Tuesday, March 07, 2006


A late for Monday post, but at least I'm in the late niche

Sorry, sorry, sorry. Yeah, I know it. I'm late again. No real good excuse, although it has been a trifle hectic over here at stately Wieland Manor the last week or so. But I should be better. I'll try to be better. Really, seriously, I will. And because I recognize your pain, I'll take my two demerits for being tardy, and I'll take them home to get them signed by my parents. Swear to God I will.

Anyway, you might have heard that out here in LA, we had a little entertainment industry party and shindig over the weekend. Lot of people tuned in on the television. Lot of famous, beautiful people showed up. Seemed like a lot of the pretty ones - Clooney, Witherspoon, the absolutely gorgeous Rachel Weisz - won something for their trouble.

But Our Man in LA isn't here to comment on the Oscars just gone by. Don't know what I'd say, really, that hasn't already been said. I was surprised by the split, with Ang Lee getting Best Director and CRASH getting best picture. I'm bummed because I think that BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN really was the best picture of the year, but CRASH is good enough that I can't really protest. I thought Jon Stewart played it safe, but told a few great jokes. I thought the intro for the greatest hit and miss director of all time, Robert Altman, totally nailed his oeuvre. If Altman's smart, he'll get Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep together and soon. Doesn't matter for what project. It'd be entertaining to watch them banter the ingredients of a Hostess Twinkie.

What Our Man in LA did find interesting over the weekend is Patrick Goldstein's "Big Picture" column in the LA Times. You can read it here if you prefer the actual text to good, old fashioned literary criticism:


Anyhow, in his latest commentary, Goldstein decries the fact that the Oscars, along with other formerly big ticket television spectacles like the World Series, NBA Finals, and the Grammys - are declining in ratings. People are apparently losing interest in these big shows, not so much because they're no longer important, but instead because we are now, as he describes "a nation of niches".

"Fewer events," he writes, "Capture the communal pop culture spirit. The action is elsewhere, with the country watching cable shows or reading blogs that play to a specific audience."

Reading blogs? Mon dieu!

The story goes on and on, and it won't do much good for me to recount it all here. Suffice it to say that we don't, as a culture, all watch the same things anymore, and there's less togetherness around the TV, and people in the Midwest don't care for all that there left-leaning Hollywood liberalism with its gay cowboys and movies about racial unrest in the Sodom and Gomorrah of Southern California.

Perhaps Our Man in LA is missing something. It happens. He's slow on many issues. Quantum physics, for one. But I digress. The thing is, my reaction to Goldstein's column is, "So?"

OK, so the Oscars and the World Series and all those other touchstone events don't quite draw like they once did. But on the upside, there are other shows, other events on television, the Internet, maybe even outside the home that actually speak to people outside the so-called mainstream.

And by the way, if you don't live in one of those Red States - heck, even if you do - don't look now, but the mainstream isn't so mainstream anymore. I feel like we hear these kinds of worries all the time, mostly by one set of traditionalists or another. It's sort of a cultural take on "When I was your age, I walked uphill to school . . . in the snow . . . did I mention it was uphill both ways . . . being chased by a pack of wild dogs . . ."

Right. So we're a nation of niches now. Our Woman in LA and I still watch the Oscars. But we know people who don't. If they'd rather take a run, or watch something on one of their 500+ stations, or even something not in English, so be it. That's why there's cable, and while we're at it, that's sort of the cool thing about having a melting pot culture.

Goldstein goes on in his discussion to suggest that this downward spiraling apocalypse, where nobody watches the Oscars and the World Series, or even Milton Berle (gasp!) anymore, may someday cause the awards to select movies that appeal to a wider demographic, or have other flashy, fun advantages that bring in the kids. You know, like Ryan Seacrest hosting.

Somehow, I doubt that'll happen. The Oscars will be what it is. It'll just have its niche, no matter how out of touch liberal they are, with their movies about tolerance and equal rights. Harumph!

Just like baseball and basketball and all the rest. Maybe not Milton Berle. OK, most of the rest.

Because let's get serious about the Oscars for a second here. How many mainstream Americans out there EVER see all the nominated films, especially vis a vis the big action movies, horror movies, sappy romantic comedies, and other popcorn munchers? I'm pretty sure that most of Governor Schwarzenegger's movies did better than, say, MY LEFT FOOT. Or just about anything ever directed by Woody Allen. Or anything ever featuring, say, William Hurt.

So it was already a niche audience. Folks might have watched before when there was nothing else on, but let's free those people to watch their home shows, food shows, NASCAR races, or movies on demand. Hollywood's take on the art of film is not for everyone.

Which reminds me. I think we TIVO'd American Idol.

Later . . .

Hey man. I think I'm with you on the "So what?" to Goldstein. But there is at least some reason to worry about the niching of America. As we lose the big social rituals that tie us together, we become less connected to the big collective ritual that is American democracy. Now, if the price of democracy is conformity, it's not obvious that it's worth it.

But it's probably not as bad as we fear. The Oscars and the World Series and Milton Berle aren't universal, but there might be an overlapping set of common experiences -- with the Oscars and sporting events and your favorite show, Lost -- as part of it. Which would be good if true, because I don't want the success of the community to rely on my interest in the Winter Olympics.

P.S. William Hurt was in Lost in Space, so the popcorn munchers have been subjected to him after all.
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