Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Keep on Picketing

Ah, the Hollywood writers’ strike: It’s been the worst of times, it’s been the best of times. Back in November, if you had told me that news of a possible resolution to this labor impasse would cause me anything other than unmitigated joy, I wouldn’t have believed you. At the time, I couldn’t imagine how I would survive without the weekly antics of the folks at Dunder-Mifflin, Mode or Buy More. Why, a person could starve on such measly rations as re-runs, reality shows and the complete seven seasons of “Gilmore Girls” on DVD, courtesy of Netflix. When your remote lands you on PBS’s Pledge Week and you choose to stick around and see if you can mentally make the phone ring for that guy in the third row, you know you’ve hit bottom. The situation has become so dire, the best comedy currently airing on network television happens to be a political ad.

And yet.

I’m not ready to go back to the way things were.

I don’t mean that I want to turn my back on the medium. After all, “Lost” finally premiered last week and “Masterpiece Theatre” is doing a bang-up job with those Jane Austen adaptations. I just mean that I found other things to fill all the time I didn’t spend watching my favorite shows or reading online recaps of my favorite shows or debating whether to jump on the “Gossip Girl” bandwagon. I never realized how exhausting it all was, this attempt to maintain my pop culture street cred.

The strike was my get-out-of-jail-free card.

It’s not so much the absence of television that I’ve enjoyed—because when I really want to veg out in front of the boob tube, there’s always “Wife Swap”—as the absence of celebrities. Admit it, the words “silver lining” crossed your mind when Teri Hatcher disappeared along with new episodes of “Desperate Housewives.” The cancellation of the Golden Globes was a surprising relief and the prospect of a world without an Oscar telecast no longer struck me as particularly bleak.

A lot of us have a love-hate thing with these awards shows. We love the pretty dresses, we hate being reduced to such shallowness. Love the competition, hate the self-congratulatory acceptance speeches. Love the illusion of glamour these shows inject into our lives, hate the way the fabulous honorees make our own existence seem so very small and pedestrian. Surely, I’m not the only one to suffer from that particular inferiority complex.

I mean, if I never saw another actress walk down a red carpet dripping in jewels, her “naturally” rail thin body encased in a designer gown that cost more than my condo, I probably wouldn’t mind.

So when the world continued spinning on its axis after the Golden Globes much-derided press conference, plenty of us award show junkies were given pause to question our drug of choice. What, after all, is the point?

During the SAG Awards pre-show telecast—hey, I might be trying to kick the habit but even heroin addicts need their methadone—I got my answer. “We really needed tonight,” said the actress Chandra Wilson, whom I generally adore or, more to the point, whose “Grey’s Anatomy” character I generally adore. “We needed to celebrate each other’s work.” Or something to that effect.

There was no mention of the fans. No shout out to the couch potatoes at home. No pretense that the viewing audience was even factored into the equation. Award shows boil down to actors gushing over other actors. (And I know some of these shows let cinematographers and make-up artists and sound effects editors come out to play, but let’s face it, even their mothers are saying, “Let’s get to Javier Bardem.” In fact, that’s why the Screen Actors Guild invented their own awards—sort of like a clubhouse with a giant “keep out” sign aimed at deterring all those dorky set decorators and screenwriters.)

Before I completely lose my train of thought, I remember responding to Wilson’s comment—and I hate to keep singling her out for what is undoubtedly a common opinion—with a “Well, what working stiff doesn’t need a pat on the back? Why are actors more deserving of it than the rest of us?” And why are the rest of us expected to care?

My former employer used to hold an annual Rewards & Recognition Week. I’m sure versions of this take place all over Corporate America. Banquet halls or hotel ballrooms are rented out, some sort of mystery chicken is served, assorted plaques and/or other blunt objects are distributed as tokens of appreciation for a job well done, often accompanied by modest sums of cash or the occasional gift card.

None of this is televised. Which is actually how the Oscars ceremony got its start—as a small dinner party for Cary Grant and friends. I’m starting to think maybe the Academy got it right the first time, and has mucked it up ever since. Would it really be so terrible to wake up on a Monday morning, hear who took home the golden statue the night before, view a few pictures of the fashions and then move on with one’s day and, dare I say, one’s life?

I was hoping that the writers’ strike would last long enough for us to find out.


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