The Hype and the Hypocrites

Like me, you're probably not attending the Oscar presentations in order to protest something -- world hunger, war, war protests or Hollywood hypocrisy in the shocking case of Miramax Film Corp.

In fact, like me, you probably weren't invited at all.

Miramax, if you can believe it, actually advertised to promote "Gangs of New York" director Martin Scorsese for best director. Imagine, Hollywood advertising a movie. Worse, imagine Hollywood hypocrites criticizing advertising a movie.

Amazing that a studio garnering 40 Oscar nominations would campaign to better the chances of its director nominee among the sedate, reserved and tasteful movie crowd we know and watch. Naturally, others who did not advertise were outraged. Or at least they said so. Cue harrumphing in Hollywood, which can spend as much money advertising a movie as it spends making it. Stand back, give us some air, please.

Then we learned that the Miramax ad, a glowing endorsement of Scorsese by Robert Wise, wasn't actually written by the famous director. It was composed by Murray Weissman, whose bosses suspected there would be somewhat less impact from an ad proclaiming, "Murray Weissman Really Likes Scorsese's 'Gangs' Work."

Next thing, some cynic will suggest that every word of every politician's every speech is written by someone else. That those senators in the red dresses or dark suits with red ties do not sit down at Daniel Webster's old desk and compose every thoughtful diatribe they spout on C-SPAN. That, in fact, some nefarious elected officeholders -- maybe also governors and mayors -- pay a nameless someone with enough time, writing skills, submerged ego and pending mortgage payments to inspire a stemwinder containing three early 10-second sound bites and rehearsed hand gestures delivered in time for TV consumption back home.

Or that those pretty people on the evening news whose eyes jiggle left-to-right-to-left-to-right-to-left aren't composing the day's news inside those well-coiffed heads as they speak. Or that Oscar night's very white, very straight teeth and overflowing body parts are natural.

C'mon, let's get real. With millions more dollars at stake in post-awards box office and future contracts, it's front-page news if this crowd isn't lobbying with every fiber while pretending merely to await their peers' verdict. Protocol shmotocol. It's a play.

Now, it is the birthright of every American to despise the hypocrisies and inconsistencies of others, especially others we'll never personally confront. Hunting hypocrisy is like watching sports; being free of athletic skills doesn't impede the criticisms. Speaking of Scorsese, here's the director of a very violent film protesting the violence of war. Hello.

Having reneged on the promise of a family weekend at Disneyland, we can without blinking mock and inflate the broken promises of politicians we didn't vote for anyway and overlook the inconsistencies of the ones who won our X. Having lied or at least fibbed to our parents, we demand total truthfulness from our own children and then nimbly cut the corners of veracity quite close come April 15.

High-octane hypocrisy is as much a human need as the gossip it fuels. Oscar nights are when a few billion humans suspend their hypocritical hypocrisy hunt in the shared glow of celebrity row seeping into our living rooms. Thanks to the Iraq situation, this year's ceremonies are different.

Celebrities professed concern about the propriety of being seen arriving in stretch limos, gaudy gowns and tres pricey jewels to saunter down a red carpet while camo-clad troops battle distant sandstorms and worse. Now, the glamorous will wear stunning clothes, gaudy jewels and take the same goofy-looking stretch limos, but to another door, out of sight. Put your hands together, folks. They're giving up that red-carpet walk for America.

Now inside, when the obvious TV camera leers down rows of well-dressed celebrants awaiting the exciting envelope please, everyone will pretend they don't see our electronic eye inches from their faces. We'll go along. We'll judge the dresses, the hair, the suits, the presumed plastic surgeries and the forced casual demeanors of these folks as if we could or would do better. Like a thirsty cat, we'll lap up the contest's unfolding judgments and the gushy thank-yous and cute giggles so carefully rehearsed not to look carefully rehearsed.

Tomorrow we can return to the obvious hypocrisies of others while appearing pure ourselves, and to expressing shock that an industry based on make-believe so successfully taps into our own need for make-believe, even in normal times. This morning, however, we can make believe that make-believe isn't necessary.


Andrew H. Malcolm is a member of the Times Editorial Board.

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