop culture of the last several decades, not to any actual experiences you may have had). Think about it—as a kid, when you wanted to become a member of the most elite of clubs—the kind of club where business was conducted in a tree house—you had to fulfill some stiff criteria first. To start with, as a rule, gender matters. Just recall the ubiquity of NO GIRLS (or BOYS) ALLOWED signs in the narratives of our youth, whether in Nickelodeon shows, movies or the neighbor’s backyard. Once you managed to be the right gender, you got to scuttle up a tree and learn the leafy domain’s secret password. Life in the club was dictated by arbitrary but extremely important rules. The rules of the club were often documented and may or may not have involved spending a night alone in a haunted house.
The Oscars share an uncanny resemblance to this picture of scabby-kneed 10-year-olds peaking through make-shift periscopes and tirading against imagined foes. To start with, gender matters. You better be doing it right, especially if you hope to show your face on the red carpet or compete for an acting award. NO GENDER TROUBLERS ALLOWED. The secret password changes every year, appearing in the form of an invitation to attend the big event. This gives celebs access to the red carpet. When the club meeting is about to begin, they clamor over each other into the Kodak Theatre, a tree house for glamazons if ever there was one. Aloft and glorious, club members must adhere to a whole lot of bizarre rules. Let’s take a look at a few of my favorites, courtesy of Wikipedia:
1)“Neither winners nor their heirs may sell the statuettes without first offering to sell them back to the Academy for US $1. If a winner refuses to agree to this stipulation, then the Academy keeps the statuette.”
2)“A film must be feature-length, defined as a minimum of 40 minutes, except for short subject awards and it must exist either on a 35 mm or 70 mm film print or in 24 frame/s or 48 frame/s progressive scan digital cinema format with native resolution not less than 1280×720.”
3)At any point, winners may be cut off mid-sentence during acceptance speeches with the stroke of the conductor’s wand. The chances of this happening increase if the winner’s accomplishment is merely technical (editing, cinematography) or if his/her accent isn’t American.
4) “Reluctant at first, [Mexican film director Emilio “El Indio”] Fernández was finally convinced to pose nude to create what today is known as the “Oscar.”
While the last may not look like a rule at first glance, it was nonetheless a foundational condition for the development of the club—the rule of Othering. In fact, let’s take a look at some of the Othering that’s going down at this year’s Oscars. It’s no big spoiler to say that “Avatar” will probably win Best Picture. A lot of people dig this movie—and audiences are certainly entitled to enjoy a thinly veiled white guilt-ridden, sexist war-mongering cash cow under the guise of post-Walmart environmentalism—I will merely judge them for doing so. Another best pic nom, “The Blind Side,” tells the equally embarrassing tale of a rich white lady taking a poor black boy under her wing, showing him the road to success in the white world. Bottom line, a genuine social critique like “District 9” will not win. How about the director’s category? Kathryn Bigelow is set to beat her ex James Cameron, scoring a big one for women filmmakers. But there’s still the issue that in the year 2010, when black director Lee Daniels found out he was nominated for best director, he exclaimed, “It was crazy, off-the-hook, insane.” His disbelief at the very thought of receiving a nomination indicates that he knows he won’t win, but perhaps he’ll be comforted when Morgan Freeman takes the Best Actor award for his portrayal of Nelson Mandela in “Invictus,” a.k.a. “Remember the Titans 2.”
No wonder George C. Scott who won Best Actor in 1970 for Patton refused to accept his award. “The whole thing is a goddamn meat parade. I don’t want any part of it.” Maybe the biggest difference between the Oscars and the tree house is that when kids climb back down from the tree at the end of a sun-soaked afternoon, they leave the world of pretend behind them and prepare to tuck in to dinner and homework. In Hollywood, the meat parade never ends.