Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Oscars and the access of information

It's hard to get excited about the Academy Awards from so far away (as China). And this from a person who won't attend Oscar parties because I don't want to miss a minute of the actual broadcast (except the ads). Despite my loving a few of the films, and liking several others, despite my daughters' interest in Miley Cyrus' gown, and my own in Kate Winslet's lack of gown, and also in Cate Blanchett's anything, and on seeing Anne Hathaway as a rising star, I want to watch but I'm not obsessed with it.

I do find it interesting that four of the most nominated films are based on books or short stories. A comic book caused a supporting actor nomination. Stage plays resulted in several other nominations. The written word is good for film, and as authors we can only hope that someone in Hollywood takes note of that. But I'm not holding my breath.

So I will be watching... but not until tonight, Wednesday night, just as this blog posts. Three days late. I'm not sure exactly why this is, but the Philippine television dish system we subscribe to here in China is running the Oscars three days after the event. What were they thinking? By then we will, of course, despite our efforts to avoid newspapers and web sites, know all the winners. So if we watch, it will be for Hugh Jackman and the speeches and the dresses (my daughters), and the music (if there is any; I hear there are changes afoot, which is a good thing).

My co-writer of children's books, Dave Barry, had the chance to work on Steve Martin's writing team for an Academy Awards several years ago. His behind-the-scene stories have filled me with Oscar curiosity ever since: what's going on when we're watching the ads, or cooking popcorn; what kind of pressure is on the host and his staff of writers minute by minute through the night to come up with a joke or comment based on what we just saw; the gift-baskets participants receive (valued in the tens of thousands of dollars); the prima donnas and the backstage shenanigans. Dave has made the Oscars more about my imagining what's going on off camera, instead of watching what's happening on camera. It makes it much more fun.

I wonder if anyone will point out the connection between the number of nominations and the films being based on books, plays, etc. I hope so. Not that that many people read in Hollywood--but there's always hope. But the book business is suffering along with every other business in this recession and it could use a boost, a reminder that the really good stories are down the street in a store -- and it's not the DVD store.

But what gets me is this realization that there's no way we won't know the outcome before we watch the broadcast. We take one newspaper here --The Shanghai Daily. I will purposely avoid reading it on Monday and Tuesday. And yet, I know I'll know the winners. I know that emails, websites, my children coming home from school, the televisions they have on the city buses here... all of it will conspire against any efforts I will make to be blissfully uninformed for 48 hours. And that is kind of... odd.

It is no longer a matter of how much access we have to information, but how much access information has to us.

Readers say that some of my older books are scary, but this -- this is scary: you can't avoid the news, even if you want to. Big Brother isn't watching us as Orwell thought--Big Brother is talking to us. And that's even more terrifying at a time we need to learn to think for ourselves.



  1. Or you could be like me...15 minutes after I watched the show I couldn't remember who won, partly because I only saw one of the nominated films. A sad record for me. Hope you enjoy the show, Ridley.

  2. Dammit, I can't record a Dolphins game and watch it a few hous later without someone teling me the score.

    Ridley, I'll let this cat out of the bag Hostel II does not win as best picture even if it got my vote.

    Jim B

  3. Big Brother talks to us but never listens to us. Yes, this is scary and irritating.
    Speed Limit
    "The empty half of the glass is always at the top."

  4. It would be fun to take a look at all the Best Picture winners from say, "Gone with the Wind in 1939" and see how many others were adapted from books and plays. I think there is a perception in Hollywood, rightfully, that books often have more meat on their bones than original screenplays. Then, there's the hybrid. Fitzgerald's short story, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" is an uncooked egg of a tale. Other than the concept of aging backwards -- which "The Twilight Zone" borrowed a couple of times, it's a really lame story. I think the filmmakers knew this and retained virtually nothing but the concept in the movie.

  5. and the name of the author...

  6. TV on the buses? My commute to work is my reading time. Due to budget constraints, my express bus is being eliminated, so my commute to work will take an extra 15 - 20 minutes. That means it will take me an hour to get from Kirkwood to downtown St. Louis. I considered chucking it all and driving; but I covet that reading time. And then there's the whole green thing.

    Because of this year's Academy awards, I've put The Reader on my reading list.