Monday, February 27, 2017

The Flub

I was intending to write up my usual post-Oscars autopsy, with plenty of praise for Jimmy Kimmel, despite some eye-rolling at his continued fake feuding with Matt Damon. It really was a strong ceremony overall, with some good surprises in the mix, a smattering of excellent acceptance speeches, and just enough political content to be effective without feeling belabored. But then came the announcement of the Best Picture winner, and now the unprecedented mistake is all anyone can talk about. The memes, of course, are everywhere.

And, well, that's completely understandable. The viewing audience just saw a gigantic, carefully orchestrated Hollywood spectacle fall flat on its face in the final moments of the evening. And it's not just that Faye Dunaway read out the wrong winner, but that it took the Oscar organizers so long to correct the mistake, that two of the "La La Land" producers gave their complete acceptance speeches. One of those producers, Jordan Horowitz, wound up making the announcement that it was actually "Moonlight" that had won, before Dunaway's co-presenter Warren Beatty finally made his way to the microphone to explain the mix-up. And it wasn't until this morning that vote tabulator Price Waterhouse Cooper decided to take the blame for handing Beatty and Dunaway the wrong envelope.

In hindsight, everyone was terribly gracious about a bad situation. The "Moonlight" and "La La Land" filmmakers had nothing but good things to say about each other. Jimmy Kimmel jumped in to crack some appropriate jokes to alleviate the tension. Still, it was a huge embarrassment for everyone involved. The Academy's own contingency plans for the announcement of a wrong winner weren't followed. The appearance of Beatty and Dunaway, who were supposed to be celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of "Bonnie and Clyde," is instead going to be inextricably linked to the flub. It's awkward to really celebrate the historic "Moonlight" win because of the way it happened, and everyone feels bad for the "La La Land" crew. Kimmel tried to tell us it was just a silly award, but that clearly wasn't true to the people vying for it.

And yet, I'm sure that I'm not alone in seeing the upside of this. After a solid month of apocalyptic President Trump news, it feels oddly comforting to see a big media kerfuffle over something that has absolutely nothing to do with him. There weren't even any angry Twitter rants this morning. The #OscarsSoWhite controversy stirred up a lot of bad feelings, and there were some pretty antagonistic remarks made over the past few weeks over the merits of "La La Land" versus "Moonlight" by various parties. But now, the flub has essentially deflated all the tensions, given everyone on both sides an excuse to say nice things about each other, and we can all quietly table the whole disagreement for a while.

Then there's the value of the drama itself in the context of watching the awards ceremony. Yes, the viewing numbers for the Academy Awards dropped again, but today everyone was talking about the show and watching those clips of the flub. This is the most exciting thing that has happened at the Academy Awards ceremony in ages, and serves as an excellent reminder of the fun of live television events. There will always be conspiracy theories, but it was clear to me that the Academy Awards aren't staged to the extent that some believe. The big reveal really isn't known to anyone but a very few people all the way to the end - not even the orchestra and the announcers.

Simply the possibility of an epic flub like this suddenly makes the Academy Awards much more interesting. Sure, the ceremony itself is still a slog and the races are all pretty predictable to anyone who is paying attention, but there's still that wonderful lack of certainty that makes watching the show live still so appealing. It's been getting harder and harder for me to justify putting aside three plus hours every year to watch the Academy Awards, but when things like this happen I know that it's worth it.

So congratulations to "Moonlight," to Mahershala Ali, to Kevin O'Connell, and all the other winners. And I'll see you crazy Hollywood folks for another round next year.


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