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Archive for March, 2010

I visited a toy store yesterday (a chain, won’t mention the name) and while I waited for somebody to check the back storage, I noticed an updated “cousin” of the Magic 8-Ball, a knick-knack familiar to anyone who grew up in the 1970s.  The 21st-century version is a soft plastic ball with a glitter finish covering the whole exterior, and you can see through the glitter into the ball. Inside, a six-sided die floats around in a clear, colorless liquid, presumably water. The die has a brief “fortune” printed on each side.

What version of the toy did I grow up with? That one resembled a bowling ball. It was small enough to hold in your palm, of course, but it was sturdy, not a soft blob, with a hard plastic shell and inky black or dark blue liquid inside. As with the new-fangled incarnation, the ’70s original contained a six-sided die inscribed with fortunes. The difference was that you couldn’t easily locate the die. One tiny window let you view it — after it had risen through the ink like a reclusive marine creature compelled to show itself.

The old toy was dark, mysterious, yet luminous in value. It offered up a miniature world of shadows, magic, and secrets. The new bauble harbors no mystery, no secrets. Instead, its creators have slathered it in specks of gold while hedging their bets with a transparent surface — as if to make the facade the main attraction, as if children have no business anticipating the treasure within.

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My intention isn’t to write with a poison pen, but rather to employ a luminous hand, as I believe every writer and artist should. Although I stand by my earlier post, I don’t want to give the impression that I seethe with hatred at Hollywood, or, for that matter, at everything on TV. I don’t hate the movies. I just hate bogus, overinflated, self-important crap.

Tim Robbins’ speech to Morgan Freeman was unpretentious and funny; Jeff Bridges wasn’t bad; and some of the quirkier dance numbers were pretty cool. Still, there has to be a better way to annually celebrate the most powerful and resonant of art forms… a way to recognize that medium’s essential humanity and get away from the kind of self-deception that makes a gleeful winner claim to be “humbled.” Come on, don’t say you’re humbled. That’s a politician’s boneheaded expression.

For now I’ll warm myself with the wonderful fact that “Up” won for best score. There’s hope yet.

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Catcher in the Rye remains a viable source of opinion about the movies, but the book never directly mentions the personality cult at the core of the industry or that cult’s most visible marketing event, the Academy Awards. Without too much speculation, we can be fairly sure of Holden’s opinion about the ceremony, especially last night’s. “You’ll puke your guts out,” is more or less what he would say. Mostly I’m thinking of the bizarre, rambling testimonials that were arranged so that certain attention-starved people could publicly adore other attention-starved people, i.e. the nominees for the best leading roles.

But really, nausea and discomfort aren’t the issue. The issue is sadness. Is Oscar night really a joyous occasion, or rather an evening of bitterness and disappointment made plain upon face after face? Last night was the first time I felt that we were working ourselves to death as a nation trying to look happy and interested. For crying out loud, the first Oscars held after 9/11 were more genuinely upbeat.

No, someone decided that we needed entire panels of artists to parade out and explain why the candidates were such great people, and why, by extension, Hollywood is the center of all genius and goodness. Who made that dismaying decision? Why didn’t anyone realize its arrogance, its basic insult to average viewers, who just want to enjoy the simple suspense of the evening without a barf-blast of assurance that the cinematic inner circle is composed of gods?

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