- Medved on Oscar Night's "Little People"
The Little People
On Oscar night, Hollywood thanks everyone but the troops.
BY MICHAEL MEDVED
Wednesday, March 26, 2003
The most prominent personalities in the antiwar movement resist all efforts to classify their angry activism as anti-American. But Sunday night's Oscar extravaganza obliterated such defensive distinctions. For 3 1/2 hours, the entertainment elite indulged in the usual orgy of self-congratulation with only hostile or dismissive reference to epic Iraqi battles involving thousands of U.S. troops. They offered no hint of gratitude, affection, loyalty or connection to the superpower that sustains them.
The ceremony featured little patriotic imagery and among presenters and award winners, not one chose to wear the American flag lapel pins now ubiquitous elsewhere in American life. Instead, dozens of the biggest stars sported silver "Dove of Peace" pins to signal their opposition to the war.
Meanwhile, Bill Conti and the Oscar Orchestra avoided any remotely nationalistic music during the evening. Perhaps the experience of the Miramax Oscar Eve bash persuaded the responsible parties to shun such tunes. At that glittering occasion, entertainer Michael Feinstein tried to lead the assembled stars and swells in "God Bless America," only to find many members of the crowd ostentatiously refusing to participate.
Of course, the absence of themes and symbols celebrating the U.S. didn't mean that Oscar winners excluded tributes to other nations. In his tirade against George W. Bush and his "fictitious" election, presidency and war policy, documentary film maker Michael Moore pointed with pride to his "Bowling for Columbine" producer's Canadian citizenship. After receiving the Academy Award for his score to the movie "Frida," Elliot Goldenthal declared his passionate commitment to noble Mexican traditions of "political art" and, hoisting his gold statuette, solemnly said "this is for Mexico."
The only specific references to American identity came in relation to "Gangs of New York," introduced in scripted remarks as "about the conflicts that helped define what it means to be an American"--as if vicious street fights between nativist and Irish gangs in the 1850s somehow represent our national character.
At least British thespian Peter O'Toole thought to express appreciation for America when he accepted his honorary Oscar. "I think of the United States and of the loves and friendships I've known here for more than half a century," he said, "of how much the nation has given to me both personally, privately and professionally. I am deeply thankful."
The surprise winner for best actor, Adrien Brody of "The Pianist," also displayed some emotional connection to the general public in his well-received acceptance speech, and even made oblique reference to our forces in the gulf. "Whether you believe in God or Allah," he said, "may he watch over you and let's pray for a peaceful and swift resolution." Of course, the desire for a "peaceful resolution" suggests some miraculous settlement that falls well short of victory, so Mr. Brody said nothing that could contradict the most stubbornly anti-American sentiments in the Oscar auditorium.
Similarly, Academy President Frank Pierson never wished our troops victory in their war, but merely hoped for their speedy return. He also sent a message to "the Iraqi people," saying, "let's have peace soon, and let you live without war," but never embracing the idea that they deserved to live in freedom.
Finally, host Steve Martin concluded the broadcast with an apparent message to our armed services: "And to our young men and women who are watching overseas, we are thinking of you, we hope you enjoy the show. It's for you. Good night." Even here, Hollywood shunned any explicit mention of the U.S. military, since "young men and women . . . overseas" could be movie company reps watching in Paris.
In the midst of war, even Democratic front-runner (and Bush critic) John Kerry observed that "for America now, the only exit strategy is victory. This is our common mission and the world's cause." If Barbra Streisand (who emphasized the importance of protest) and Susan Sarandon (who flashed a peace sign) had expressed similar sentiments, it hardly would have compromised their liberal credentials.
Their failure to do so underlines the gap between ordinary citizens and the entertainment establishment. The ratings for this year's show were appallingly low (with the weakest audience share in Academy history), and the mounting backlash to celebrity leftists raises the possibility of permanent damage to Hollywood's standing. Impassioned demonstrators outside the Oscar ceremony waved American flags and carried signs declaring "Support Our Troops" and "Impeach Sheen."
Beyond threats of boycotts and petitions (which scare no one), there is a pervasive sense of disillusionment and anger that ought to alarm the industry. For years, Hollywood has promoted messages that neither reflect nor respect the values of everyday Americans. On Oscar night, the contrast between our struggling troops in Iraq and the stars who wouldn't support their efforts proved too glaring to ignore--or forget.
Mr. Medved, author of "Hollywood vs. America," hosts a nationally syndicated radio show on politics and pop culture.