Did you watch the Academy Awards ceremony Sunday night? Not having seen most of the movies, I hadn't intended to do so plus, it feels like a anachronism these days, watching famous rich people applaud themselves.
But then I recalled reading that an old friend I had worked with for many years, Don Mischer, was one of the new executive producers and the director of the show this year. So I tuned in.
From a strictly production point of view, I thought it was fine, as glamorous as it is expected to be, well shot and produced (hurray, Don!). What I could not abide were the non-stop remarks and bad jokes about the age of the presenters, winners and historical settings of the nominated films.
Host Billy Crystal, age 63 himself was the main offender. His ageism was showing throughout the entire program with “jokes” disparaging age. Eighty-two-year-old Christopher Plummer "has a tendency to wander off," said Crystal. And, "next year this'll be called the Flomax Theater." Then, after Plummer won the Supporting Actor award, Crystal was on him again:
“Congratulations to Mr. Plummer; the average age of the winners has now jumped to 67.”
There are contexts in which that could be funny, but not from Crystal Sunday night. He repeated the joke, upping the average age when it was announced that Woody Allen had won the writers award.
There was more but I wasn't taking notes but surprised at what felt like an assault, a devaluation of anything and anyone older than about 25.
And it wasn't just the show. “Even the Jokes Have Wrinkles” was the title of a New York Times morning-after Oscar story by Alessandra Stanley who started off with this knee slapper,
“The whole night looked like an AARP pep rally, starting off with Morgan Freeman...”
Ms. Stanley then larded her report with a string of paragraphs written to disparage anything of age – classic movies for being old, period movies for correctly depicting the cultures of their eras and then went on to blame age for any or all of the show's failings – Billy Crystal's flat delivery and old writers for his tired jokes.
The anti-age theme was taken up in another New York Times Monday morning story written by Michael Cieply and Brooks Barnes. “Nostalgia ruled the night,” they sniffed (and that was just the movies themselves). The whole affair was less than stellar apparently because it just seemed – well, oldish. Even comedian Chris Rock did not escape their disdain:
“Chris Rock followed with a racial joke, about black men getting lousy roles even in animated films. It may have been in questionable taste, but it jarred the show closer to modern times. [emphasis added]
About which, of course, old people know nothing, you see. (By the way, The Chris Rock joke was really funny.)
After all these years of keeping track, I am still surprised sometimes at how much casual ageism is tossed around every day in any context without anyone being called out for it. If the same attitudes were as regularly aimed at people of color or women, heads would (figuratively) roll.
It must be said that the show was flat and lacked excitement, but that's not the fault of the older actors. A lot of blame can be placed at the feet of the Academy which keeps tight control over the length of winner's speeches, what they can say and how they must behave so nothing startling or interesting ever happens.
There was a small, unexpected moment I liked when William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg won the Oscar for Short Film (Animated). Not being actors, their joy was delightfully unrehearsed and real.
One described themselves as “two swamp rats from Louisiana” which was a great, good surprise given that their film is such a charming and elegant, completely non-swamp-rat-style creation. I posted it here for you in the Saturday Interesting Stuff a few weeks ago. Here it is again, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.
If the video becomes locked out of replay, you can get a bit of sense of the film from the trailer here.
At The elder Storytelling Place today, Claire Jean: Chihuahua Anyone?