Once a year, people all over the world tune in to watch the same show at the exact same time and it’s a pleasant pill to swallow when everything else that is being broadcast live is a 24-hour cycle of bad news.
Hollywood’s Academy Awards ceremony is, as British comedian Ricky Gervais bluntly put it, “a night of the most privileged people in the world being told how brilliant they are and thanking God for loving them more than ugly poor foreigners.” But while it may be an anxious celebration for those who participate in it, for the rest of the world it is sheer relief. Relief from the bizarre string of demonstrations and mini-revolutions that have taken over one country after another in the Middle East. Relief from the economic downturn that has somehow made the rich richer and the poor poorer. And relief derived from the comfort of knowing that unlike almost everyone at the Kodak Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, you didn’t sell your soul for fame and fortune.
But that’s the beauty and intrigue of watching Hollywood’s big night, too. It’s the caricaturish ensemble of women who starve themselves for one night’s photo-ops, and the men in suits who delude themselves that the love and admiration of these women is sincere. It says a lot that for most audiences worldwide, the red-carpet arrivals scene (which lasts nearly 2 hours on its own) is the most appealing element of the program. Most people could care less who wins which award; the power of fame is what draws the world in, and the red carpet, more than any other aspect of the program exemplifies this. Hollywood shuffles even royalty into the shadows because unlike monarchs and their kin, movie stars are beautiful and cool.
As the elegant gowns and oft-practiced pouts of the starlets sashay onto the carpet, for a brief moment they and we believe in the perfection of their lives and look in awe at the craftsmanship of their look the attention paid to each detail of the coif, the garment, the accessories, and the makeup. Then we realise this young lady just endured a public divorce in which the vast infidelities of her husband were devoured by the international press. And this young man was once such an addict that his early morning antics sustained the tabloid industry for years. Or this older lady, once forgotten, is now invited to big parties because she injected just enough toxins in her skin to make her presentable for a film that more than a few people happened to see.
The biting entertainment of Oscar night is in these expansive dichotomies of beautiful people and the souls they sold and lips they kept sealed in order to make a name for themselves in the greatest show on Earth. These individuals each and every one of their glamorous selves are cogs in a machine to entertain us and it is not enough that they do so with their work, we demand that they entertain us with their private lives, too. Who did so-and-so bring to the red carpet his mother? What about his wife? Why is so-and-so suddenly brunette instead of blond is it a mid-life crisis at 30? We arent invested in the humanity of these people we expect them to entertain us at every turn. And they do.
We need Hollywood to remind us, once a year, that the lowest common denominator of entertainment is that which imparts leisure, and perhaps even joy, to the most of us. In a complex world of harsh truths and crude injustice, it is no wonder that from Pakistan to Peru and everywhere in between, people who can, take a moment to enjoy the spectacle of the stars on Oscar night. It certainly beats watching the news.
The writer is a US-based political analyst and a fomer Producer for BBC and Al-Jazeera. Follow her on Twitter @ShirinSadeghi