Last night I watched the Oscars with a group of friends, pretty much all of whom were more excited about the whole business than I am. A bunch of girls (and one dude) who just love everything about celebrities. I don't know what you call that. Glamourphiles, maybe. They all tuned in two hours before the awards started, to watch the pre-game show on E, and talk about everyone's clothes. I tell you all this, my imaginary readers, so you can know that this was a very friendly audience.
The first big award was for best supporting actor, which went to George Clooney for Syriana. In one of the few politically-tinged moments of the evening, Clooney ended his acceptance speech with this comment:
"And finally, I would say that, you know, we are a little bit out of touch in Hollywood every once in a while. I think it's probably a good thing. We're the ones who talk about AIDS when it was just being whispered, and we talked about civil rights when it wasn't really popular. And we, you know, we bring up subjects. This Academy, this group of people, gave Hattie McDaniel an Oscar in 1939 when blacks were still sitting in the backs of theaters. I'm proud to be a part of this Academy, proud to be part of this community, and proud to be out of touch."
Clooney's speech was a reaction to an earlier monologue bit from Jon Stewart:
"I'm from New York and I've been here a week and a half. A lot of people say this town is too liberal. Out of touch with mainstream America. A modern day beachfront Sodom and Gomorrah. A black hole where innocence is obliterated. An endless orgy of sexual gratification and greed.
"I don't really have a joke here...and I just thought you should know a lot of people are saying that."
Clooney turned Stewart's jab into a compliment for the Hollywood community, gathered there in the audience. But there was a much larger audience gathered in living rooms around the nation, and Clooney's remark certainly did not compliment them. 'I'm proud to be out of touch with the people watching this show at home, the people who buy the tickets to my movies and pay my salary. Because I'm better than them.' Wow.
Like the guys at Powerline, I'm not sure whether Clooney is right about the movie business being the progressive vanguard, showing America the way. I am sure they like to think of themselves that way. But the first big Hollywood movie about AIDS was Philadelphia, which came out in 1993. Were Americans were still 'whispering' about AIDS then? Maybe there's more truth to the claim about civil rights, although I suspect that Clooney is wearing rose-colored glasses when he sees this, too. (Sidney Poitier got an Oscar in 1964, the first ever for an African-American actor. The second was not awarded until 2002.)
Even if he was right, I am sure that his statement bothered a lot of people in the room where I was watching. And these are not political people. These are girls in their twenties who love Hollywood celebrities. And they were clearly a little upset to see George Clooney tell them that he is glad to not be like them. It was jarring.
But, I think it certainly showed that Clooney was right about one thing. He is out of touch.