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Outsiders looking in

For anyone who has spent any real time in Los Angeles, the Oscars aren’t simply an event -- they are a season, marked by limousines, road closures, early quitting times. Over the years, they’ve tweaked our rhythms, changed our priorities and altered our escape routes. Whether you love them, shun them or have built rituals around them, they have a significant presence for many. Here are the meditations of some Angelenos on what the Academy Awards mean to them -- for better or worse:

LUIS ALFARO

Playwright performance artist and director of new play development for Mark Taper Forum

I was born in Pico-Union and films are made here, so we were always invested in that. We used to go all the time to the red carpet when I was a kid. The night before, my mother would drop us off. All of my Boy Scout troop. My mother would make breakfast burritos for us, so we had a ritual. The Oscars were always on a Monday. That was the famous ditch day! There were the hard-core fans with signs, then there were the people you’d remember from one year to the next.

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Later, I became an usher [at the Music Center]. We had these big, puffy sleeves, and when the celebrities would come in, I would take their tickets and stick it up my sleeve, then later write down whose it was. I saw Jane Fonda, Diana Ross in her big gowns, Meryl Streep. It was about getting them to look you in the face. To see you. We’d hold [their ticket] out away from them, so they would look at you to get it. That was the whole thing, to connect. I connected with Cher.

The big ritual that is now embedded in me is that no matter what I’m doing, I always watch the red carpet [telecast]. I would not dare to sit in the bleachers today. It is just too Rose Parade.

JANET FITCH

Author of “White Oleander”

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The Oscars are a celebration of shallowness for the home viewer. It’s not the same for the filmmakers, that’s their art form. But for the people at home, you can be trivial and obsessed with the shallow culture. I’m from L.A., so it’s always been an event. I don’t watch sports, so I missed Janet Jackson’s nipple. But I did see the dress Kim Basinger wore when she was with Prince that she designed herself. I did see Whoopi Goldberg as Queen Elizabeth. I’ve had an Oscar party every year since about 1988.

What’s been difficult is that they’ve moved the date from Monday to Sunday. There is a big writers dinner in New York that I go to every year, so consequently I end up spending Oscar day in New York at a friend’s house. Those people don’t get it! You make fun of it; you just enjoy it: “Look at that!” Several people looked at me, appalled. People couldn’t believe how shallow I really was.

MICHAEL SHERMER

Editor of Skeptic magazine, Scientific American columnist, and author of “Science Friction.”

I have to say that the Academy Awards remain an unsolved mystery to me. Why so much attention would be paid to such self-proclaimed important people, granting themselves self-proclaimed important awards televised on a show that is self- proclaimed to be important, is beyond me.

Still, as a scientist, I can offer a plausible hypothesis. We are a hierarchical social primate species with the largest visual cortex in the mammalian order. We look up to our alpha males and females, we vie for status among our cohorts, we prance and preen for our group, and we do it all visually. Celebrities are artificially constructed friends and cohorts.

Of course, [the celebrities] don’t know us from Adam and Lucy (the Australopithicus afarensis, not the TV star), but the price they pay for thrusting themselves into our neural nets is being stared at. And the price we pay is the temptation to look. But why fight nature? Go ahead, look. Watch the awards as an anthropologist might, and enjoy the social spectacle, a glimpse at our true primate nature.

MAYME CLAYTON

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Founder of the Western States Black Research and Education Center

I have excitement about them. But I have more excitement when I think it’s going to be fair and honest. So often it’s not ... when black actors get ignored, year after year. Every year, no matter, I watch to a certain point until I see if we get anything. I really feel we play a part in the movie industry and they should share more.

This year, I’ve seen part of “Million Dollar Baby” and “Ray.” “Ray” should win hands down. I thought everything about that film was perfect. Morgan Freeman (in “Million Dollar Baby”) played a great part. One of the years that made me happy was when Halle [Berry] and Sidney [Poitier] got Oscars. That was really a great year for us. I just feel like we have earned a lot of things that we don’t ever get.

STEPHEN RANDALL

Deputy editor of Playboy and author of “The Other Side of Mulholland”

My personal ritual? It involves gambling. And the Oscars are much more interesting than the Super Bowl. More categories that you have to get right. I really lower myself. I vote against my wife and son. I become hyper-aware of everything after the nominations. Then you have to factor in the screwball Golden Globes.

I went to the ceremonies once, probably sometime back in the late ‘70s, just so I could say that I’d done it. We were stuck way in the back with William Devane. It was pre-"24" William Devane, so you get the picture. Johnny Carson was the host. But it went on forever. It cured me.

SIDNEY SHELDON

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Author and Oscar winner for best original screenplay, “The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer,” 1947

I always watch the Oscars. It’s exciting to me. When I got mine, I had no idea I would win because I was up against too much competition. To get something from my fellow writers, my peers, it was very exciting and satisfying. This year we’ll watch at home. We’ll have a few friends in and enjoy the show.

RALPH GARMAN

Member of the KROQ-FM Kevin & Bean morning show

When I was growing up in Philadelphia, my dad was the branch manager of distribution for Paramount Pictures. So Oscar night was like a national holiday in my family. There was always so much excitement because the movies were the “family business.”

We all gathered around the TV and even had a little family pool for a buck each. I can remember rooting for any Paramount movie because they were the “home team.” I still carry the excitement of Oscar night with me. The little kid in me loves the glamour, tradition and the movie stars.

JAMIE MASADA

Owner of the Laugh Factory comedy club

It means money to me. Chris Rock has been here every night for the past three weeks trying out his material for the show. Sometimes, he’s gone on three times a night. I’m rooting for Jamie Foxx to win best actor because he started in this club as a comic. He’s one of the humblest people. All the comics are rooting for him.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Channeling Oscar throughout the day and night

With Chris Rock as host, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences promises a hipper, cooler, edgier Oscars ceremony. You can be the judge of that. Before and after, there are plenty of Oscar-related broadcasts:

On TV

9 a.m. (E Channel) -- “Countdown to the Red Carpet: The 2005 Academy Awards.” Six hours of interviews, preparations and predictions from the Kodak Theatre.

11 a.m. (AMC) -- “Sunday Morning Shootout: Oscar Special.” Hosts Peter Bart and Peter Guber.

11 a.m. (VH1) -- “ET on VH1: Academy Awards.”

11 a.m. (WGN) -- “Oscar’s Black Odyssey: From Hattie to Halle.” Rare film clips and movie trailers show towering performances by black actors.

3 p.m. (KTLA) -- “Live From the Academy Awards.”.

3 p.m. (KABC) -- “An Evening at the Academy Awards: The Arrivals.” Roger Ebert, Richard Roeper and George Pennacchio interview celebrities as they arrive. Repeated at 11:35 p.m.

3 p.m. (E) -- “Live From the Red Carpet: The 2005 Academy Awards.” Star Jones Reynolds interviews nominees, presenters and other celebrities.

3 p.m. (WGN) -- “Live From the Academy Awards.”

4 p.m. (CNN) “Hollywood Gold Rush.” Sibila Vargas and Karyn Bryant interview Oscar attendees.

5 p.m. (KABC) -- “Oscar Countdown.” Billy Bush, Jann Carl, Chris Connelly and Shaun Robinson chat with arriving celebrities.

5:30 p.m. (KABC) -- “The 77th Annual Academy Awards.”

9 p.m. (E) -- “E!'s Live 2005 Academy Award Post Show.” Celebrity reactions. Repeated at 11 p.m.

9:30 p.m. (KABC) -- “An Evening at the Academy Awards: The Winners.” Ebert, Roeper and Pennacchio interview winners. Repeated at 1:35 a.m.

On the Web

To see The Times’ Oscar coverage Sunday night, visit calendarlive.com/oscars.

And to hear a sample from Jorge Drexler’s Oscar-nominated “Al Otro Lado del Rio,” visit calendarlive.com/delrio.

Times staff writers Lynell George, Bettijane Levine and Roy Rivenburg contributed to this story.


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