Has everyone recovered from Oscar overdose yet? With weeks of pre-Oscar run-up, days of post-Oscar analysis, and three hours and 35 minutes of actual Academy Awards presentations, we all need some time to detoxify, so I apologize in advance for talking about the Oscars after a point when most people could safely assume that they’d escaped the topic until 2014.
Ah, the Oscars. The time of year when wealthy, beautiful people sit around congratulating each other on how wealthy and beautiful they are.
No, I kid, I kid — I quite like the Oscars, but its atmosphere of adulation is excessive, to say the least. After listening to all the compliments and gushing, you could believe we were watching a parade of demi-gods into whose lives we’d been invited — for a few precious hours — to share the celebration of their inhuman beauty and talent.
Which, of course, isn’t the case, but we have a grand time playing along. The Academy Awards are hokum and glitter, but we enjoy them because of their theatricality.
It’s pleasant escapism to root for our favourite celebrities, but we’re savvy enough to understand that at the end of the day these people are pretty much like the rest of us.
Or are we? Because we actually let celebrities get away with a heck of a lot.
This year’s winner for best actor, Daniel Day-Lewis, is well known for the eccentricities of his method acting. On the set of There Will Be Blood, Day-Lewis intimidated the other actors on set with his behaviour, even going so far as to throw bowling balls at co-star Paul Dano.
It was in the name of art, though, so we gave it a pass.
But what about Sean Penn?
Penn won the Oscar for Best Actor in 2009 for Milk. In the universal acclaim for his fantastic acting, we forgot that in 1987 he struck his then-wife Madonna in the head with a baseball bat.
And let’s not even talk about Roman Polanski.
Whether it’s Sarah Silverman in blackface on Twitter or Billy Crystal in blackface at last year’s Oscars, we have an amazing amount of tolerance for the kind of behaviour in celebrities that we would find unacceptable in our friends, colleagues and leaders.
In 1998, Mark Wahlberg attacked two Asian men and blinded one of them in a racially motivated attack, yet our biggest problem with him is that he starred in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening.
Chris Brown brutally assaulted Rihanna, then was invited to play at the Video Music Awards months later. Taylor Swift and Katy Perry use homophobic language in their music, yet are held up as good role models for our daughters.
Eric Clapton is an unabashed white supremacist. (No, seriously! I was surprised, too! Sorry, mom.)
I’ve just spilled a lot of ink on people you and I will never meet. Why? Because there’s never less at stake for us than when a celebrity does something awful. When we point out that a celebrity has done something terrible, what do we lose? Maybe our favourite movie is tarnished, but that’s it. It’s never easier to hold people accountable for harmful, dangerous behaviour — yet we don’t. They keep winning Oscars.
I mean, I understand the reluctance; I have celebrity crushes, too. If it turns out that Tom Hiddleston has skeletons in the closet, I’m out. I quit. I might not be able to handle it.
But pop culture matters. It shapes the way we think and feel as much as anything does, and we have to hold celebrities accountable for their mistakes, if only in our own minds.
This doesn’t mean we can’t forgive them, but we can’t ignore them. If we’re afraid of calling out celebrities for their crimes — if we watch The Hangover without saying to our friends, “Hang on, isn’t Mike Tyson a convicted rapist? Why is he in this movie?” then we’re in trouble.
Our affection for celebrities is the lowest-stakes relationship we have. If we can’t do it now, when can we do it?
Do we call out our colleagues on their racist comments? Do we think it’s a big deal when reports confirm that there’s systemic sexual harassment within the RCMP?
Or do we shrug our shoulders and say, “That’s just the way it is,” simply because we’ve never thought about saying anything about it?
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