It has been a long and exhausting year for America and other countries around the world. Nothing seems all that real because too many have been divided into pockets of self-protection and delusion that aren’t measured by any kind of objective truth, but are measured instead by how many likes or shares we get on the only marginally safe form of human interaction left to some pf us: social media. Welcome to the year where more of life was lived online for more people than it ever has been. With nowhere to go, no schools to attend, no movie theaters or night clubs or bars, no beaches or parks, no camping, no normal Thanksgiving or Christmas. No hugs, no touching, no dating, no casual sex, no gyms. Only solitude, worry, and misery, day in and day out, in a sharply divided country where there’s no unity on either side. The Democrats are divided. The Republicans are divided. In the middle of it is a reality TV star who’s lost his grip on reality, who has captivated the nation as any reality star villain would. Few have been able to look away from Trump – even if they wanted to. It is inescapable. He is everywhere, all of the time up to and including this last extended episode of the Donald Trump Show Season One which has a truly dramatic climax, of the kind we’ve never seen in this country before.
It’s chaos. Five people died during the assault on the US Capitol as a mob of Q’anon supporters (and possibly worse) broke through the barriers and trotted around with their hand-made wooden spears and their One Million BC cosplay fur vests and cow horned helmets, sounding their barbaric yawps to the world, seen at last. Here we are, they said – with insanity glinting in their pupils – madness unleashed. Those who hide in the shadowy rabbit holes of YouTube, who have found ways to communicate with each other, at last had an almighty leader in Donald Trump. What people don’t yet know, however, is that Trump really isn’t their leader and that their war is bigger than Trump and won’t stop with Trump. In fact, we’re now seeing how many merely tolerated Trump but once they believed that Trump didn’t do what they wanted they are happy to abandon him and sabotage him. To what extent their expectations and demands were met, I do not know.
How do I know this? Because I’ve been a traveler this year. I have bobbed in and out of the various pockets online because I could. Never before in human history have we been able to do that with just a few clicks here and there. All that is required is an open mind and a strong resistance to the delusions of these various worlds. But when you begin to see things from other perspectives you start to see how similar people are in their various tribes. Humans really aren’t that different, across the spectrum, it’s just that the criteria changes depending on the ideology. But we still, even after all of these hundreds of thousands of years can find ourselves in the “us vs. them” mentality, that there are “good” people and “bad” people. The funny and not-so-funny thing is, each pocket of ideology believes they are the good people and others are the bad.
For me, I ventured into the world of the Never Trumpers, the Rick Wilsons, the Charlies Sykes, the Joe Walshes. I went into Trump world, the Ben Shapiros and the Tucker Carlsons. I went into Bernie world, the Matt Taibbis and the Glenn Greenwalds. I went into the free thinking world with Bret and Eric Weinstein, Yascha Mounk, Jesse Singal and Katie Herzog. Left and right and center. I didn’t go into the Q’anon world but I kept just enough of an eye on it to know where they were headed and what their ideology was. I did all of this because it became clear to me at some point that I too was in a bubble. It just so happened that mine was the biggest and perhaps most widely acceptable, the one that pretty much controls all of the information streams, all of Hollywood, all of the higher institutions in this country, like science and the Oscars. So I guess I could say I’m lucky that I am inside the utopia of the now, the utopia of tomorrow.
I would not advise you do what I did because it isn’t really a happy way to go about your life in the COVID era. Things are getting worse, not better. People are becoming more angry, more cruel, not nicer. The idea that we are the side that believes in love is no longer true. Whatever it was that made us believe in love to conquer all was destroyed by Trump with no end in sight.
The thing we have now to hold onto, the only thing, is the newfound religion we’ve adopted. We believe in equality, equity, and eradicating racism. That will be a primary prism through which the new left sees itself – in all things. At least for the short run until the conservatives figure out how to take back power. My advice: don’t get too comfortable with the new normal of the left. This country is still majority white by 60%. That doesn’t mean it’s systemically racist necessarily, although clearly that is the going ideology — and a prime directive for the next four years will be to wipe that out wherever it might be. (Obviously this is more complex and beyond the scope of this piece.) It means sooner or later an increasingly disgruntled faction of that 60% is going to push for a government that focuses on what it needs. Which likely means we’ll get more populism, not less.
Major tragedies in America’s past have united us as a country as we found our way back to each other, huddled together and repaired the damage of big disruptions. FDR sewed it back together after the Great Depression and World War II. Is it any wonder that most of America wanted to keep him in for three terms? But there were many who opposed FDR. And in fact, that anger lives on even today as the more conservative conservatives like Paul Ryan and the Tea Party billionaires who want to dismantle FDR’s legacy. Yeah, good luck with that one in post COVID America.
But we clung to each other. We huddled together. We believed in “love thy neighbor.” What is different in 2020? Social media algorithms that keep us divided, pushing us to hate each other. And even if we did find our way back to one another there are bad actors out there in cyberspace who are invested in keeping America as divided and chaotic as possible. Countries like Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and Iran are invested in bringing down America with armies of trolls, with increasingly homegrown trolls, busting up any unity and driving us closer and closer to Civil War. What chance do we have.
Those of us who cover the Oscars have been swept up in the tsunami of 2020, though we’re making a hopeful go of it anyway, dutifully jotting down our predictions as though it was business a usual. There are theories as to how “they” will vote, though no one knows anything. Those of us who have a heavy twitter presence are divided into various tribes. I am someone everyone hates for my outspoken views that often run counter to the status quo. Once you crawl out of your own bubble and see things from different perspectives it’s hard to go along with things you know aren’t true. It’s better to remain loyal to your tribe for protection and affirmation, if nothing else.
We don’t know what voters are going to do. We don’t know who covering the Oscars is working what agenda, what publicists they’re trying to please. Or whether they are caught up in the enthusiasm of their followers and like everything else on social media they tailor them for maximum likes, so as not to disappoint their fans. But since everyone hates me, at least I don’t have that particular problem when it comes to predicting the Oscars.
One quality I do retain is my own sense of what are the good movies that I think voters will go for in such a horrific time in American history. I suspect many of them will not care as much about this year. Some will find little to get exciting about and feel a begrudging loyalty to their jobs as Academy members in an industry that feels under threat of monumental change.
And how could they not? For many of them their world has been upended along with everything else. Not only have the last few years seen a flood of new members in order to modernize their choices, and thus their image — to help them look less like the 60-ish upper middle class white dudes most people see them as and more like the hip and young people who attend the Sundance Film Festival every year. That they picked Parasite last year probably did more for the “street cred” than just about anything else. Parasite is an unequivocal masterpiece and out of character for the Academy on a consensus vote. But things are changing perhaps. Or maybe it just seems like that.
Supposedly the new year was going to bring a new administration, but we’re seeing the worst of the last one here in the last gasp. It’s a tragedy of all of our own making, this mess we’re in, with no end in sight. Maybe Biden and Harris will be able to restart some kind of optimism. Or maybe we’re just about to enter the Donald Trump show Season Two — the hearings and tribunals to investigate, the prosecution of crimes, the desire to ruin and erase everything related to Trump and his supporters. This is the one area where the Never Trump conservatives who want their establishment back and the New Democrats who want to “cancel” Trump for good find unity. Both sides will not want to let him off the hook, so the coming years will still be about Trump, about purging him from every aspect of our country. So I don’t expect, as I did before, we’ll have much of a perspective shift in the short run.
Nobody knows anything. That was true in 1999 when I started my site and it remains true now. It still comes down a consensus vote. You have to decide which voices in the Oscar world you trust and which voices you do not trust and why. I won’t be doing this for much longer, dear readers, and I hope that those who still follow this site, who trust how I cover the race, have also found voices out there who are right and honest and will continue to cover the Oscars in a way that matters.
I only know which films have stood out to me this year, and that will be our focus here. This is not based on what the critics think and have voted for – their tastes have been made quite clear as well. We will have to find what large groups of people are moved by and think are good. But right now, no one who covers the Oscar race has any clue as to what direction this race will head. It is as fluid as they come. But one thing we know for sure about the choices people make this year, they will not be in a vacuum. They will be informed by the apocalypse, by the chaos, the rage, the deaths, the suffering, the riots, the protests, the uprisings, the division, the algorithms and yes, by ordinary human beings doing they best they can in a given day.