Late yesterday afternoon, having live-blogged the Oscars, I switched off the unnerving TV spectacle of an eyeliner-wearing Richard Wilkins with the sinking feeling that I had witnessed, if not the “worst Oscars ever”, at least a dismayingly mediocre ceremony.
And no, I’m not jealous that I can’t write like Aaron Sorkin. (Sheesh, one Sorkin is more than enough.) Although the spread of awards was much broader than the predictable clean-sweeps of the past, the Anne Hathaway-declared “young and hip Oscars” ended up more like the “old and hip-replacement Oscars”.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had hired the increasingly manic Hathaway, and her unexpectedly charmless co-host James Franco, in an explicit move to engage with younger generations of Oscar viewers who don’t respect industry gravitas, but rather experience the ceremony as a procession of “moments” that become drinking games at house parties, or real-time quips and photos on blogs, Twitter and Facebook.
The Academy has already recognised the online primacy of “moments” by uploading many memorable award acceptance speeches, plus pre-recorded promos featuring Franco and Hathaway, to its YouTube account.
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Franco and Hathaway tried a grab bag of internet-friendly tricks. Inserting themselves into the Best Film nominees; Franco’s adorable grandma Mitzi spotting “Marky Mark” in the audience; jokey songs; the wholesale importation of popular internet memes including AutoTuning the Movies and the appallingly saccharine PS22 Chorus; even Franco in drag.
Why didn’t it work? The ancient, stroke-incapacitated Kirk Douglas had more flirtatious charm than the babelicious Franco. The hosts’ relatives had better line delivery. The digitally resurrected Bob Hope spouted more zingers, and beloved former host Billy Crystal received a standing ovation from a crowd who hoped, perhaps, that Miracle Max could resuscitate a ceremony that was only mostly dead.
Meanwhile, Franco’s #oscarsrealtime live tweets from backstage got much more online love than his suspiciously stoned-looking onstage performance.
For me, it was increasingly stultifying to engage with the Oscars via “quip culture”. Anyone watching the #qanda hashtag on Monday nights will realise that we’ve reached a cultural place where opinion and analysis unfold in real time, and commentary races to be first and pithiest. It’s no surprise that comedians have some of the most popular online presences.
The mechanisms built into social networking sites — retweets, thumbs-up, comments and LOL reactions — funnel our responses in one direction or another, much as railway switches direct fast-moving trains. There’s little time for hesitation or equivocation, yet even the typos, assumptions and bad judgment calls we make along the way are mercilessly lampooned.
I came away from the Crikey liveblog feeling as though I hadn’t ever put my finger on what made the various films good or bad, why I agreed or didn’t agree with the winners, or what the ceremony revealed about the industry. The temptation to quip is tough to resist — and as a commentator I felt pressure to please my audience by producing a constant stream of “zingers”.
The value of liveblogging is the creation of temporal communities that transcend geography — all you need is access to the unfurling text. But what you do with that community is a trickier question — and one that seems to have eluded many this Oscars.