Television, the Oscars, and me

My first verifiable memory was our family gathering around the TV to watch the Beatles on Ed Sullivan.  I was 4, my older brother was 17. It was a Sunday night.

February 9, 1964

February 9, 1964

Canadian television gave us The Friendly Giant, a low tech 15 minute morning show.  Bob Homme, aka “Friendly” wouldn’t do public appearances because the kids would realize he wasn’t really a giant.  Today passing up all that lucre would be considered crazy, not ethical or sweet.

The Friendly Giant, Jerome the Giraffe, and Rusty the Rooster

The Friendly Giant, Jerome the Giraffe, and Rusty the Rooster

His signature closing: “It’s late. This little chair will be waiting for one of you, and a rocking chair for another who likes to rock, and a big armchair for two more to curl up in when you come again to our castle. I’ll close the big front doors and pull up the drawbridge after you’re gone. Goodbye. Goodbye.”

And a rocking chair for those who like to rock

And a rocking chair for those who like to rock

When young, I was allowed to stay up on Sunday nights to watch Bonanza with the family.  There was only one set per household, so the whole family watched together.

Bonanza was must see TV on Sunday nights. I had a crush on Little Joe.

Bonanza was must see TV on Sunday nights. I had a crush on Little Joe.

The most memorable episode of Bonanza gave the family an opportunity to address how to be culturally sensitive.  Hop Sing was the beloved Chinese cook for the all-male family.

The bullies cut off Hop Sing's braid - it was traumatic TV.

The bullies cut off Hop Sing’s braid – it was traumatic TV.

Little Joe found Hop Sing to console him. We all felt for the immigrant who had been violated.

Little Joe found Hop Sing to console him. We all felt for the immigrant who had been violated.

But the most important TV show of all (also on Sunday nights) was Walt Disney.  It may have been called World of Disney or something like that, but we usually just called it Walt Disney.

I wanted Walt Disney to be my grandpa (or my dad). When he died, I asked my mom if he had kids. She taught me the word "sympathy" that day.

I wanted Walt Disney to be my grandpa (or my dad). When he died, I asked my mom if he had kids. She taught me the word “sympathy” that day.

I especially loved the intro segments when he had a dog at the desk with him.

I especially loved the intro segments when he had a dog at the desk with him.

I believed Walt Disney must be the biggest animal lover of all.

I believed Walt Disney must be the biggest animal lover of all.

Old Yeller (on Walt Disney): Unforgettable TV.

Old Yeller (on Walt Disney): Unforgettable TV.

We all know what happened next. It was a devastating lesson on how to be an adult.

We all know what happened next. It was a devastating lesson on how to be an adult.

Disney had "real-life" nature style stories all the time. I loved them and believed every scene. I remember Perri the squirrel. (Disney reran his own shows years after they were produced. My generation was glad to watch them.)

Disney had “real-life” nature style stories all the time. I loved them and believed every scene. I remember Perri the squirrel. (Disney reran his own shows years after they were produced. My generation was glad to watch them.)

IN 1982 I learned that the Disney company paid Inuit children to catch lemmings, which they then transported to Calgary, and herded off a cliff into the Bow River to show the alleged lemming suicides (which is a myth) in a nature “documentary”.  Roy Disney admitted it, not proudly, just honestly, in a CBC documentary about nature shows and animals in entertainment.  I also learned that there about 12 Perri the squirrels – if one died in a scene, they just got another squirrel for filming.

Walt's brother, Roy Disney was interviewed by the CBC for a documentary called "Cruel Camera" in 1982. My memory of "Uncle Walt" was irretrievably broken.

Walt’s brother, Roy Disney was interviewed by the CBC for a documentary called “Cruel Camera” in 1982. My memory of “Uncle Walt” was irretrievably broken.

In the same documentary I learned that Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom traveled with caged animals, and staged scenes for their nature shows, sometimes putting animals together that would not actually encounter each other in the wild.

While Roy Disney was honest, Marlin Perkins wouldn't admit to the fraud on his TV show and ordered the camera to be turned off.

While Roy Disney was honest, Marlin Perkins wouldn’t admit to the fraud on his TV show and ordered the camera to be turned off.

The 1960s had a lot of political content mixed in with the entertainment.  The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour regularly tackled subjects like Vietnam and religion, often through their invited guest performers.  They were canceled for their efforts.

The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. (From left) Tom Smothers (with guitar) and Dick Smothers (with bass). Image dated September 2, 1968. Copyright © 1968 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Credit: CBS Photo Archive. File: 34109_70

The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. (From left) Tom Smothers (with guitar) and Dick Smothers (with bass). Image dated September 2, 1968. Copyright © 1968 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Credit: CBS Photo Archive. File: 34109_70

Star Trek was a revolutionary TV series showing co-operation between nations, races, and aliens.

First inter-racial kiss on TV. I was young enough to not understand how big a deal it was.

First inter-racial kiss on TV. I was young enough to not understand how big a deal it was.

The 1970s tackled issues head on.

By the time this inter-racial kiss aired, I was well aware of what the producers were doing.

By the time this inter-racial kiss aired, I was well aware of what the producers were doing.

Television was where we watched world (and other-worldly) events live.

Yes it happened. It happened on my 10th birthday.

Yes it happened. It happened on my 10th birthday.

Richard Nixon performs the last acts of his devastated presidency in the White House East Room, August 9, 1974, as he bids farewell to his Cabinet, aides, and staff. Nixon said only a man in the deepest valley can know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain. (AP Photo)

Richard Nixon performs the last acts of his devastated presidency in the White House East Room, August 9, 1974, as he bids farewell to his Cabinet, aides, and staff. Nixon said only a man in the deepest valley can know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain. (AP Photo)

We can only hope history repeats itself.

We can only hope history repeats itself.

Canada wins against Russia. We watched the games in the classroom at school. An international historical event.

Canada wins against Russia. We watched the games in the classroom at school. An international historical event.

Nadia Comaneci, of Romania, dismounts from the uneven parallel bars at the Olympic Games in Montreal. (1976)

Nadia Comaneci, of Romania, dismounts from the uneven parallel bars at the Olympic Games in Montreal. (1976)

The scoreboard was not set up to handle a 10.00

The scoreboard was not set up to handle a 10.00

I watched Terry Fox's funeral on TV with my mom. I still tear up remembering his courage.

I watched Terry Fox’s funeral on TV with my mom. I still tear up remembering his courage.

1997: Prince Charles, Prince William, Prince Harry, Earl Althorp and Duke of Edinburgh walk behind Diana, The Princess of Wales' funeral cortege.

1997: Prince Charles, Prince William, Prince Harry, Earl Althorp and Duke of Edinburgh walk behind Diana, The Princess of Wales’ funeral cortege.

September 11, 2001. It didn't feel real until we saw it on TV.

September 11, 2001. It didn’t feel real until we saw it on TV.

Scripted television has the power to move us as well.  Many shows incorporated emotions based on the news and events of the day.  History was often used to illuminate the present day.

When fiction hits you as hard as real-life. Everyone knew that MASH was really about Vietnam, not Korea.

When fiction hits you as hard as real-life. Everyone knew that MASH was really about Vietnam, not Korea.

A shared moment. Everyone was weirdly bereft the next day at high school about Radar's emotional announcement of Col. Henry Blake's death.

A shared moment. Everyone was weirdly bereft the next day at high school about Radar’s emotional announcement of Col. Henry Blake’s death.

Roots changed the way we watched TV. An engrossing mini-series about an under-represented subject.

Roots changed the way we watched TV. An engrossing mini-series about an under-represented subject.

St. Elsewhere was the first hospital drama where "the baby might die." I was on the edge of my seat for many episodes. A huge number of fine actors were on this show.

St. Elsewhere was the first hospital drama where “the baby might die.” I was on the edge of my seat for many episodes. A huge number of fine actors were on this show.

No more Charlie's Angels. Cagney and Lacey seemed like real cops, and real feminist icons.

No more Charlie’s Angels. Cagney and Lacey seemed like real cops, and real feminist icons.

HIgh brow cable TV produces long run series like The Wire. Unforgettable. A microcosm of America.

HIgh brow cable TV produces long run series like The Wire. Unforgettable. A microcosm of America.

LOST premieres the same year my mom died. Every week I was engrossed in the drama and the mystery. It was an excellent metaphysical diversion for me.

LOST premieres the same year my mom died. Every week I was engrossed in the drama and the mystery. It was an excellent metaphysical diversion for me.

LOST's finale: The dog doesn't die, but shows up to comfort the dying hero.

LOST’s finale: The dog doesn’t die, but shows up to comfort the dying hero.

Through the years, you find characters that resonate with you.  So well written and acted, you can identify with them.

One of the many TV character I identified with over the years: Lindsay Weir of Freaks and Geeks.

One of the many TV character I identified with over the years: Lindsay Weir of Freaks and Geeks.

She may be animated, but I found much in common with Lisa Simpson.

She may be animated, but I found much in common with Lisa Simpson.

This time a male character, but with a strange psychological depth and sadness I could relate to.

This time a male character, but with a strange psychological depth and sadness I could relate to.

The tradition of the Academy Awards, something I look forward to every year.

And through it all over the years, the Oscars. Watched it with my family when young, and wouldn't miss it now.

And through it all over the years, the Oscars. Watched it with my family when young, and wouldn’t miss it now.

Bob Hope, a vaudevillian comedian, was a perennial host catering to my parents' generation.

Bob Hope, a vaudevillian comedian, was a perennial host catering to my parents’ generation.

Johnny Carson appealed to the old and the young. A handsome and sardonic Oscar host.

Johnny Carson appealed to the old and the young. A handsome and sardonic Oscar host.

Are the Oscars relevant?  I think they represent the times we live in.

Politics at the Oscars! Sacheen Littlefeather accepts Marlon Brando's award (as per his request) and reads a statement about the Wounded Knee incident and Native American rights.

Politics at the Oscars! Sacheen Littlefeather accepts Marlon Brando’s award (as per his request) and reads a statement about the Wounded Knee incident and Native American rights.

And now for the Oscars presented February 26, 2017.

The Best Picture Nominees cover these themes: International cooperation and interspecies communication; Race and success (within family); Pacifism during war; Desperate measures in bad economic times; Race and feminism and success (within NASA); Finding your identity (finding family); Overcoming grief (reconnecting with family); Finding your identity as a gay man (family member with addiction); and what seemed the least relevant of all: pretty young white people sing and dance and whitesplain (mansplain?) jazz.  Although there was a token black person in the jazz movie.

Oscar 2017: Mahershala Ali becomes the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar. (Best Supporting Actor for Moonlight)

Oscar 2017: Mahershala Ali becomes the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar. (Best Supporting Actor for Moonlight)

Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher Nelson win for Best Makeup for Suicide Squad.  Bertolazzi dedicates the award to immigrants like himself. My notes say that Gregorini dedicated it to his recently deceased wife.

Colleen Atwood wins for Best Costume Design for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – the first Harry Potter film to win an Oscar.

One of the most compelling categories of the evening: Best Documentary Feature

One of the most compelling categories of the evening: Best Documentary Feature

While the OJ documentary won, the other four seem more relevant to me.  Fire At Sea is about the locals on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, one of the first stops for desperate immigrants crossing the Mediterranean.  Life, Animated is about Owen Suskind, an autistic man who communicates through themes in animated films (mostly Disney). I Am Not Your Negro echoes James Baldwin’s own words from the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s (which surely echoes today’s movements like Black Lives Matter). 13th reveals that the 13th Amendment did not actually abolish slavery, it merely reserved it only for punishment for prisoners (thus revealing the impetus for the growth of the for-profit prison system in the USA).

Montrealer Sylvain Bellemare wins for Best Sound Editing for Arrival.  “Salut Montreal” and “All we need is love”.

Kevin O’Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie and Peter Grace win for Best Sound Mixing for Hacksaw Ridge.  A shout out to mom “Skippy” O’Connell for getting him his first job, telling him to work hard, and win an Oscar, and thank her in front of the world.  She is deceased, so he looks skyward (ceiling-ward?) to thank her.

The honorary Oscars are noted for editor Anne V. Coates, casting agent Lynn Stalmaster, documentarian Frederick WIseman, and Jackie Chan.  I looked up Wiseman’s work, and “Primate” in particular looks devastating in the way the best documentaries can be.

Viola Davis wins for Best Supporting Actress for Fences.  The presenter, Mark Rylance, notes that the category could also be called Best Opposing Actress and that “women are better at opposing without hatred”.

The Salesman wins for Best Foreign Language Film for Iran. Director Asghar Farhadi boycotts the event over Trump's "Muslim ban" and has Anousheh Ansari read a prepared statement on his behalf.

The Salesman wins for Best Foreign Language Film for Iran. Director Asghar Farhadi boycotts the event over Trump’s “Muslim ban” and has Anousheh Ansari read a prepared statement on his behalf.

Asghar Farhadi’s words:

“Dividing the world into the us and the enemy categories creates fear, a deceitful justification for regression and war. These wars prevent democracy and human rights in countries in which have themselves have been victims of aggression.

Filmmakers can turn their cameras to capture shared human qualities and break stereotypes of various nationalities and religions. They create empathy between us and others. An empathy we need today more than ever.”

Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer win for Best Animated Short for Piper.  Presenter Gael Garcia Bernal takes the opportunity to define himself as a migrant worker and “As a human being, I’m against any wall that wants to separate us.”

Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Clark Spencer win for Best Animated Feature for Zootopia.  Moore says “We are so grateful to the audiences all over the world who embraced this story of tolerance being more powerful than the fear of the other,”

A husband and wife team win for Best Production Design for La La Land: Production Design: David Wasco; Set Decoration: Sandy Reynolds-Wasco.

Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Dan Lemmon win for Best Visual Effects for The Jungle Book.

John Gilbert wins for Best Film Editing for Hacksaw Ridge.

At this point Jimmy Kimmel does a cute stunt with the child actor from Lion.

Jimmy Kimmel holds up Sunny Pawar (Lion) in a Lion King moment.

Jimmy Kimmel holds up Sunny Pawar (Lion) in a Lion King moment.

Another extremely relevant category: Best Documentary Short is won by White Helmets. Other nominees are Joe’s Violin about Holocaust survivor Joseph Feingold donating his violin to Brianna Perez at the Bronx Global Learning Institute for Girls; Extremis about California palliative care specialist Dr. Jessica Zitter; Watani: My Homeland is about a Syrian refugee family fleeing ISIS and relocating to Germany; and 4.1 Miles is about Kyriakos Papadopoulos, a captain in the Greek Coast Guard, trying to save refugee lives off the coast of the island of Lesbos.

The category of Best Documentary Short is as compelling as its companion category.

The category of Best Documentary Short is as compelling as its companion category.

White Helmets cinematographer Khaled Khatib could not attend because he is Syrian and his travel arrangements were blocked. (The volunteer Syria Civil Defense - nicknamed the White Helmets - rescue civilian victims of bombings in war torn Syria.)

White Helmets cinematographer Khaled Khatib could not attend because he is Syrian and his travel arrangements were blocked. (The volunteer Syria Civil Defense – nicknamed the White Helmets – rescue civilian victims of bombings in war torn Syria.)

Kristof Deák and Anna Udvardy win for Best Live Action Short for Sing.  This is the point at which Jimmy Kimmel tweets Donald Trump “Hi, U up? Meryl says hi”.

Linus Sandgren wins for Best Cinematography for La La Land. Justin Hurwitz wins for Best Musical Score for La La Land. City Of Stars from La La Land wins for Best Song: Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Pasek thanks his mom who let him quit sports to be in a musical.

Jennifer Aniston seems really sad for the In Memoriam mentioning Bill Paxton’s death that day, and Sara Bareilles plays Both Sides Now.  Among those mourned are Gene Wilder, Patty Duke, Garry Marshall, Mary Tyler Moore, Prince, John Hurt, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Debbie Reynolds, and finishing with Carrie Fisher.

Jimmy Kimmel had numerous segments attributed to his ongoing fake feud with Matt Damon.

Jimmy Kimmel had numerous segments attributed to his ongoing fake feud with Matt Damon.

Kenneth Lonergan wins Best Writing in an Original Screenplay for Manchester By The Sea (produced by Matt Damon, who also presents the award).

Matt Damon is a good sport after being introduced as presenter Ben Affleck's "guest".

Matt Damon is a good sport after being introduced as presenter Ben Affleck’s “guest”.

Moonlight wins for Best Writing in a Screenplay Adapted from another Work: Screenplay by Barry Jenkins; Story by Tarell Alvin McCraney.

Barry Jenkins:

“And for all you people out there who feel there is no mirror for you, that you feel your life is not reflected, the Academy has your back, the ACLU has your back, we have your back, and for the next four years we will not leave you alone, we will not forget you.”

Tarell Alvin McCraney:

“Two boys from Liberty City up here representing 305 — this goes out to all those black and brown boys and girls and non-gender conforming who don’t see themselves, we are trying to show you, you and us, so thank you, thank you, this is for you.”

Damien Chazelle becomes the youngest at the age of 32 to win Best Director for La La Land.

Casey Affleck wins Best Actor for Manchester By The Sea, and Emma Stone wins Best Actress for La La Land.

Oscars not-so-white this year.

Oscars not-so-white this year.

And the most confusing and memorable moment of the night is saved for last.  Moonlight wins Best Picture, but only after a fake-out for La La Land.

HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 26: 'La La Land' producer Jordan Horowitz holds up the winner card reading actual Best Picture winner 'Moonlight' with actor Warren Beatty onstage during the 89th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 26, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

HOLLYWOOD, CA – FEBRUARY 26: ‘La La Land’ producer Jordan Horowitz holds up the winner card reading actual Best Picture winner ‘Moonlight’ with actor Warren Beatty onstage during the 89th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 26, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

The real envelope for Best Picture lists Moonlight as the winner. The Price Waterhouse Cooper accountants were busy tweeting photos of Best Actress Emma Stone and handed Warren Beatty a duplicate Best Actress envelope. (Duplicates made for reasons known to PWC. Said accountant has since been fired.)

The real envelope for Best Picture lists Moonlight as the winner. The Price Waterhouse Cooper accountants were busy tweeting photos of Best Actress Emma Stone and handed Warren Beatty a duplicate Best Actress envelope. (Duplicates made for reasons known to PWC. Said accountant has since been fired.)

Best Picture 2017: Moonlight. Producer Adele Romanski: “It’s very humbling to be up here. And I think, I hope even more than that, that it’s inspiring to people, little black boys and brown girls and other folks watching at home who feel marginalized and who take some inspiration from seeing this beautiful group of artists helmed by this amazing talent, my friend Barry Jenkins.."

Best Picture 2017: Moonlight.
Producer Adele Romanski: “It’s very humbling to be up here. And I think, I hope even more than that, that it’s inspiring to people, little black boys and brown girls and other folks watching at home who feel marginalized and who take some inspiration from seeing this beautiful group of artists helmed by this amazing talent, my friend Barry Jenkins..”

And that’s why I love television and the Oscars.  Still relevant, still able to teach, to reveal truth, to instil empathy, still a possibility of a shared experience, not just a product to be consumed.

 

Advertisements

One thought on “Television, the Oscars, and me

  1. Please Note: Bad TV simply manipulates. A good documentary illustrates the truth (like Cruel Camera did for me) and gives you information to work with going forward. A good script reveals a truth.

    “Reality” TV is scripted manipulation. Opinion disguised as documentary is edited manipulation.

    You do have to learn how to tell when you are being manipulated. I feel lucky that the evolution of television in my lifetime imparted the wisdom to know the difference.

    One must be alert, since those who manipulate the medium are highly motivated to do so.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s