Feb 27, 2012 09:37 PM
by James Bowman
What have the Oscars and the Republican primary campaign in common? Frank Bruni in yesterday’s New York Times offered up a labored parallel between the two which, as that paper’s chatty, gossip-gal columnists Gail Collins and Maureen Dowd regularly do, managed to be flippant without being funny. "What we have here are two hoary institutions flailing for relevance, failing to find it and responding in ways that merely exhaust the audience," wrote Mr. Bruni with an elegant play on flailing/failing. He apparently saw nothing odd about his complaining in advance about how tedious and irrelevant he expected to the show to be — presumably because he and everyone else in the media knew in advance what today’s reviews of it were likely to observe: namely, that it was tedious and irrelevant.
And, sure enough, the Times’s reviewer, Alessandra Stanley wrote that the show "looked like an AARP pep rally" while Hank Stuever of The Washington Post insisted that the show’s host, Billy Crystal, "seemed to be overseeing a cruise ship dinner show designed to appeal to the over-50 travel club." This, in turn, must have suggested to Mr Stuever a rather tasteless comparison with the Costa Concordia: "Early on, it hit the rocks and started to list," he wrote of the ship/show under Mr Crystal’s captaincy. "Almost everyone drowned." Certainly, he was not alone in this opinion or in mentioning, as Miss Stanley and others did too, a study by the Los Angeles Times which found that the average member of the Motion Picture Academy is white, male and over 60. This signified, in Mr Stuever’s view, that "the academy is still very much living in that past" and in Ms Stanley’s that some of the "signs of Hollywood of yesteryear. . .seemed less retro than regressive."
You’ve got to ask yourself why, if the media find the Oscar show so corny and out of date they devote so much of their time and attention to promoting it and examining it in every detail? But then that should tip us off as to what it really does have in common with the GOP debates, which are the main things that Frank Bruni claims to be fed up with. Both, that is, are creations of the media which have been designed to produce precisely this effect of disgust and weariness on the media. Mr Bruni doesn’t even try to view either of his "two hoary institutions" from outside this media bubble — which is the only thing that could have created the illusion of similarity between them that he puts forward as fact. All he means by it is that hip progressives like himself are bored by both — which, when you think about it, is not much of a surprise. Like the Oscar ceremonies’ entertainment, he writes, the Republican candidates, "have just about wrung our interest and patience dry."
"Our"? No one can possibly believe that the likes of Frank Bruni started out looking at the debates with lots of interest and patience and grew gradually disillusioned with them after giving them months of careful attention. He and his kind never had any interest in them in the first place except as the freak shows he is now pretending belatedly to discover that they are while posing as a critical Everyman. His whimsical analogizing between them and the fuddy-duddy old Oscar ceremony is nothing but a feeble attempt to make the same point made more directly by his colleague Miss Dowd, who was writing the same day on the same page of the GOP as "a last- gasp party, living posthumously, fighting battles on sex, race, immigration and public education long ago won by the other side. They’re trying to roll back the clock, but time is passing them by."
Her confidence about this, more than eight months in advance of the general election is presumably an example of left historicism — all that stuff, you know, about their being on "the right side of history" — and may seem even more premature than Mr Bruni’s complaint about the tiresome Oscar ceremonies he was about to watch. The media have of course long since written the script for both, but I predict that reading political fashions is going to prove a trickier business than forecasting what looks out of date in Hollywood.
( AHR-mah wih-ROOM-kweh)
In the Aeneid, the Roman poet Virgil sang of "arms and a man" (Arma virumque cano). Month in and month out, The New Criterion expounds with great clarity and wit on the art, culture, and political controversies of our times. With postings of reviews, essays, links, recs, and news, Armavirumque seeks to continue this mission in accordance with the timetable of the digital age.
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