Monday, February 23, 2015
Today's Headlines: Everybody's in show biz
Predictably, the papers let loose with paroxysms of patriotic pride this morning, splashing photos of last night’s Oscar winners Alejandro González Iñárritu (original screenplay, director, picture) and Emmanuel Lubezki (cinematography) across their front pages. The mood was unabashedly celebratory.
In headlines over the photos, two dailies maintained enough calm to actually recognize the individuals — La Jornada with “González Iñárritu and Lubezki shine at Oscars,” and Excelsior with “They’re the best.”
For two others, it was a country that won the awards. “A Mexican night at the Oscars,” beams El Universal. “Mexicans strengthened,” is Milenio’s more headscratching version.
It must be said that for the most part the inevitable dose of nationalism in the coverage itself (headlines aside) was not all that overwrought or unseemly. The papers mostly let the central fact speak for itself — a Mexican received the highest possible honors from what is, for better or worse, the most important film industry in the world. That’s news fit to print. If compatriots get a little lift in pride from that, well, good for them. And good for newspaper sales.
Exactly why they get that lift is another matter. If you think about it (which few do), it’s irrational to root for a movie to win an Oscar. Does an academy’s validation of your taste matter? Are you going to like the movie less, in retrospect, if it doesn’t win? Isn’t the experience you had watching the movie all that counts?
Of course, this is one of those instances where we prefer irrational. We’re going to root. Period. That’s why the Academy Awards show is a global mega-phenomenon (that and the compulsion to see who’s wearing what).
Irrational may not be a gradable adjective, but the injection of nationalism into the Oscar equation seems to take it up a notch. It’s no stretch to assume that most of those Mexicans pulling for “Birdman” were doing it because the man who made it is from the same country as they are — and not necessarily because they especially liked the movie. It’s a safe bet, in fact, that a majority have never seen it; the film’s box office wasn’t exactly boffo, here in Mexico or anywhere else.
That leaves patriotic pride as the motivation. Pride of any kind is hard to define. But if it’s triggered by a pat on the back by insiders in a foreign industry, it’s not worth much.
Homiletic as it may sound, meaningful pride — pride you can be proud of, so to speak — is in the accomplishment itself, not the kudos you get for it. And the accomplishment belongs to the accomplisher. Nobody else.
González Iñárritu’s awards surely gave him the satisfaction of being recognized by his peers. But if we're honest, what it gave the rest of the nation was really not much more than something to piggyback on, an occasion to feel proud of their country, but not a reason to.
Oscar fever will go away in a day or two, but this central fact won’t: Alejandro González Iñárritu’s achievement was not winning three Oscars. His achievement was making “Birdman” in the first place. It would not be one whit less of an achievement if “Boyhood” had been named Best Picture instead.
SOMETIMES YOU GET WHAT YOU DESERVE. SOMETIMES YOU DON'T.
One thing the televised Academy Awards program unquestionably offers big-time is a global stage. González Iñárritu didn’t waste it. All the papers covered his twin message to the world, but only Reforma put it in its front-page headline over the director’s photo: “He wins Oscars . . . and asks for better government.”
It wasn’t all smooth. Both Sean Penn and González Iñárritu himself indulged in ill-advised immigration jokes. The quips were neither tasteless nor ill-intended (quite the opposite). But they reinforced the mindless conflation of “Mexican” and “illegal” that too many Americans make, precisely in a setting where the absurdity of that conflation was on full display.
Still, the director’s performance was a net plus. His non-joking reference to Mexicans residing in the United States was spot-on in its use of context: “I pray that they can be treated with the same dignity and respect as the ones who came before and built this incredible immigrant nation.”
And in dedicating his best picture award to his fellow Mexicans at home, he said, "I pray that we can find and build a government that we deserve."
Thirteen words — none of them strident, most of them hopeful. Thirteen words to remind the world of Mexico’s crisis, delivered without souring the proceedings. Thirteen words to pre-empt the inevitable attempt by President Peña Nieto to do his own political piggy-backing on González Iñárritu’s artistic success.
Pre-empted, maybe, but not avoided. It's de rigueur for the president to send out a message of congratulations at a time like this. Here’s his tweet: “Alejandro González Iñárritu, what a deserved recognition of your work, effort and talent. Congratulations! Mexico celebrates with you.”
Interesting choice of words on the president’s part. As if to say: “You may not think Mexico deserves my government, but I think you deserve your recognition. Who's the bigger man?”