The Academy Awards

Let’s start by saying I am not, nor have I ever been, a big fan of award shows.  I do like the spectacle and the sometimes-amazing musical numbers.  When it comes to The Tony Awards, I enjoy watching the scenes from different nominated shows because it is unlikely, I will see them on Broadway.  It’s a glimpse into a place I get to less than once a year.  Award shows in general just don’t seem quite right to me.  One person’s art is another’s garbage so how can an award show be objective?  Who’s to say what makes any art form great?

The Academy Awards are also known as The Oscars, a term I will use from now on, used to be at least fair in their award shows.  These days I don’t see it as fair at all especially with our new world of political correctness.  Political correctness seems to be something everyone hates and yet no one wants to do anything about.

I believe in equal rights for every person on this earth.  I believe that we should all be able to pursue those things that make us happy.  I believe that we should work in the field that we are gifted in.  I believe that every person is entitled to dignity and respect.  And I believe that everyone should be able to believe in what they choose to believe.  Every person has to grapple with their beliefs and then live with the outcome of that battle.

I don’t believe that we should forget or erase the past.  I don’t believe Columbus Day should be replaced by Indigenous People Day.  I believe there should be an Indigenous People day it just shouldn’t cancel out Christopher Columbus, who though a flawed man, like we all are, still did an amazing thing that I am reaping the benefits of today.  You see for me it’s not either-or but and.

This brings me back to The Oscars.  In 1958 Auntie Mame was nominated for best picture.  Auntie Mame is a comedy about a madcap aunt raising her orphaned nephew.  It’s a great film was a terrific cast and great performances.  The movie didn’t win.  It was a comedy and it was rare for comedies to win an Oscar but it was in the running now you never see a comedy in the Academy Awards.  Making people laugh seems unimportant to those who make these decisions.

In 1966 The Oscar for best picture went to The Sound of Music.  In 1965 both My Fair Lady and Mary Poppins were nominated for Best Picture.  My Fair Lady won but Julie Andrews took The Oscar home for best actress.  All three of these movies were family-friendly and were beautiful films.  Could you see any of them winning an Oscar today?  Of course not.  Not many films today that win Oscars are family-friendly.  Very few even get nominated and that is a tragedy.  We keep talking about needing diversity in our culture and that is absolutely true but diversity does not have to be serious or violent or sexy.  It can and should be fun exciting and humorous.  We need serious films with strong endings to teach us about life and the fact that it’s hard.  No one gets out without some bumps and bruises but life is also funny and joyful and warm and cuddly we need our films to express all these things and those that do this well should be given an Oscar, After all, it was Auntie Mame who said, “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”

This brings us to the nominees for this year’s Oscar for best picture.  This year’s nominations are not as bad as the last few years.  There really is diversity in tone and subject matter.  It was great to see West Side Story on the list and Dune, a Sci-Fi epic was a complete surprise to me.  The rest were films I am less impressed with but that is a matter of taste.  There is just one problem with this list.  One movie that checked every box that makes a movie great was snubbed by The Academy.

This movie was well written, filled with both action and suspense.  It has a great cast and had humor as well as tragedy.  The film was loved by almost everyone who saw it.  It got good reviews and ranked at 96% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.  It has also won a Golden Tomato award.  It is still in theaters and is slowly overtaking the films that have grossed the most amount of money.  The film I am talking about is Spiderman No Way Home.

Spiderman No Way Home would have been up for best picture 60 years ago without a doubt.  It has everything a movie should have and then some.  Even surprises that no one was expecting but were wonderful to see as the story unfolded.  So what happened to us.  Why is this film not Oscar-worthy.  I’m not sure I know.  Still, I’ll take a shot at it.

I think the Academy has become a group of politically correct snobs.  They don’t see that life can be fun and that Superheroes, who are part of our modern mythology have a long-standing and respected place in our society.  There are college courses on comic book heroes and though originally a form of entertainment for children is now a form of entertainment for adults.  The characters are complex and interesting and the fact some of them have been around for more than eighty years proves that they have something that our world needs.  I think that is hope.

Today’s world doesn’t seem to have much hope.  This is reflected in some of our TV shows, our books, and our films.  Superhero movies provide hope because good always triumphs in the end.  Disney films do the same thing.  As did the Harry Potter series, The Lord of the Rings, and three films that were done in The Chronicles of Narnia.  Only one of these won best picture and that was The Return of the King the third part of The Lord of the Rings the first two parts were never even nominated.  Movies need to give us hope again.

It all comes back to story.  We are all a story have I have stated before.  We are our own story but we are also part of a bigger story that God began to write when he created the earth and everything on it.  Our movies and our books and TV shows and comic books are all ways for us to find our place in our own stories.  Are we the heroes or are we the villain?  Are we the one who disaster strikes or are we the one who saves the day?  The answer to these questions is yes, we are all of these.

Let me give you an example of how stories have affected my life.  Back in 1972, a television show premiered on the CBS network.  That show was The Waltons.  I was 11 at the time but the show became a family favorite.  The lead character John-boy the eldest son became a hero to me.  He had to wear glasses to read and I had just been given my first pair, he was creative and he wrote, and it was watching that series that inspired me to become a writer as well.  I wrote all kinds of things and for a little while in 6th grade started the first and only school newspaper my elementary school ever had.  The Primos Press.  I did this with my best friend Charlie Meo but behind all of it was John-boy Walton.

Stories shape us.  They help guide us and help us make decisions.  The process may not be conscious but it’s there.  We are formed by our own story and by the stories of others both fictional and real.  This is why we watch movies and it’s why we need those movies that are honored with an Oscar to be films that show the things we need to know.

Remember that movies are subjective so what I love will not always be what other people love.  But when a vast majority of people enjoy a film, that film deserves an Oscar nomination.  Spiderman No Way Home is such a film.  And it is a sad reflection on our culture that it was ignored.

Why Culture POPS for Me

I have been in love with pop culture for as long back as I can remember.  I guess that it started with the Batman TV series which began its run in 1966.  Even before that, I loved Lucy and Jack Benny.  I grew up watching cartoons that are now forgotten Beanie and Cecil, Tobar the 8th Man, Rocket Robin Hood, and Marine Boy.  All of these fascinated me and I continually wanted more.

After a certain age, I became a walking TV guide.  I knew everything that was on and whether it was worth watching or not.  In the first grade, I fell in love with comic books, and many nights my collection of comics sat next to me in my corner of the sofa while I watched TV.

My mother loved musicals and so I was thrust into the worlds of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Loew and many others.  While reading comics I found that the characters would quote old movies or books and so slowly I began to watch old films as they showed up in the TV listings.  This was years before you could record or stream anything so if it was on that was the only chance to watch it.

I also began to read.  My mother read to me as a child.  Before bed, she read me all kinds of things until I was old enough to read for myself.  As I stated before comic book characters would quote books and I wanted to know what the quotes meant and where they came from.  I developed an early interest in Shakespeare, Greek myth, and Arthurian Legends.

I was reading well above my grade level even though you couldn’t tell that from my grades.  I began to blossom as a student when the emphasis was changed from grammar to reading classic literature.  It was then I could shine.

I don’t know what draws me to pop culture, both past, and present.  I  have written on it extensively.  Book reviews, movie reviews, and history.  In fact a couple of years ago I wrote a fascinating story about a forgotten show called The Goldbergs.  Not the new one but the show that was on the airwaves from 1929 until the 1950s.  The show was a radio show, a tv show, a play, a movie, and a musical.  And every script was written by the same woman Gertrude Berg.  She was pretty interesting too.  You can read her story here, https://pcmworldnews.com/news/2021/01/the-goldbergs-debuts-on-television-january-1949-2/.

I like to list all I could about my love of pop culture.  If you walked into my apartment you would be greeted by a bookshelf filled with books on show business of one kind or another.  The shelf is decorated with pop culture icons of the Golden age and the present age action figure of Green Lantern and The Flash.  Going further in you would find sculptures of the main characters from Kenneth Graham’s The Wind in the Willows.  Looking up you’d find peaking out of teacup Jacque and Gus the two mice from Disney’s animated Cinderella.  In my office, there is a replica of Sleeping Beauty Castle from Disneyland and it is surrounded by every character you could ever hope to meet in that place.  Even on my desk, staring at me is a small animatronic Yoda that talks when I push a button.  A small Starship Enterprise also sits on my desk right next to a Tardis from Doctor Who.  On my walls are movie posters, an authentic replica of Bilbo’s and Frodo’s sword sting along with a map of Middle Earth.  In the hallway, one wall is devoted to a map of The Magic Kingdom and the other is displayed all of the celebrity autographed photos I have collected over the years.

I have a Mickey Mouse wall clock, a Superman wall clock and on other shelves, I have a set of action figures that are the great authors including Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Dickens.  In my bedroom, there is a collection of 7-inch vinyl figures that depict most of the Justice League of America.

And that is truly only a partial run down.  Most of this stuff will mean little to those I leave behind but it does give great joy to me.  I think that is what pop culture is.  Pop culture is a bringer of joy.

Most of pop culture starts with a story.  The Greek and Norse myths as well as Arthurian legends are all stories most of which were handed down verbally until someone decided to write them down.  We wouldn’t have Grimms Fairy Tales if the two brothers didn’t travel extensively in Germany collecting the folk tales that were there.  In many ways that is the whole of pop culture.  It is the handing down of stories from one generation to the next.

The first question I have about my definition is what about music or poetry?  They are part of pop culture too.  In many ways, songs and poems and paintings and sculptures all tell stories or they are part of a story.  So they fit in the definition.

That brings me back to us.  What draws us to the movies, to TV shows and novels, and all the rest?  What draws us to stories?

The answer is simple.  We are also all stories.  Every event in our lives is a story and every moment of our lives makes up our story which is intermingled with all the other stories of the people we know.  Whether they are family or friends or even enemies we are part of their stories and they are a part of ours.

Then there is the big story.  Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage and we are but players on it.”  Shakespeare was absolutely correct.  We are all part of the biggest story ever written and it begins; “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

That statement is the beginning of all the great stories that ever happened or that ever will happen.  In some sense, it is a myth but unlike the myths of the Greeks or the Norsemen, this myth is true.  It doesn’t matter whether you believe in the big bang theory or not God,  in the beginning, created the heavens and the earth.

What does this mean for us?  It means that we are part of God’s story that we were meant to be here and that all of our lives have meaning even if we don’t see it.  It is for this reason that we go-to stories.  That we go to pop culture.  We go to these to find the meaning to our own lives and that meaning is in those stories.  I didn’t realize that The Lord of the Rings could speak to addicts until I did some digging and found that Frodo and Gollum’s passion for the ring ate away at their wills until it possessed them the way an addiction possess the addict.  Scrooge’s adventures with the three ghosts of Christmas is a mini version of therapy where you look at the past and the present to try and change the future.  The Wind in the Willows teaches us the need for solid friendships and The Secret Garden is a story that makes it clear that hard work, a solid spiritual life, and good eating cab restore health to both mind and body.

I could go on and on.  Batman is an example of the unlimited potential in every human being. Superman says it best in his slogan he is the embodiment of truth, justice, and the American way even if the American way is under scrutiny at this moment.  Our stories, our myths, our pop culture is what makes us who we are and helps us find who we can be.

CS Lewis was an unbeliever until one fateful day he was having a discussion with his friend JRR Tolkien and another and in that discussion, Tolkien pointed out that Lewis loved the old stories the myths of the ancients but he said that The Gospel was a myth too.  Only it was the one true myth.  The one true story, the one true part of pop culture or any culture that makes sense of all the rest.

If you don’t know who CS Lewis is…well, that’s another story.