I was having a really nice week. My focus on Monday and Tuesday was pretty much exclusively on movies. I even had a meeting with a new industry friend and we talked a little business, but mostly about movies.
Then things got more complicated.
Of course, they were always complicated. This industry is relentlessly schizophrenic. Show and business are always bumping into one another, sometimes in the same sentence.
This conflict is real on every movie or tv show that is being developed, pre-produced, produced, posted, and released… every step on the road. But it reaches a uniquely high crescendo during award season, because there are so many players smashing between show and business for months on end.
As someone who has years of experience on this beat, one develops strong feelings. But one also develops a wide array of relationships with people on many levels of the food chain. You see the world through their eyes, if only for moments here and there.
For instance, in a rational moment, smart industry people - not critics in this case - can see the value of a film or tv show fairly clearly. But the layers of diffusion are added depending on all kinds of factors. It can be work that you have been involved with for a long time and have deep passions about. Players involved can change how you see the work. Your business can about selling the product, which means believing in it. The way the industry around you is looking in a given year can change how you see any one piece of work.
On the other hand, it can be even simpler. If someone is working on a project, they are being paid to get somewhat drunk on that project. Critical, rational thinking about that project is often not helpful. I mean, it’s good to have someone seeing straight… but that person is often pushed into outsider status because they aren’t really getting with the program.
If you are one of those people who is knee deep in the project and I am an outsider watching what you are doing, it doesn’t really help for you to see it from my perspective, unless our perspectives match. The job is getting me, the outsider, to see it like you, not the other way around… no matter what reality looks like. And how can I judge you for doing your job, even when my job is to be objective in a way you won’t become until your job on that one project is over?
There are other awkward clashes. When someone wins a Golden Globe from the utterly corrupt HFPA - less transparent than ever! - it is a rational human thing to feel positive emotion.
Whatever my (endless) issues with HFPA, there is an entire Awards Industrial Complex that is contending not only with that group, but all the other groups and, of course, The Academy itself. It is the problem and the beauty that any individual piece of the Complex holds less meaning to the professionals than it should.
To put it too graphically, there are all kinds of personal complexities in being a sex worker, but if you are a “madame,” you are a manager operating a business. Very different mindsets.
Being that manager can be as a producer, a distributor, an exhibitor, a publicist, a marketer, a journalist, a publisher, etc.
Thing is, I am not someone who aspires to being a successful “madame.” So how I feel about all of it is a form of self-indulgence. I have the freedom to be myopic when others can simply not afford to be so.
Of course, the people at the top of the Awards Industrial Complex are extremely smart and skilled and they don’t like the idea that anyone thinks that they cannot maintain focus on every single piece of the puzzle all at once. But no one can. It’s too much.
So every morning, the moral issues tend to burn off like the morning fog in Santa Monica. There’s just too much else demanding attention in an immediate way to worry about morality all the time. And since the moral conundrums are inherent in the nature of The Complex, there is no clear actionable answer, making it even less attractive to linger on such things.
Even taking a position on HFPA after things blew up… it’s a very unusual opportunity for anyone to actually be in a position to say, ”No,” about any one organization or issue and stick with it. People want to get back to work.
The idea of really tearing “the whole thing” apart and trying to find the best, most moral, most worthy way, most successful way of doing things is overwhelming and feels like a literal impossibility.
So I understand how I am the jerk, acting like I’m above it all, demanding that we all reach for a higher purpose. I’m not completely in my own head. Who has time to listen to my whining?
That said… the thing… our thing… is not working so great anymore.
As smart people have figured out how to maximize the opportunity while servicing The Money, I don’t think we have really yet understood that we are, day by day, killing the goose that’s been laying the golden eggs for decades.
It is both fair and unfair when people say, “All the awards are corrupt. Why pick on this one or that one?”
It is fair because, on some level, almost all of it has been corrupted, at least a little. And as we keep spackling and painting over the holes that get smashed in the walls by certain groups every year, others groups learn to behave badly. In fact, after a while, they feel stupid not taking full advantage of inappropriate opportunities when others are getting away with it. The lesson is not to stop stealing the little kids’ cookies from their lunch boxes… it’s to steal the entire lunch box, like the toughest kids do.
Bad habits lead to worse habits. Always. Unless you are aggressively monitoring the bad habits. But no one has time for that.
And on the other side? When I see individual bad behaviors, it pisses me off. But then I realize it is bigger than my frustration, so I (eventually) stop grinding my teeth.
That’s me, learning the same wrong lesson as whomever pissed me off in the first place. Who has time to be frustrated when it can’t change anything?
So whatever side of the behaviors you are on, you just end up going along to get along.
That’s when I get a little depressed, like I am today. They won’t save themselves. I won’t keep fighting to save them. The wheels of the Oscar Industrial Complex keep turning. And when we all notice the Global Devaluation, we comment amongst ourselves (“I didn’t get a harumph out of you!”)… then we never speak of it again until it is thrown in our collective face yet again.
The one thing that people who are too busy to change anything in a meaningful way forget. Eco-systems die. This doesn’t require an earth-shattering event. It usually happens mostly because people are too busy to pay attention.
This whole thing is designed to get people to care. That is what the award season is. But if we don’t care, why would they?
We all live on a Yellow Subscription-rine…