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MURPHY: Responding to Piers Morgan: Are the Oscars too political?

Photo by Matthew Serafin / matthew.serafin@marquette.edu

Photo by Matthew Serafin / matthew.serafin@marquette.edu

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Last week, Piers Morgan wrote an intriguing piece in the Daily Mail criticizing the politics that steeped this year’s Oscars. The 88th Academy Awards were bound to be controversial. For the second year in a row, not a single actor of color was nominated for an Oscar. Many of us asked: What does this say about America’s attitudes toward race? Has there been real progress?

Even so, “I don’t watch the Oscars to get harangued about racism, rape, sex abuse, greedy bankers, global warming and gay rights,” Morgan insisted. “I watch to be entertained.”

What peeved him most was the Academy’s decision to display the names of people the award winners wanted to thank along the bottom of the television screen, giving them time to make more meaningful speeches, or to “lecture” the audience about social causes, as Morgan put it.

Morgan was surely not the only one irritated by the winners’ bleeding hearts. He was right to point out a certain hypocrisy in Adam McKay’s rant against “weirdo millionaires.” Morgan countered,“Who do you think controls Hollywood, exactly?” Leo pleaded that we all look after the environment better, but Morgan pointed out “his slightly hypocritical penchant for gas-guzzling limos, superyachts and private jets.” Sam Smith wanted desperately to join in the moralizing, but he hadn’t really done his research.

Celebrity preaching is nothing new, and neither is the controversy that often results. Only last year, Patricia Arquette found herself in hot water for implying gay people and people of color needed to stop being so selfish and join the cause for equal pay. And many of us scratch our heads whenever a celebrity testifies before Congress – what can Ben Affleck possibly know about the Congo?

Even so, I am skeptical of Morgan’s criticism.

When Donald Trump accused Pope Francis of being too political, the pontiff responded, “Thank God he said I am a politician because Aristotle defined the human person as an ‘animal politicus’ (a political animal). So at least I am a human person.” I think the pope (and Aristotle) has a point: politics are just a part of what it means to be human.

And if politics are essential to what it means to be human, it would be foolish to expect them to be absent from the deepest expression of our humanity: art. Film and acting are art forms, so naturally politics show up in them.

There’s also a pragmatism to banging on about a favorite cause while accepting an Oscar. The Academy Awards are one of the country’s biggest television events and draw a global audience – where else do citizens get that sort of platform? Certainly not this paper.

Would it be nice if Piers Morgan had his way and the Oscars were simply a celebration of cinema? Maybe – but I can’t imagine how that would look. The venue just isn’t as important as the speechmakers that get people thinking and talking.

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