Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the following post may not be universally popular or accepted, the author acknowledges this and assures you that he does not give a singular fuck.
There’s been a lot of hoo-ha recently, well actually over the past few years there’s been an almost permanent state of hoo-ha over something or other, but the most recent hoo-ha is to do with that most venerated of awards, the Oscars.
On the surface, where most people dwell, it’s a pretty simple gripe. Where are all the black Oscar nominees? Where are the nominations for Idris Elba and Michael B Jordan and all the other actors and actresses of colour who turned in great performances in the past year? All the hashtaggers want is for the Academy to be me more open and inclusive, which in 2016 should just be happening without saying, and that’s not so much to ask, right?
Well, there’s a bit more to it than that in the eyes of this old grouch, and it’s a result of some rather recent and rather grating phenomena that this post is even being written.
I write this post as a person of colour, a colour, not necessarily the one most people are concerned about. I write it as someone who likes to think of himself as a creative, be that in terms of writing, musically, or however else. I write this is as a lifelong, diehard fan of film and television, a rapacious consumer of all things visual. So it is not lightly that I write the following words.
Representation is not the same as equality.
Let me explain. There comes a time when it comes to racial equality where something stops being mere diversity and turns into tokenism. There is a certain point where people stop being, for example, employed based on their merit, and are rather chosen to fulfil some arbitrary diversity quota.
What does this mean for the employee? Sure, they’ve now gotten into a good job, where they can no doubt work hard and do well and therefore earn lots of money. But are they not disappointed that they got in by virtue of their race rather than their degree or experience? Are they not a bit miffed that they were chosen purely for being from a deprived background or because they speak with a certain accent? I don’t know about you, but when someone is assessing me I want it to be purely on the basis of my achievements, without the undue influence of the colour of my skin. In fact, I think it’s almost insulting.
It’s borderline patronising to go to a person of colour and award them something that you know they haven’t deserved, but are getting simply because everyone else is. There are no doubt actors who deserve to win awards, and they are the ones who are nominated by the academy. David Oyelowo and Chiwetel Ejiofor stood shoulder to shoulder with their fellow nominees based on the strength of their performances alone, and though they didn’t win, they were undoubtedly still proud of being considered as having given one of the five best performances of the year. Oh, and Denzel fucking killed it in Training Day, but that’s another story.
But what people seem to want is the grown up equivalent of a participation sticker in primary school, an “everyone’s a winner” pat on the back at the end of a football match in which you were trounced 20-0 by the opposition and fluffed a penalty. Now imagine being in that scenario when you’re an artist, when you’re a musician or an actor. Imagine somebody coming up to you and essentially saying “You’re getting awarded this simply because you tried, not because you were objectively the best, not because nobody else was good enough, but because you had a go and you’re a bit special.”
Not just that, but by focusing on black actors and directors as being under-represented, what does that say about every other ethnic minority? That they’re not good enough? They weren’t historically oppressed enough? They’re too much of a minority to be taken seriously? There are Indian and Chinese and Middle Eastern and Eastern European and Latin American, among many others, people working in the film industry out there who don’t have nominations yet also don’t have any social media support arguing for more representation. As Armond White put it, it’s a case of “the Least Favourite Token,” isn’t focusing on one race exactly the kind of behaviour that liberals like us should be discouraging? In fact, isn’t singling out anyone based on their ethnic background a basic act of racial division?
If the above all sounds a bit too Breitbart for this blog then you’ll have to excuse me, as though I am without question a liberal, I also believe that in the 21st century liberalism has a tendency to stray into tumblr hysteria in the face of increasingly weak provocations. There are issues which are pressing, issues regarding climate change, race, gender, socio-economics, the problems with entrenched elites, power structures and tax dodging corporations, many causes that require genuine attention.
But at the same time the online world has a tendency to latch onto the newest hashtag and viral video, turning any issue into an echo chamber of unqualified hyper-left wing soundbites and mean spirited jibes directed at detractors and conservatives presented without a shred of irony. Yeah they’re on the other side to you, does that mean their opinions are completely invalid?
Before you cry bloody irony I confess openly that I have been guilty of the above in the past, sharing posts from AAV and The Guardian that suit my views, my agenda on a given matter, while decrying any arguments that may be made by the other side. But I’ve changed, I promise*.
There are certain matters on which there is a clear right and wrong, Britain First will always be a joke, the Tories will always be a gang of animated Etonian plastic puppets led by a man who face fucked a pig, Katie Hopkins will continue to be the result of a laboratory experiment combining a melted candle with Satan’s soul gone wrong, but 99% of issues have valid arguments that can be made for both sides.
It would be a denial of the power of human thought, as well as a clear rejection of the informed electorate any democracy requires, to sit so staunchly on any one side of any one issue, that goes for the left and the right. Any normal, well rounded person will have things that they take different stances on.
You may be a Christian who supports social welfare yet opposes gay marriage, or a rich man who opposes higher taxes yet also lobbies for action on climate change, and like me you may yet be finding your proverbial political feet.
So back to the issue at hand. I’ve been reading a lot of posts from across the web, from the Guardian to the National Review, from all points of the spectrum, all the while trying to avoid the hyperbolic and overly simplified dross from the likes of Complex and HuffPo that will no doubt have armies of teenagers up in arms in their bedrooms.
The Oscars are a venerable institution, the first ever entertainment awards, running uninterrupted for over 80 years. In cinematic terms they’ve seen everything from the introduction of colour to modern day CGI, from actors like Clark Gable and Marlene Dietrich to George Clooney and Cate Blanchett, from epics like Ben Hur to modern day box office behemoths like The Dark Knight. For some jumped up Facebook users and paid by the word newspaper columnists to suddenly pipe up and accuse the Oscars of being outmoded is like a four year old insisting he can teach a university physics course better than the professor, it’s laughable. It shows a complete lack of knowledge of the subject as well as disrespect to those who actually do, the critics and scholars, people who study both film as well as those who have studied society and race. These are the people who can comment on this issue with any real authority, the ones who have the experience and knowledge necessary to have opinions with any weight to them.
It’s yet another example of social media taking divergent issues, mashing them together into a nice and provocative catchphrase, and suckering in legions of would be activists who will then do the customary liking and sharing of innumerable hastily typed out fluff pieces by Vice interns looking to get some tasty clicks. It’s the world we live in, where people can’t actually see that their faux outrage is nothing more than another trend being set by a growing army of people who seem to do nothing other than get offended by literally everything ever. I want to care, I really do, but I’ll be damned if the little Libertarian in me doesn’t want to just sit back with a cup of tea and laugh at the people falling over themselves to make the next offence train before it leaves the station.
I’ve always wondered what it would be like to just say really right wing things and watch people struggle as they realise that it came out of the mouth of a bearded 21 year old Indian boy, someone who occasionally gets pulled aside for a “random” search at the airport, someone who by all supposed norms should be a dyed in the blood liberal waving peace flags and holding vigils for Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin. I’m not saying I don’t care about people being shot, or about refugees, or about race relations and gender equality and everything else, just that I refuse to join people who like to simplify things to a basic right/wrong binary.
We live in a complicated world of, as I said so eloquently (if I do say so myself, if I do say so myself) in my New Years post, “Opinions as fact, Bullshit as opinions” and “Insanity as bullshit.” But by the oft repeated liberal ideal of free speech, everyone is entitled to spout whatever opinion or bullshit or insanity they want (within legal reason of course). I’m allowed to spout this long winded and poorly structured rant onto the internet and there’s nothing you can do about it, likewise you could share a post from The Mary Sue that I seriously disagree with and you can happily not give a fuck.
It’s both a blessing and a curse, and one that must be treated as such. Jesus himself said that we should do unto others as we would have done unto ourselves, and as an occasional Hindu who sometimes believes in Karma it all basically boils down to the age old adage of “what goes around comes around.” Spread bullshit, receive bullshit. Jump to hyperbole, be prepared to face it from the other side. Spout an opinion without any facts or research to back it up? You’d better believe there’s someone raring to do the same to you from behind their keyboard.
Much like the world in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, or just every single fucking exhausting day, it comes down to the same ol’ thing. People just need to think for themselves. They need to stop just like something because everyone else is, or sharing something they haven’t read/watched and thought about, or jump on a bandwagon simply because it’s the done thing. This post may have started out about the Oscars, but that was honestly just a springboard for the rest (it wasn’t really, I just ran out of shit to say), and as always it’s the issue surrounding the issue that is by far the more interesting thing to write about and hopefully to read about too.
xoxo, The Angry “Not quite brown enough for an Oscar outrage” Guy.
*promises meaningless and unlikely to be held/fulfilled