On Everything Other Than Oscars

So, call me a spoilsport.

I'm the passenger who'd ask for a lift home, then suggest that you fasten your seat belt.

The club-soda drinker who begs a cigarette and then reports the bar to the no-smoking police.

The mom who'd make you wear galoshes under your prom dress, just in case.

The dinner companion who'll detail graphically what some harmless little calf had to suffer through to put that veal piccata on your plate.

And today, I'm the writer who's reminding you of the rest of the world . . . that there is a rest of the world, and that eight out of 10 people inhabiting it won't be watching the Oscars. Why, on Monday night, and maybe even a year from Monday night, the most important man in America, Kenneth Starr, will probably be otherwise occupied, Xeroxing subpoenas with a blank space marked "your name here" on them.

I don't expect any of this news to unpop your popcorn. I can hear the skepticism out there, crackling like fake movie snow.

C'mon, you're saying. At Ground Zero for the multimedia megahertz Oscars we're supposed to believe that? Next she'll be trying to sell us the water rights to the L.A. River. Even the news on the news-never-stops stations stops cold for the Oscars. Every homeowners association with a monthly newsletter and an Instamatic must have wangled a press pass. Every network but the History Channel mobilizes a glitzkrieg of news crews, enough to cover D-Day, which they must think had something to do with Doris.

The only way even El Nino can make Page 1 is if mud closes Pacific Coast Highway, and the stars--kitted out in full evening rig--have to be evacuated from Malibu by helicopter. I've even got the headline ready: the Armani Airlift.

Billy Crystal carries the world on his scrawny shoulders like Atlas and someone out there is not paying attention?



Do you remember what won for best picture last year?

Remember anything else about that day, that night?

On Monday, March 24, 1997, in the midst of all the Biz business--the gassing-up of limos, the tweezing of wayward eyebrow hairs, the back-and-forthing to Harry Winston to borrow some ice--the world managed to get a few matters done, and undone.

In Cypress Park, several miles northeast of the Oscars, a long-planned community center opened, hastened along by the death of 3-year-old Stephanie Kuhen in the "wrong-way killing."

In downtown, only four blocks from the Oscars, 3,000 Native Americans and gambling workers rallied to the scent of burning sage to stop a government shutdown of casino slot machines.

At Disneyland, a whole county away from the Oscars, the amusement park caved in to criticism, restoring and expanding its discount admission program for disabled kids.

In Santa Monica, really close to some good Oscar parties, a judge told Susan McDougal she had to stay in jail to face embezzlement charges.

In Carson, farther away than you can imagine from the Oscars, a young man trying to unsnag his daughter's kite from the fence of an electrical substation was electrocuted.

At the Supreme Court--3,000 miles from the Oscars, but likewise fond of a black wardrobe--Ohio was told that its system for funding public schools, with rich districts spending more per student than poor ones, is unconstitutional, and cable TV was told to keep sexually spicy programs off the air until 10 p.m.

In Washington, D.C., which is sometimes more entertaining than the Oscars, the feds began cracking down on private landlords who pocket government housing subsidies instead of spending them on crummy apartments.

On Wall Street, which has more to do with the Oscars than the movie makers like to think, the AIDS protest group ACT UP marked its 10th anniversary by rallying for lower prices for HIV drugs.

And overseas, home to many of those billions who do not watch the Oscars, the prime minister of Zaire resigned, 65 people died in a Mexican train crash, and the 1968 marathon gold medalist was arraigned in Ethiopia on charges of torturing and killing political prisoners.


On a Monday night in March 86 years ago, 16 years before the Oscars were conceived, Hull No. 401 sat in the yards of Harland & Wolff, the Belfast shipbuilders. In a week's time she would be completed. Two weeks after that, also on a Monday, the Titanic would sink.

Monday is just one night. And keep telling yourself, it's only the movies.

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