Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Oscar Drama Comes Early This Year

I debated with myself whether I should wait and let the situation cool down a little before adding my two cents about Brett Ratner pulling out as the producer of the Oscars yesterday, and Eddie Murphy pulling out as host only a few hours ago. But, well, I doubt any opinions I have about the situation now are going to change in the next few days, and I might as well get what mileage I can out of the drama while it's still fresh and bloody.

I didn't find Ratner throwing around vulgar language and a gay slur particularly shocking. I mean, "gay" itself was an accepted epithet throughout most of 90s and 00s before the culture changed for the better, and internet message board shenanigans have inured me to pretty much all forms of harsh language and shock tactics. The term Ratner used seemed a little on the extreme side, but otherwise pretty much in keeping with the slick, hyper-masculine, homophobic, frat-boy culture that's always been endemic in certain parts of Hollywood. You know, the same mindset that lets Michael Bay make the world's sleaziest toy commercials and provided "Entourage" with seven seasons worth of material. I figured that after Ratner's immediate apology and the slap on the wrist that came from the Academy a few days ago, that would be the end of it.

And I'm kind of pleasantly surprised that it wasn't. Hollywood has a high tolerance for jackasses, but it's also extremely image-conscious. And the Oscars, which are nothing if not about maintaining an image, put Ratner in a higher profile role than he wasn't prepared to handle. Oscar hopefuls may thrive on controversy, but it's anathema to the actual establishment that runs the whole show. Even though Ratner's comments were made during his promotional appearances for "Tower Heist," and they reflected an attitude of thoughtless flippancy more than outright malice, his association with the Oscars put him in the spotlight. And the remarks were unacceptable to enough people that they had consequences this time. Casual homophobia is no longer a laughing matter to the mainstream, and Ratner's resignation can be seen as a barometer of the changing culture.

Now I don't have any particular beef with Brett Ratner. He's crass and he's graceless, but he's always seemed harmless enough. He's known for good-natured buddy comedies, cutesy Mariah Carey music videos, silly action films, and actually made a better Hannibal Lecter film than Ridley Scott did. He may well be a hack, as some have claimed, but he's not without talent. When it was announced that he would be producing the 2012 Academy Awards ceremony back in August, I thought it was a good move. Ratner may not be synonymous with the kind of films that the Oscars usually honor, but he'd surely be able to liven up the moribund Oscar telecast, which could use a good infusion of more populist razzle dazzle, especially after last year's disaster.

To be honest, I was more worried about Eddie Murphy. The Oscar host gig has long been a haven for comedians past their prime, such as Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, and Steve Martin. However, Murphy isn't just past his prime, he's known to an entire new generation as an abrasive talking donkey, and even that wore out its welcome ten years ago. Now as a child of the 80s, of course I know that Murphy is a comedy legend and should be treated as such. And after James Franco and Anne Hathaway bombed, I'm glad for any comedian to get the hosting job again. But I can't remember the last time I saw an Eddie Murphy performance where he wasn't phoning it in or trying much, much to hard to revive his 80s mojo without much success. Murphy as Oscar host could have been great, but I thought it was equally likely that it would have been cringeworthy.

So now it's about four months to the ceremony, and the Oscars have no host and its big name producer is out. Fortunately longtime awards show producer Don Mischer is still hanging in there, and with all the attention, there's a good chance that bigger names might get interested and offer to lend their services. I'd like to see a more current comedian like Tina Fey or Steve Carrell try the hosting gig. Maybe lure in a celeb producer with a more substantive resume. Losing Ratner and Murphy at this stage is inconvenient, but there's still plenty of time to regroup.

As far as I'm concerned, one good thing has already come out of this - we have a new F-word that people now understand is not to be used in polite conversation. And with any luck, all the remaining little homophobic asides and insinuations that are still far too common will be totally passe by February.

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