March 5, 2006

The Hollywood Hymnal

"It's a hundred and six miles to the Oscars, we've got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark, and we're wearing sunglasses." -- The Blues Brothers...

WHEN I MOVED TO SEATTLE I declined the opportunity to get cable TV. As a result I shall miss seeing our annual "Superbowl for Girls" (AKA: The Oscars) this evening. Still, in this besotted society just opting out of the Oscars doesn't mean you can opt out of being bludgeoned by them. The tsunami of BS surrounding this fornication festival of preening plutocrats grows higher and sweeps across our land with more devastation every year. Think of it as a Katrina of Cornpone.

Having proven itself to be politically impotent in the last two national elections, Hollywood still likes to strut its stuff when it comes to the realm where it is still pre-eminent -- pretending. And like all other industries that deal in the lower pleasures, they are very good at pushing their product. Although they

have absorbed the sensibility of William Burroughs into their marrow, they have ignored his central dictum: "No good. No bueno. Hustling myself."

People like to say that if you don't like something you see or hear in this culture, well, you can just turn it off. If it is coming at you from one or two sources, that's true enough. But the Oscars, like Bush Derangement (which they have much in common with), come at you from more sources than you have off-switches, and you just can't always be quick enough. The Oscars are Hollywood's full court media press and you will be slam-dunked.

My own personal hobbyhorse this year centers around the odds-on winner (save a Dolly Parton mercy vote) for best original "song." It is really not a song per se so much as it is a pent-up cloud of rapping flatulence that Hollywood just can't wait to release into the face of its American audience. At once both edgy and transgressive as only the oppressed and obscene voices from our ghettos can be these days, "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" is not only this year's approved field chant from the Eternal Liberal Plantation, it also serves this year's theme song for Hollywood's own deep and abiding problems when it comes to actually convincing anyone in America whose emotional age is above 18 to actually show up in the theaters.

Will it win? Again, absent a come-from-behind victory for Dolly Parton's Travelin' Thru it's a lock. And Parton's song will struggle with the presence of lines like: "Oh sweet Jesus if you're listening, keep me ever close to you." Not really the kind of song the Academy likes to hear, is it? [N.B. Pimp did win while Brokeback crashed.]

Still, for all it's appeal to an industry based on entertaining the least of us with the worst of us, "It's Hard Out Hear for a Pimp" is unlikely to upset the all-time favorite hymn of Hollywood, the song that stands for everything they believe, everything they hope for, and for everything they dream; a song that, although it has never been given an Oscar, is as central to the Hollywood vision of "Orbis Unum" as the dream of Josiah Bartlett as President of the United States: "Imagine."

It's hard to imagine a song more transgressive than "Imagine." It gives the group that gives it a place of honor in its hymnal a reason to do and create, well, anything. Absent a concept of heaven or hell, all things are possible:
Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...

Lennon's loopy lyric (writen either during or between rehab) pretty much sums up Hollywood and the political and cultural cohort it represents. Absent heaven and hell and under an empty sky, what are these poor folks to do other than create an empty culture, a vacuum into which everyone involved is sucked? After all, there are plenty of pleasures to be had if you get a chip in the Hollywood game. Their promise is what draws you in the first place. Indeed, there are pleasures a plenty to be gotten if you can even manage to hover about the edges. But to keep your seat on the gravy train you have to check your soul at the door and sign on the world according to "Imagine:"
Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

Imagining no countries is fairly easy to accomplish when you see the Earth below from a Gulfstream's La-Z-Boy, which is pretty much your world once you've got your card-carrying membership in the new media plutocracy.

Imagining that the world has nothing worth killing and dying for is also simple when you are certain that you sit on top of an armed ring of force dedicated to preserving your way of life.

Religion? Hey, no heaven or hell equals no religion, other than the religion of secular indulgence popularized by, well, rock stars and junkies like John Lennon.

"Imagine all the people/ living life in peace." That is probably the easiest thing to imagine once your means of making a living is centered in an industry whose number one product is "pretending."

And the greatest thing about the secular hymn "Imagine" is that the second verse leads to the first chorus and you can just cut the song off there. There's really no need to go into the last verse, written by a man with more houses than toes:
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

I'm sure our Kings and Queens of culture could, if they strained at a gnat, "imagine no possessions," but I doubt if they would be at the front of the long line ready to give all they have to the poor on that great getting-up morning. Instead they'd organize a global benefit (with their "expenses" covered) so that you could give to the poor as they give the interviews to E! and take the bows. "Sharing all the world" does not, in Hollywood's mind, mean sharing even a bit of the spotlight.

After all, it's the spotlight sweeping relentlessly over the Oscars that makes them who they are. For all the endless carping about the "suffering" and "invasions of privacy" we hear from this cohort, you can be sure that when the spotlight begins to slip away from them they'll always sidle after it.

Alas, the spotlight's been sliding away from the Oscars for some years and, predictably, they've been diving deeper towards the bottom of the American experience in order to recapture it. This year's shout out goes to the always fickle rap audience. Perhaps next year we get a little truth in packaging and witness a posthumous lifetime achievement award given out to that titan of the cinema, John Lennon, for his work in giving all our stars "A reason to believe."

What? Rod Stewart? Jon Stewart? John Lennon? Well, what's the difference? Really?

Posted by Vanderleun at March 5, 2006 8:36 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

You sure do spend a lot of time on something you claim to detest.

Looks like they won in terms of mind-share.

Posted by: Raw Data at March 5, 2006 9:10 AM

Think of it as one small pebble on the other side of the balance scale.

Posted by: Gerard Van Der Leun at March 5, 2006 9:26 AM

I debate this issue myself: should we even comment on stupidity as it simply broadcasts it further. The counter is that someone has to point it out lest people accept it.

Posted by: Raw Data at March 5, 2006 11:11 AM

The "Spaced Out Theology" award for Lennon is a great idea, but why stop there? We need our own lifetime achievements list, and here's my contributions:

Stepford Wives Reloaded ad infinitum: Hillary Clinton
Nattering Old Bitch channels Simpering Airhead: Maureen Dowd
Homer Simpson Goes to Choate: John Kerry

And based on Gerard's recent photo tribute to the mortality of man:
Bringing Aunt Bea into the Borg: Jimmy Carter

What's your nominee?

Posted by: AskMom at March 5, 2006 11:48 AM

Why do we have to pay attention to those whose sole talent is making faces, convincingly at a camera? I, for one, do not care what their politics are, what their social agenda is or any of that. The unfortunate part is that they entertain us badly of late. Not even worth seeing most of the drivel that passes for entertainment these days.

The Hobo

Posted by: Robohobo at March 5, 2006 2:09 PM

Pity us poor bastards within range of KTLA...

Posted by: P.A. Breault at March 5, 2006 6:43 PM

What do you think of Bird York's "In the Deep."
It was the lead song in "Crash."

Posted by: Raw Data at March 5, 2006 9:32 PM

You know, Gerard...if you look out your window you can probably see the TV antenna for channel four (ABC). You can practically pick it up with the fillings in your molars.

Posted by: Mumblix Grumph at March 5, 2006 10:40 PM

Well said, Hollywood don't make me laugh.

Posted by: jeffersonranch at March 6, 2006 6:13 AM

"...fillings in your molars." You TOO!! Thank Goodness; I thought I was all ALONE out here...

I thought I remembered Gerard being very pained at the anniversary of John Lennon's murder. Pained to the point of accepting blame for the act, including the rest of us in that blame, and looking back quite fondly on the era. Did I mis-remember again, or is that another example of human complexities?

What to do about the caustic, self-congratulatory modern enterainment business? And how is it different from plain ol' propaganda? Somebody let me know.

Excellent article from Gerard and thanks to him for it.

Dan Patterson

Posted by: Dan Patterson at March 6, 2006 6:21 AM

What does John Lennon have to do with Hollywood?

He was a musician. Help! is 40 years old and was filmed in England anyway.

Do you really think "Imagine" reflects what Hollywood thinks?

You can't tell the difference between John Stewart and John Lennon, yet accuse other folks of being loopy?

Do you really think all the folks who are wearing expensive designer gowns and millions of dollars of donated jewelry imagine no possessions?

Posted by: KevinNYC at March 6, 2006 11:29 AM

We'll just have to be charitable about Kevin, here. He must be a Wolcott reader. Irony, alliteration, the symbolism of cultural icons, and history as genesis and illumination of the present all seem to be beyond him. Oh, and Kevin, since you missed the memo: Lennon, who was far less and far more than a "musician" lived and died in New York.

Posted by: AskMom at March 6, 2006 12:13 PM

Within the context of Hustle & Flow -- my favorite movie of 2005, but then I don't get out much -- It's Hard Out There For A Pimp was obviously intended to be mediocre. It's also really integral to the film in a way that most songs are not.

Its Oscar nomination and subsequent win are therefore delicious ironies that make me smile.

In the Old Days (sniff), you would have smiled too.

Posted by: Patrizia at March 6, 2006 12:20 PM

I remember cringing when they sang "Imagine" at the opening ceremony of the Olympics and thinking-yeah, imagine no possessions, no religion, nothing to die for (or live for it follows. What you'd have is a nightmare of a lifestyle that would have been imposed if the Yanks hadn't thought Italy was something to die for in WW2.

Posted by: Terri at March 6, 2006 8:52 PM