Lefty’s wife, Rosy–8
We have an Oscar tradition. Each year when the ballots come out, everyone in the family marks one up with his or her preferences. It is typical that Eric or Lefty wins this thrilling family contest. They read about the movies, they study up on the predictions and they make more educated guesses than the rest of us, who watch trailers if we have time. In a side note, I read Room by Emma Donaghue when it was released in 2010, and the story of Jack and Ma resides under my skin, as if it were implanted there when I read the book.
As part of our Oscar ritual, we also watch the program. When Lefty (25 year old son) and Isky (23 year old daughter) were still home, they stayed up and watched it with Peanut and me. It is only in the most recent years, that Sheldon stays awake although he doesn’t watch the program but steals in and out of the room to check the scores.
Sunday evening, it is just Peanut and me in the living room with the occasional check-in from smiley-faced Sheldon who Playstations the night away in the other room. I am in the big chair with a bowl of popcorn sprinkled with salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast while Peanut reclines on the couch with the six Oscar ballots in her lap. We are both jammied up and drink from cold glass bottles of Perrier water.
We are ready.
I’m not going to critique the show except to say that it’s crazy-ass long. Like I had to pee ten times long. Like I had to shave my legs before it was over long. Why does it have to be so damned long?
And why didn’t Lady Gaga sing earlier? Can anyone say highlight of the show? Heartfelt and commanding. She made all the stars cry and wipe their beautiful eyes. Who can’t get behind survivors of violence and rape holding hands on stage with Gaga, introduced by my favorite VP Joe Biden? Honestly, it feels good to shine a light into the dark corners where sexual violence exists. On network TV to boot.
I’m loathe to critique the Oscars because I’m wary of sounding stupid by having opinions about things I know nothing about. This does, however, render me a little wishy-washy, and unfortunately, this is something I have vowed to work on. Yes, back to that pesky vulnerability stuff. If I want to live an authentic and brave life (and I think I do, dammit), I have to learn to be vulnerable. I have to put myself out there, to fall down. Thanks a lot, Brené Brown. Grrr.
So, what about Chris Rock’s monologue? Oh God, I can’t believe I’m leaping in.
It’s Sunday evening. I’m sitting in my very comfortable chair–it’s not new; in fact, it’s a bit older than Peanut, and there’s a nice ass-shaped indention that I sink into to watch the show. I’m comfy in the squishy and worn corner of this familiar seat.
I’ve read all about the controversy–this is the second year in a row that no black performers were nominated for an award. I know about Jada Pinkett’s boycott. I know that there is quite a bit of push back against Jada. I know that many black performers are going to attend the event anyway.
I too am outraged. I don’t think that is too strong a word, either. I am outraged that there are no black actors or actresses nominated for awards, but I still want to watch the damned show. It’s a family tradition, after all.
Does that make me a bad person? I don’t really think so. You see, the Oscars don’t mean that much to me. It’s an event, for God’s sake, where swag bags (not affiliated with the Academy, of course) contain a weird assortment of gifts like a trip to Israel, personalized M&Ms, and a vibrator. I am so far removed from the lives of the people who receive these awards, that it isn’t quite real. I’m not even a connoisseur of good movies (About Last Night is in my top 10). And I’m certainly not a critic; when Peanut asked me just exactly what cinematography was, I had to look it up.
So I’m with Chris as he begins his opening monologue. Yeah! He’s skewering the Academy and Hollywood for their racism, right on! I love the montage bit and then the Kevin Hart stuff, but I start to feel a little funny when he asks,
Now the thing is, Why are we protesting? The big question: Why this Oscars? Why this Oscars, you know?
It’s the 88th Academy Awards. It’s the 88th Academy Awards, which means this whole no black nominees thing has happened at least 71 other times. O.K.?
And now I’m uncomfortable, squirming in my warm corner when he continues
You gotta figure that it happened in the 50s, in the 60s — you know, in the 60s, one of those years Sidney didn’t put out a movie. I’m sure there were no black nominees some of those years. Say ‘62 or ‘63, and black people did not protest.
Why? Because we had real things to protest at the time, you know? We had real things to protest; you know, we’re too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won best cinematographer.
You know, when your grandmother’s swinging from a tree, it’s really hard to care about best documentary foreign short.
Raping, lynching, and grandmothers swinging from trees–now I’m queasy. I don’t know how to feel. I keep trying to talk to Peanut about it. She, for the record, seems to think it’s all quite appropriate. I can’t put words to why it disturbs me so.
I say, “I don’t know, Peanut. It seems like the show is patting itself on the back by making fun of folks for caring about something so silly as an award.”
I say, “I don’t know, Peanut. I can’t explain it right. It seems condescending.”
I say, “I don’t know, Peanut. The joke seems off.”
I can’t quite get at what I feel.
A gazillion hours later, when the show is finally over, and Peanut and Sheldon have long gone to bed. After I’ve washed the popcorn bowl and rinsed the Perrier bottles. After I’ve scrubbed my face and applied moisturizer and turned all the lights off and made sure the doors were locked and checked the damn mousetrap and chatted with Eric for a few minutes about who won our family contest, I lie in bed thinking about that damned monologue and why this lingering discomfort plagues me. I mean, he’s Chris Rock. He is a black guy. Who am I to even have an opinion, right? I mean if he wants to shine a light on the hypocrisy of black folks while he’s skewering white folks, who am I to complain? And still it bugs me.
But there is a teeny tiny little seed of something that I continue to pick at long after I should be asleep, and slowly it sprouts. What if Chris Rock wasn’t skewering everyone? What if he wasn’t “nailing both sides” by suggesting that the Oscar controversy was all hullabaloo and thus making white folks a wee bit more comfortable? What if his monologue was more subversive than that? What if he put words to all the hateful, ugly things we’ve been saying to ourselves in our comfort-seeking brains?
It’s easier if we refuse to see or are willfully ignorant to the reality of police brutality, crumbling schools, lack of resources and opportunity, and, yes, discrimination in the workplace–even if it is Hollywood–than to acknowledge that racism is alive and well in the good ole US of A.
I bet Chris Rock wasn’t even jabbing Jada Pinkett but rather me, all of us, for thinking that you can’t speak truth to power if you have power. For thinking that just because things are better (and there are those who would argue this point), it’s petty to illuminate injustice.
I bet Chris Rock brought up lynching and rape and grandmothers swinging in trees because I (and maybe you) need to be reminded again and again and again that these things happened and that they continue to happen in a host of other guises.
It’s after 1 AM. Of course, I can’t pretend to know what Chris Rock intended with his monologue. Hell, I might have it all wrong. But it made me think, and I will wake up thinking.
That can’t be bad.