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Lock and Load: The Oscars in the Era of Social Network Mobilization


Did you hear the one about the guy who won his second term as president with a bad economy? If you were online this past election season you no doubt felt the pulse of people power as shot through Twitter, Facebook and various other media streams.  If Congressman Paul Ryan was caught faking a photo op at a soup kitchen, or Mitt Romney caught handing out checks to people who were supposedly donating food to Hurricane Sandy victims, or if you were Karl Rove and others trying to suppress the vote in Pennsylvania that shit didn’t happen in the dark. It was outed within minutes and spread around the web like wildfire. Many of us, even those of us who are supposed to be in the business of entertainment, took to our various social networks to fight for our causes, kind of like we are trying to do now with gun control.

The 2012 election showed what a well oiled machine social networking has become and let’s face it, when you’re exposed in front of god and everybody perhaps the best elements of human nature win out.  Or we’d like to think so, anyway. Our side (my side) won the election and you could say we’re a bit fired up.

It isn’t just that we take sides, form teams and fight for the films we love – that’s been happening for a while now, and probably is human nature now that Twitter and Facebook have enabled us to gather together in one crowded pool.  Now, though, we have become a powerful movement for change.

It should come as no surprise, then, that once the Oscar race kicked into high gear, those same issues, and that same activism, has suddenly found its way into the world of film criticism. The Oscar race has always been political, to my mind anyway. But I lived through those Oscar ceremonies where there were protesters outside the Shrine Auditorium, and Marlon Brando sent Sacheen Littlefeather up to refuse the award  on his behalf, too boos.

Kim Basinger also protested the lack of a Best Picture nomination for Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing and Michael Moore protested George Bush and the Iraq war in one of the best moments in Oscar and American history.   But public opinion seemed to shift in the 1980s and 1990s, mostly, which carries through to today – this idea that the Oscars are supposed to be about rewarding entertainment, not used a political platform to get the messages out to millions of viewers.

For all of the controversies that found their way into the Oscar race over the years, there hasn’t ever been anything like you see today, like you’re seeing right now aimed specifically at Kathryn Bigelow over the torture controversy in Zero Dark Thirty.  She’s been called a sadist, fetishist – I even saw one commenter call her a pig. The hatred and venom directed at Bigelow is, I might say, akin only to words being lobbed at politicians.  But I wonder, can we even tell the difference anymore? When we’re so used to mobilizing our public opinions around an issue we feel is wrong, how can we not then use our various streams of communication to mobilize around an issue like, say, torture in Zero Dark Thirty or racism and the use of the “N” word in Django Unchained? How much people attention pay to these issues depends, of course, on how hot they are to begin with.

During last year’s race, it was difficult, if not impossible, to mobilize anyone around the notion that, to date, only one black actress has ever won a Best Actress Oscar.  It was so much harder to get anyone to care last year. But I wonder how it would have gone over this year, with those pathways so deeply and clearly drawn now, and the rivers flowing in all different directions after the re-election of Barack Obama?  Sure, maybe Meryl Streep still would have won – hers was the bigger part and she was overdue … for her third Oscar.  Had Viola Davis’ part been a big bigger in The Help, as big as, say, Emma Stone’s, she might have had an easier victory.

Nonetheless, changes to the Oscar demographics are small and hard fought.  The pathways of communication have now gotten the word out that Ava DuVernay may be looking at becoming the first African American writer/director/producer ever to be honored at the Oscars.  Word got out that Ann Dowd took out a loan to pay for her own screeners so voters might see her work in Compliance and deem it worthy enough for a nomination.   A few people seemed to care that Richard Gere, after a long and healthy career, has never been nominated for an Oscar.  These are small things, of course, and one never knows whether the Oscar voters will even be aware of them.   Some of us harp on them every year but this year it really does feel like the word can get out faster and broader than ever.

Still, it is perhaps the way of things that Bigelow is being called a fetishist when her film really does show the ugliness of torture and asks you to decide whether you think it’s “worth it” or not. Her film has caused much debate all over the web. Sure, the activists have mobilized and taken a side, and it is very much the liberal side.  The headlines are fanning the flames that somehow Kathryn Bigelow got off on those scenes of torture – the venom directed at her feels personal. Why does it bother people more with Bigelow and not with Tarantino, who shows a slave being torn apart by wild dogs, a woman being shot just for being white and a room so splattered with blood it drips from the walls?  Is it because Bigelow’s is all too real?

Here is a sampling of some comments from this Guardian piece:

Guaitaquinscollons Recommend 126
Hollywood has totally surrendered to the charms of this dimestore Leni Riefenstahl. At least the real one made her films before the war and was more of an artistic pioneer.

That said, I’ll keep enjoying KB’s films even if they require some suspension of morality before being watched.

sentience Recommend 202
Bigelow is indeed a sadist and a fetishist. it needed to be said.

Briar Recommend 137
@sentience – And so are all those who support torture and enjoy contemplating it. That needs to be said too – given how many people are secretly fascinated by and approving of the atrocities committed in their name.

IgAIgEIgG Recommend 369
@sentience –
She is a pig.

I simply cannot express enough disgust for those who would use the might of Hollywood propaganda to build approval and support for the torture (a war crime) committed by the American government, the CIA, and the US military.
Torture is cancer, and therefore death, for any state or entity which uses it, including the CIA and the American military.
The stupid pig is either so selfish she does not care or she is so dumb she does not understand.
Anyway, when you peddle support for war crimes, you set karma in action, don’t you?

twopennorth Recommend 171
Leni Riefenstahl
Spot on. Hollywood is the propaganda arm of neocon fascism.

Tamron Recommend 55

@twopennorth –
Given that most of us haven’t seen the film, perhaps we should hold back back from calling Bigelow a pig and a nazi. My understanding from reviews is that the film doesn’t really assert that torture produced useful intel, but rather it simply acknowledges that torture was part of the process used by the CIA . That is to say, there are no ‘heroes’ in the story of killing obl because the whole operation was morally compromised. I think a fiction film is a good way to explore these issues precisely because it doesn’t need to exactly hew to every detail of the story, and it’s important to remember that no one perhaps knows the full truth of these events.

Pete Rowe Recommend 28
@IgAIgEIgG – war crime my arse. war against an invisible enemy like muslim terrorism must be fought using every available tool.

Chewtoy Recommend 24
@Tamron – Go back and read the article, especially this bit:

It certainly isn’t that this is just mere suspension of disbelief and that, when the lights go on, we go back to known reality. In fact, Zero Dark Thirty, wrapped in the great praise that invariably accompanies middle-brow claptrap claiming to cope with the big issues of the day, will compete as a true narrative for how al-Qaida was dealt with and Osama dispatched. (Similarly, The Social Network, an almost entirely made-up version of the founding of Facebook, has pretty much become the rosetta stone of social-media history.)

Perhaps the worm will turn and more people will start standing up not for the politics but for the art. Will that start this year with Zero Dark Thirty? It’s hard to say. But there is no mistaking the content of the film as controversial. It is that. When you decide to make a movie about a controversial topic you have to expect there to be blowback.  Mark Boal has said in interviews that he didn’t make the movie the White House would have wanted him to make.  But I guess that can be followed by the idea that the White House just won re-election.  A lot of people are on its side right about now.  Thus, the people will continue to mobilize against a movie because they are already primed and ready to mobilize against the political issue, be it gun control or torture.