The Oscars: Reflections of America

By Nicholas Wapshott
January 11, 2013

When the Oscar presenters rip open the envelope for best picture at the Academy Awards next month they will be offering a rare glimpse into the soul of America.

Movies have held a special place in American cultural life since they first flickered on sheets stretched across theater stages. And the pictures and people chosen to receive the Oscars have come to represent an artistic aristocracy to revere and admire.Among the movies Academy members are considering are three that offer distinctly different views of how Americans see themselves and their place in the world.

Ben Affleck’s Argo is about a group of American diplomats in Iran who slipped out the back of the embassy in Tehran the day Islamic fundamentalists rushed in the front. They took refuge in the plucky Canadian ambassador’s residence and, by posing as Canadian filmmakers looking for locations for a nonexistent Hollywood movie, obtained papers that allowed them to fly to freedom.

The movie is a traditional piece of Hollywood hokum. In real life the escape lacked the movie’s contrived tense, near-capture moments and the final scene, where Khomeini’s goons race down the runway to prevent the plane carrying our anxious envoys from taking off, never happened.

But what the heck. It is a ripping good yarn laced with humor in which the truth was bent a little to keep us on the edges of our seats.

If the Academy picks Argo, or if this is the picture you would choose if you had a vote, you probably think that all is right with the world. America remains the home of democracy and decency, its people are courageous and ingenious. Whatever trouble we may currently be in, we have the strength of character and material resources to ensure everything turns out right in the end.

This is the Frank Capra view of movies ‑ and history ‑ where the audience leaves the theater with smiles on their faces. This is the movie for the older picture-goer who moans that they don’t make them like that anymore. Well, they do, and Affleck has become the hero of old-fashioned moviemaking and simple, traditional American values.

As they say in The Wizard of Oz, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is a horse of a different color. In a difficult movie with an at-times-forbidding screenplay by Tony Kushner, Spielberg, the maker of E.T. and Jurassic Park, takes a close look at a short period in Honest Abe’s presidency when he has just been re-elected and, against a tight deadline, has to persuade a tricky Congress to turn his 1863 proclamation freeing the slaves into law.

A solid, satisfying piece of history, inspired by Doris Kearns Goodwin’s admirable Team of Rivals and topped by great performances, not least the towering portrayal of Lincoln by Daniel Day-Lewis, the movie has contemporary echoes of Obama’s re-election and the fiscal cliff/debt ceiling negotiations. We are lucky to have filmmakers – and audiences – of such maturity to sustain such a complex account of a pivotal episode in our nation’s story.

If Lincoln wins best picture, there will be general rejoicing. Here is a work of art that shows America at its best. At the film’s heart is one of our greatest presidents treated with the richness and roughness of texture he deserves. This is the movie for those who admire the nobility of the sentiments that finally made Jefferson’s revolutionary phrase “all men are created equal” a reality. It marks a depth of understanding about the messiness of our political process and the importance of strong, dignified, eloquent leaders and bold, brave, principled leadership.

Hollywood has tried many times to capture the genius of Abraham Lincoln, but this, surely, is Lincoln for the ages.

Then there is Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow’s dark, deep dive into the black arts of the government agents who, against the odds, tracked down and then dispatched to the deep the mastermind of the September 11 attacks, Osama bin Laden.

This is a difficult movie to watch. The first 20 minutes or so provide a graphic account of the brutal waterboarding of suspects by U.S. forces that became commonplace during the occupation of Iraq. It is morally complicated, chillingly matter-of-fact ‑ and totally lacking in the glory and glamour usually associated with such “patriotic” subjects. It comes as a relief that this movie was not made during the gung-ho years of President George W. Bush, but the result is troubling for anyone with a questioning mind.

If this extraordinary movie makes best picture, it will have won despite a barrage of abuse from those who believe it suggests that torture works. It does no such thing. There is no need for a spoiler alert to tell that the movie does not portray waterboarding as the key to the breakthrough that led eventually to bin Laden’s Pakistan hideaway. On the contrary, after a prisoner’s will is broken by a succession of grisly procedures, it is gratuitous acts of kindness, not cruelty, that lead him to spill information.

Be that as it may, this is not a movie for faint  hearts or the squeamish. It does, however, in its attempt to be factual and authentic, show the ethical fine line that our forces must walk when they apply foreign policy. It suggests that sometimes shortcuts are taken. In its own way, the movie is courageous in its candor and ambiguity, for few Americans would prefer to believe the uncomfortable message it delivers.

If Zero Dark Thirty wins, it will not be an act of triumphalism or revenge. There is no simple-minded, jingoistic, xenophobic “mission accomplished” moment. A best picture Oscar may upset anti-American foreigners, who might imagine the movie condones and celebrates terrible acts. Rather, a win would signal that we have slowly come to understand the profound difficulties posed when our culture must wage war against slippery, amoral foes.

The movie is not an entertainment, it is an attempt at understanding, an instrument of education, even an act of atonement. Hollywood should be proud that it found a director as gifted and subtle as Bigelow to tackle this most difficult of tasks.

America is slowly emerging from the unexpected horrors of the first decade of the millennium that brought us, in short order, a devastating assault upon our shores by vicious enemies who held our civilized values in contempt followed by an abrupt collapse in our material fortunes that brought us to the brink of penury. We found ourselves fighting two foreign wars simultaneously and reliving our great-grandparents’ financial fears. We have endured a battering that combined elements of the Great Depression, World War II and Vietnam. Light can be glimpsed on the horizon, but few have yet regained the wide-eyed confidence with which we greeted the new century.

So which of the three movies will we pick to mark this emergence from the dark?

It may be a little too early for the frivolity and nostalgia of Argo. But that would certainly be the optimists’ choice ‑ and despite everything, America remains an optimistic nation. It is perhaps still too early to clasp the uncomfortable Zero Dark Thirty to our bosom. The harsh lessons of war take a long while to assimilate. Lincoln offers the best of America and is therefore likely to chime with our current state of mind. It must therefore be the favorite to win best picture. But who knows?

This time, the opening of the envelopes on Oscar night, Feb. 24, will tell us something important about ourselves. For it will take the temperature of an America on the mend.

PHOTO (Top): Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln  Credit: 20th Century Fox

PHOTO (Insert Middle): Ben Affleck directed and stars in Argo. Credit: Warner Bros.

Photo (Insert Bottom): Jessica Chastain starts in Zero Dark Thirty” Credit: Sony Pictures

44 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Why don’t we allow each of these three stories to remain what they are, dramatic realizations of historical events, and not the historical treatises that many in Hollywood like to believe they produce.

If you believe that any of Hollywood’s offerings are comprised of better than 50% factual evidence you are gravely mistaken. They are movies intended to sell tickets and selling tickets requires giving people what they want, not what they need. Serious attempts at historical fact require the presentation of alternative views, not a single-story screenplay dramatized for effect. Even Lincoln, Spielberg’s heart-warming story of a great president, is saddled with revisionist-history contradictions from more than 100 years in the past. The thought that its story could be, prima facie, more historically accurate than movies based on events occurring 40 and two years ago is a bit far fetched.

Lincoln is likely to be preferred because it tells a story that makes Americans feel better about themselves than, say, Argo or Zero Dark Thirty. The fact is, very few people know the truth in any of these stories. And even so, the search for truth makes for lousy box office numbers.

Posted by SkyTurtle | Report as abusive

Movies have become a political platform for the cast and directors.
Hollywood has lost it’s vision.
Movies have become very boring.

Posted by GFRF | Report as abusive

“Zero Dark Thirty” has to be not very true to life. Why would the CIA tell a couple of film makers about their secrets and how they succeeded? There is a reason they have their dead not marked with their names. If anything i would say that this movie will be disinformation. And i am not being critical of the movie just the assumption i have read that the movie reflects the reality of what went on in this operation.

Posted by ofilha | Report as abusive

Hollywood and “The Academy” are NOT America and almost NEVER reflect our values.

Posted by gjhinc | Report as abusive

What in Heaven’s name makes you think the elitist prigs in Hollywood have the faintest idea or concern with how American’s view themselves. The very notion is a fatuous fantasy. Hollywood is the self-loathing, America-bashing, sex-addicted, self-aggrandizing, self-important, atheistic, narcissistic portion of the world that just happens to be located in the U.S. Something many of us would remedy if anyone wanted moral decay and rejection of everything wholesome and holy in their back yard.

Posted by jnthodge | Report as abusive

“We have endured a battering that combined elements of the Great Depression, World War II and Vietnam”.

It is almost too many to believe occurred by random chance actually. I saw Lincoln and liked it. It admits that politics is not ethically pure a r the breath of angles s but there can be integrity in spite of that. T His argument at one of his cabinet meetings was worth the price of admission.

I haven’t seen the other two but got a free pass as a Christmas gift for the kids across the street and may use the balance for one of them. I’ll probably try to use it for the OBL movie if it’s till playing up here.

I am reading Gore Vidal’s last novels: “Empire” and “Hollywood” and he was very candid about Hollywood’s ability to accept advice from Washington on “morale boosting”. “WE the people” are generally more sophisticated and also more jaded on what actually boosts morale.

I still have a hard time accepting the extra-judicial assassination of OBL. I think he could have been captured alive – he was surrounded and had nowhere to escape. The CIA waterboarded (and lied about that activity) lower echelon prisoners but they dispose of the top of the pyramid? Perhaps the best defense of American values especially those related to human rights and honest and responsible government) would have been to give him a clear and well publicized day in court and hear if anything he had to say was actually up to the highest and best values of anyone’s government – not just this country’s government. I still have a very hard time accepting that much of the last ten years actually represented the highest and best values of anyone but those eager for the exertion and trill of the next best thing to all out global war. It would have also given a true and honest legal process a chance to state it’s own legal groundwork for its verdict after scrupulous due process. That could have put his ghost and influence to rest perhaps more effectively than any amount of side stepping and protecting one’s own dubious actions and shaky global reputation and especially it’s numerous prior geo political sins. This country knows the art of giving itself “absolution” while forgetting to make a good “confession” and “act of contrition”. It does so selectively at best.

@tnthodge – one thing one can say about sex addiction is it can be very good exercise if one is still young enough to enjoy it. And I found years ago, I never liked the sight of people so much, nor found so many so beautiful as I did when I still could get it on with all and sundry. That took stamina I had at 30 I don’t even dream about at over 60. There are a lot of things one can be addicted to and sex is one of those where one tends to have to be, or at least, look one’s best. My “God” understands that to his bones. There are a lot of think one can repent in later years and there are even sins more suitable for the young that the old can only envy now.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

BTW – there were never any “beamed ceilings” in Lincoln’s cabinet room or anywhere else in the white House. What they had, and still have, are flat ceilings with a slight cove at the room edges above the plaster cornices (in most rooms) and they used elaborate painted stencil work for the fancier rooms like the East Room. Otherwise they were pretty meticulous about period detail. They didn’t try to match the furniture that was used exactly but they were close on “feel”. I thought so anyway. They probably figured the flat ceilings wouldn’t have read well in the film.

BTW – The HABS collection at the Library of Congress has beautiful measured drawings of the White House that were drawn during the Truman renovations when the entire building was gutted to its four outer walls and the interior was rebuilt using steel and concrete. It was fairly sound structurally in Lincolns day but was becoming dangerous by Truman’s era. A piano on the second floor almost fell through the floor but was caught on the joists before it could break through the ceiling of the East Room. The East Room ceiling was in danger of falling down too. The center had slumped a few inches and was built with much thicker plaster detail than when the house was built or even when Lincoln would have know the room.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

Given that Bigelow wasn’t nominated for Director, it is clear that LINCOLN and Spielberg are a lock to win.

Posted by uncanny32 | Report as abusive

Who cares what Hollywood thinks and breathes? Hollywood is a bunch of hypocrites minting money and then preaching how they feel badly for the rest. Their movies are about violence and then put out videos about no guns! What the hell.

Posted by js2012 | Report as abusive

Hollywood doesn’t represent America and its films do not represent truthful representations of events. They are entertaining. That is it. Why more is trying to be made of something built from the bottom up to entertain is beyond me.

Posted by ShiroiKarasu | Report as abusive

…”It does, however, in its attempt to be factual and authentic”…

Says you Nicholas Wapshott.
Evidence and experts say differently.

Posted by Marcos989 | Report as abusive

My favorite movie this year, and I saw most of them, is Les Miserables, which is classy entertainment. It felt like a great gift from motion pictures.
Just saying.

Posted by Raelyn | Report as abusive

For those looking for a Market angle:

Ford is already playing its “Lincoln” card – the movie and the relaunch of the brand – to the hilt.

This is going to accelerate greatly, one suspects, over the next couple of weeks and well into the spring, if “Lincoln” wins even a few key awards, like best actor and various technical categories – all fairly likely.

Posted by Venerability | Report as abusive

Stupidly I always believed that the industry award for best picture had to do with the acting and the telling of the story … what does that have to do with the soul of America “…views of how Americans see themselves and their place in the world”?

If author Nicholas Wapshott is correct in his assessment, the Oscars are more foolish than ever, since the membership of the Academy (the voters) surely doesn’t represent a true cross section of the nation and their bias is not that of the majority.

Posted by Starkstruck | Report as abusive

While the article was entertaining to read, it seems to assume that the vote for best picture is voted on by the american public. That’s simply not true so there’s no way for the winner to reflect how americans feel about ourselves or our country. Not to mention there’s quite a lot of disparity among our country, so give me a break.

Posted by hadtosay | Report as abusive

Okay, so there doesn’t seem to be the possibility of posting a comment on the article noting Michelle Obama’s appearance at the Oscars [with added Ben Affleck comment in support of her appearnce, oh boy!] — so I’m really wondering how biased Reuters is as it doesn’t appear they want to know how people feel about it. It only happened last night and already commenting on the topic is closed? I am NOT okay with MO’s presence at the Oscars, it was totally inappropriate and no doubt a serious waste of taxpayer’s money and taxpayers should have the right to speak out about this. After Obama is out of the White House, I have no doubt either he or his wife will be hosting SNL, but while the Obama’s are in the White House, it seems to me they have much more important work to be doing than hairstyles, talk show circuits and Hollywood award shows.

Posted by astrobabe11 | Report as abusive

“The first 20 minutes or so provide a graphic account of the brutal waterboarding of suspects by U.S. forces that became commonplace during the occupation of Iraq.”

Huh? Only three terrorists were waterboarded. I guess it would have been better to sacrifice innocent people for the comfort of terrorists. And does anyone else find it strange that all these liberal so called “journalists” who are so “concerned” about waterboarding have no problem with the extraordinary rendition that the Democratic Clinton administration authorized. And unlike waterboarding that is real torture.

Posted by jcam | Report as abusive

The people in Hollywood are as patriotic as the rest of us. And movies, no matter how dramatic, have always been an escape from reality. It has been for the last 100 years. Pretending otherwise is lying to yourself.

Posted by tsprague | Report as abusive

” I am NOT okay with MO’s presence at the Oscars, it was totally inappropriate and no doubt a serious waste of taxpayer’s money and taxpayers should have the right to speak out about this.”

In what way, exactly, was this inappropriate? I liked it and saw no harm in it.

Posted by tsprague | Report as abusive

I just watched Argo on DVD. I think Lincoln was the better movie of the two. The acting in Lincoln was much better over all and more interesting. The only exciting part of Argo seemed to be the last minute escape of the jet. I couldn’t keep my mind on it last night and will try again today before I give it back to the person who lent it to me. I haven’t seen Zero Dark Thirty yet.

Why translate the film crew comments at the customs check in Iran and not translate the customs agents too? It suggests the Iranians were ignorant of what movies are or who makes them? It’s obvious the audiences of this country like to see portrayals of its villains in melodramatic colors. Tehran was/is a fairly sophisticated city and that was one of the reason it was outraged by the Shah. Really backward countries don’t tend to revolt against vainglorious dictators.

What did the Academy really see in Argo? It was heavily propagandizing: Americans are always brave and sane but Iranians are always crazy and talk incomprehensible gibberish? Ben Affleck was as wooden as they get. What is exciting about bureaucratic hubbub where all officials look and talk like they had up-to-the-last-second information, when they usually don’t? Is supposedly instant communication really such a thrill? Most of the time it’s like wallpaper that one assumes is always there: except when it isn’t or not much help. The embassy staff did not look or behave notably brave either. They looked very like people blindly going about their bureaucratic lives. The machine hit a bump they were not at all prepared for. Alan Arkin gives the only performance that looks like he’s still unsanitized and human and doesn’t accept baloney when he hears it. Everyone else in the movie seems to like it in thick slices.

Argo, at least, didn’t praise the Shah. That would be hard to do since the invasion of Iraq and the ousting of SH. Almost no one mentions the Shah’s secret police or the fact that the Shah probably spend more on his cloths in a year than SH spent on one of his smaller “palaces”.

They weren’t voting for the quality of the movie but more to flatter themselves as “Americans.” If Norman Rockwell made a movie, the Academy would be too sophisticated to vote for it. But they fell for Argo?

Lincoln looks like the real world of deep philosophical and political struggles. I’d like to see them make a movie about the final release of all the hostages and the secret deals – Iran Contra etc – that made that happen. But that might start a revolution here?

Probably not. Hollywood could always make another Argo.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

Argo was nothing but U.S. propaganda and lies. The USA likes to rewrite history and according to them they have done everything, invented everything, saved everyone and are perfect.
Guess what your own former President Jimmy Carter who was president at the time of this event stated very publicly that 90% of the planning and commission of this event was Canadian, the person Afflek is playing wasn’t there for more then a day, and the Canadian Ambassador and Parliament were the ones taking the risk and saving you. As usual we or someone else has to come in and clean up your mess – look at your economy
How long before you are begging at our door again? Ten years from now you will claim you saved us and the world.
Hollywood and the US image is smoke and mirrors and the mirror is breaking.

Posted by CdnNavyWife | Report as abusive

“When the Oscar presenters rip open the envelope for best picture at the Academy Awards next month they will be offering a rare glimpse into the soul of America.”

B.S.

They are offering the very mundane holywood view of what it thinks we will enjoy – in other words, what will sell – the bigger, the better.

Posted by unionwv | Report as abusive

That’s not right. Nobody wants to be like Iranian an other parts of the world

Posted by Mylena | Report as abusive

I am not Mylena, I am Lucrecia: the matter that you discusing right now in this article, nothing to with the movies prized with oscars. Yeah, iranian wish to be like us: americans. but, i am telling them keep dreaming!!!

Posted by Mylena | Report as abusive

Who cares what Hollywood thinks? The point for them is to make money and win awards so they can make more money, so facts or “messages” are not the point. The real Argo story is much more interesting than the movie.

Zero Dark Thirty is amazingly accurate, and for once we have a movie that shows what real intelligence work (and the heroes who do it) is all about. Water boarding isn’t particularly brutal and it is NOT torture. What it is is effective, and very, very scary. Nobody has ever died or been harmed beyond a cold – but you think you are going to drown. I know, it has been done to me. We water board (or used to) make you go without sleep and play bad music. The enemies we face beat you with batons, pull out your teeth (or file them), shock you with electrodes attached to your genitals and jaw, break your bones (ask John McCain) and if you don’t cooperate, sometimes kill you. THAT is torture.

As for Lincoln, it is pretty good, even if it fails to mention Abe’s great faith in God and how it helped him make decisions. For this article to put Obama in the same sentence with a great American leader, and compare anything about today with the unbelievable trial of the Civil War is laughable

Posted by Thomas229 | Report as abusive

Reflections of America…? LOL
Yeah, I share a lot of characteristics with Abraham Lincoln as a vampire slayer and a flying vampire.

Posted by JohnnyReno | Report as abusive

reflections?
more like that’s the best The Oscars could come up with.
yawn…..

Posted by guillone | Report as abusive

The Oscars are not a reflection on America. It is merely a reflection of what Hollywood things of itself. Hence the reason “Argo” won … it’s a film about how Hollywood saved the day, and there’s no story Hollywood loves more than one that reminds us all just how important Hollywood is to saving the world.

Posted by Objectivist | Report as abusive

Considering that Argo hardly mentioned the more than pivotal roll the Canadians played in real life in helping in the Iran situation I’d say that – sadly – at least Argo is an excellent reflection of American self promotion.

Posted by eleno | Report as abusive

Hollywood’s recipe for a movie: One eighth documented fact, one half creative writing, one quarter political agenda to sell the writer’s/director’s own political beliefs and one eighth the best looking people to push over that political agenda…..Cook for 1 hour and 55 mins and you’ll have a bs (best selling) pie! Voila!

Posted by klg1956 | Report as abusive

Hollywood doesn’t know the truth if it bite them in the ass.

Posted by JOHNXX | Report as abusive

“Historical” movies from Hollywood are as accurate a reflection of history as Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies are an accurate reflection of life in Africa. Take it as entertainment as it is often entertaining for all the wrong reasons. I prefer Tarzan movies as they are less preachy.

Posted by MNBobalu | Report as abusive

@MNBobula – Which movie of the three are you calling the historic movie? All of them? Actually, the Tarzan movies were very subtly preachy about the British role in Africa. But not unbearably so as long as you forgot that Tarzan was the descendant of a British lord and the message was always; that even naked and raised by Gorillas, a British lord was naturally superior to an entire continent of Africans. How were Africans always portrayed in the Tarzan movies?

I take it back – the propaganda was unbearable if you were black and had to watch those movies. I wasn’t, so had to learn other eyes.

I also made a mistake on my earlier comment. Argo didn’t actually translate the embassy staff at the airport customs desk. They simply didn’t let the Iranian customs staff sound quite reasonable. They also didn’t translate the morals police either at the scene with the women at the compound. I really wanted to know what that man was actually saying to her. It visibly upset the woman but the man’s tone of voice seemed very mild and even kind, I thought?

One lives with expectations of public decorum everywhere on earth – even in this small NE town. I really wanted to know if what he was saying was actually something I am accustomed to living with here but in other terms and requiring a different degree of obedience to public expectation?

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

Right Hollywood elitists have their index finger on the pulse of America. Give me a break!
More accurate title would be, “Hollywood once again fails to push their agenda on 40% of America, the rest are morons.”

Posted by WhiskeyDix | Report as abusive

Whether they are truly historical or not, I’d much prefer to hear about Lincoln that either of the secrets, they are American, that win thru violence and deception.

Posted by euroyank | Report as abusive

If fiction and propaganda are reflective of America, then Fox has been in the right business with their news source outlet.

Posted by SanPa | Report as abusive

IMO, Lincoln was the best movie by far. Better acting, better everything. Three hours seemed like a few minutes.

Argo was watchable but nothing great. Not even close.

Zero Dark Thirty was a joke. There isn’t a single scene from that movie that I remember. Hell, I remember the very first scene in Lincoln.

Ben Affleck is very new so maybe that’s why his movie won. It was not the best movie in any sense. We expect greatness from Spielberg and we get it, but where’s the discussion of impeachable offenses. He lied to congress and if he were alive today, he’d have kicked out of office. Obama haters look for the smallest wrong to attack him but using their standard, none of our greats would have been great.

If you haven’t seen Lincoln, it’s a movie you will never forget. I still think I can smell the cigar smoke in some of those scenes. The other two are forgettable but watchable.

Posted by zzpat | Report as abusive

From top to bottom scraper…

ZDT: A Sisyphusian journey in that it doesnt take us anywhere except back to the poorer parts of her superior “The Hurt Locker”. The talented Jessica Chastain is wasted here. Nothing new to see and the cinema verite is getting tired, kathryn.

Lincoln: It starts with a simply atrocious scene in which weary Union soldiers, both white and black, recite the Gettysburg Address for their visiting commander in chief. The treacle is so think you can’t even cut it with a knife which is typical of all Speilberg fare sans, Jaws and the non directors cut of Close Encounters. One has to wonder how arguably the greatest actor of our time got roped into this affair with a ninny of a director? Perhaps he lost a drinking game bet?

And saving the worst for last…

ARGO: Unfortunately, Argo won. But, I guess it makes sense in that it’s rather emblematic of our time that a hack director (leader) with no concept of direction, no concept of how to write, no mis-en-scene to speak of and no art direction, though actors… yes actors… acting their roles for this sugar coated, diabetic inducing coma of a Lifetime “TV” movie. Undeniably the worst “Film of the Year” pick since Ordinary People beat out Raging Bull & Tess for the top spot. As German Film director Werner Herzog once said, “The world is starving for images and without them we will die. 2013 marks the year that Art has officially been relegated to tweetsville…

Posted by Ghostdog | Report as abusive

Ben Affleck is very new so maybe that’s why his movie won. It was not the best movie in any sense. We expect greatness from Spielberg and we get it, but where’s the discussion of impeachable offenses. He lied to congress and if he were alive today, he’d have kicked out of office. Obama haters look for the smallest wrong to attack him but using their standard, none of our greats would have been great.

Posted by pskopat | Report as abusive

If the Oscar for “Brokeback Mountain” was a reflection of America, then I live in the Republic of Texas.

Posted by SanPa | Report as abusive

This article has been sitting on the front page for months. It’s the only Reuters article that has ever sat for months as far as I know and in the years I’ve been reading this site.

As long as that’s the case, I have to change a mangled sentence in the first comment – it should have been “the breath of angels”.

BTW – what is it about this article that merits front-page position for months? The Oscars are long past and even the movies may have become distant memories for many. It already feels like I saw Lincoln years ago but it was only last Christmas.

@SanPa – Brokeback Mountain deserved its rewards. It was very “true to life” and you may not like the subject, but the presentation of the story was impeccable and it was far too realistic to be a piece of “gay propaganda”. It was almost too honest and embarrassing to watch.

Love and the physiological equipment do not necessarily agree with each other. And in the modern world there seems to be very little reason why they have to anymore and there is enormous economic pressure to ensure that the “normal” route to another generation will become more and more expensive with each passing decade. If all you saw in Brokeback Mountain was a gay flick you didn’t see the movie or understand most of the telling details surrounding the main story.

BTW – where is that mythical “republic” of Texas? Do any but the naive and hopelessly provincial really believe it exists?

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

That these drug-addled, high-school drop-out Hollywood “auteurs” carefully crafted subtly-nuanced video-poems that reflect 21st Century America is lunacy. Harvey Weinstein AIN’T Proust; James Cameron AIN’T James Joyce; and Michael Eisner AIN’T Mark Twain—they are just street hustlers, seeking the quick buck—and, if they can disguise their offal as “art”, so much the better!

Posted by gargan | Report as abusive

Americans view themselves the same way a teenage boy sees himself… A hero in a fantasy land who destroys the evil, while being himself perfectly good. Only later on he realizes that stupidly naive he really was… I give America at least 50 more years for that.

Posted by renumeratedfrog | Report as abusive

@Gargan – If you really want to get cranky, you can find critics of your icons just as easily as you dismissed the three producers of “offal” you name. Marl Twain was a very “popular” or “populist” writer. And many people condemned James Joyce only for the fact that he used “vulgar” or “obscene” language.

With the arts it’s always chacun a son gout. If collectors collect it, watch it or read it and the intelligentsia still agree or haven’t responded to another social change of fashion or need, and the museums of the future don’t relegate it to the basement or sale, it tends to be considered good and even “great” art. But some collections from the 19th century were, until the recent the lush art market, relegated to basement storage. The market for antiques has a way of reeducating and conditioning things the past used to despise. The fact that so much art is older now simply because it was valuable enough to save and not discard means they will be finding forgotten “ masterpieces” till donors run out of funds to buy them for them.

It is also hard to despise the blockbusters when the museums of the earth collect things that are precious either because of the value of time and materials that went into them, are indicative of a school of thought or regional culture or were made by famous craftsmen and artists, or were once owned by famous people (among other reasons I can’t quite describe in a few words). All the arts were a business, even the people who made religious icons were paid and some were paid handsomely.

Looking at art is something like a tale I once saw on TV when I was a very small child – not more than 3 or 4, I think.

It told the Persian story of a king who made a wish to a magical deer. The deer granted him his wish that she would fill his palace with gold but that he must never say “enough” or it would all turn to mud. Needless to say, the deer filled the palace to the ceilings and the king cried “enough” and was buried in mud.

What’s wrong with the arts? Just don’t expect them to be something they are not and don’t ever worship it or the makers or you will, sooner or later, feel like the fool you really are for doing so. Prizes and awards are popularity contests most of all. How prizes are awarded and what factors influence those decisions can be a very painful and scandalous discussion.

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