Back in Blackface - Why the Oscars are Gettin' Old
Since the biggest fallout allover the news and interweb from Sunday's 84th Acade--- the Oscars has not been the close contention for Best Actress between Viola Davis and Meryl Streep, but instead the apparently racist jokes of Billy Crystal. The biggest apparent slur, as we all know, was his impression of Sammy Davis Jr. complete with hair and makeup in the opening montage.
Context is the most important thing to keep in mind, we're not talking about Al Jolson here.
Here's why we should all take a deep breath and CALM THE FUCK DOWN: The Oscars is often panned for being too self-referential, lauding the past achievements in American Cinema through montages and music numbers to combat the assertion that the industry is a dying, creatively vapid enterprise. If you aren't at least casually familiar with some "classic" movies from the past century or at least 20 years (even if all you know is the title and one famous or often parodied line of dialogue) you won't get much out of these little snippets of nostalgia.
There is a difference between a racial caricature and portraying a human being.
Is it a wonder than that the humor on offer from Billy Crystal was in this vein? The theme of this years' show evidently was "let's get back to the old winning formula," after detours over the past few years into cynicism and just plain brain-dead. So Billy's jokes and even delivery had a dated taste to them. Billy Crystal came out and hosted the way he had in the past, sticking with a formula that may be stale in the second decade of the 21st century but we all knew that, even before the Biebs pointed it out in the very sketch.
Much of the ire is summed up by one of the Twitter demographic's most twatted twits that night: “Who is Billy Crystal?”
If you forget the last near decade and go back, you know that Billy Crystal was the usual host of the Oscars throughout the 90's and early 2000s. The problem lately is that he has been rather absent since his last appearance at the Kodak Theater apart from providing the voice for Walt Disney's one-eye'd monster.
For the youngest of us, I'll elaborate. In the days before his Oscar duties, he was a comedian and actor as well as a staple of Saturday Night Live. His old-school delivery, bit of MelBrook's-esque swagger and repertoire of voices were a package he easily brought to the stage for Hollywood's annual stroke-fest. And Sunday night he did, having been asked to fill-in on short notice, what was expected of him. For twenty years Billy Crystal has been known for among his gags, a bang-on impression of Sammy Davis Jr.
There is a difference between a racial caricature and portraying a human being. When Billy dawned makeup, hair and jewelry, he was doing his old staple impression of one of the Rat Pack. Was it inappropriate for the 2012 Academy Awards? Maybe, however I'd submit to the viewers that the bigger crime would be its irrelevance. I love Billy Crystal – I've usually watched the Oscars, but this formula is just too long in the tooth and it's this attempt at comedy when the context has passed on from the front of our pop culture mind that's the only offense.
There was a time when he was a perfect fit, but if the younger demographc that the show seems to always be chasing has to google Billy Crystal...well...how is Sammy Davis Jr a relevant reference compared to the prodigal son of pop culture in 2012?
Fuck it, let's do some shots!
Last year to their credit, Hollywood tried to be hip and relevant but it fell flat because the kids were out of place in the dingy old haunted mansion of an awards ceremony. If this year's show means anything, maybe it should be the swan song as the Academy regroups, reorganizes and adapts to the current and coming generation of its audience. Pick a more modern venue, hire a young but smart host (Emma Stone much??) and give the whole affair more of a Steve Jobs rather than Steve Martin spirit. But then again, with Transformers 4 on the horizon, we know sticking to the formula is a hard habit to break...