One ‘it goes with the territory’ minus of being over the age of thirty and being frustrated with some aspect of modern life is that you tend to get dismissed as being an out of touch oldie. I must declare an interest here – I’ve noticed the syndrome, both with my parents and in myself, whereby human beings spend their years between thirty to sixty trying to keep up and thereafter gradually relax (or is it stop worrying about?) the issue.
For a son, from the age of about five or six, i.e. whenever you begin to get obsessive about sport, one of the great communal joys of life is watching sport together with your father, the both of you totally immersed and fascinated in the moment and indeed the outcome of a specific event or match. These days with my parent, however, such occasions are complicated by him repeatedly asking who a particular player is, or why did the referee make that decision, or where is this match being played, or even which team is which. To a degree I suspect the reason for this is that, as you age and the broadcast coverage becomes more frenetic, or increasingly switches from one angle to another, it all gets a bit confusing – eventually to the point where either you give up and simply ‘watch the moving pictures on the screen in front of you’ without understanding any of it or, alternatively, begin badgering anyone with you for information about what is going on.
Anyway, the subject of my piece today is political correctness, or rather some aspects of it.
We’re currently bang slap in the middle of the ‘Awards’ season – in movie terms, the BAFTAS and now imminently the Oscars ceremony and, in popular music terms, the Grammies and then the Brits.
This year – and for all I know it maybe have been increasingly over the past few years – the issue of the moment is the alleged lack of diversity. For the last couple of months, in America, the issue has been the lack of black nominations. Apparently the ‘Academy’ (the exact membership qualification for which I know not) is too white and/or old and/or Jewish and/or male … and so black movie industry figures are – subconsciously or not – somehow discriminated against.
This is a difficult subject because, of course – if you’re old, white and male like me – almost by definition there’s a tendency for you to be in the camp that cannot see what all the fuss is about. Surely the only criteria is quality? Nobody in their right mind is going to regard one actor’s performance as being better than another’s simply because the one is white and the other is black, or vice versa.
Or are they?
Because that seems to be the accusation. Part of me gets irritated and frustrated by the very suggestion – I’m not prejudiced, well certainly don’t regard myself as such, so it’s irrelevant. Or is it? I cannot recall specific examples, but I’m sure they are respected academic studies that tend to show that subconsciously we all have preferences for certain types of actors – attractive ones, fully-abled ones, ones we can relate to more than others etc. – which affect our opinions and verdicts even if we never intended this.
Thus maybe those criticising the lack of diversity in the 2016 Oscar nominations have a point.
However, when I go back through the history of the Oscars – and the well-know or infamous examples of ‘weird’ or apparently unfair decisions [these identified with the benefit of hindsight or otherwise] down the years, e.g. the ‘best acting performances of all time’ that never got nominated, or even those that did but which then missed out on an Oscar to some dumb winner whose movie thereafter sank totally without trace – they are littered with possible ‘mistakes’ or instances of rough justice. But, whether these occurred in the 1930s, 1980s or even last year, I’ve always put them down simply to the vagaries of chance and life, not discrimination or prejudice.
About a decade ago, there was a hoo-hah in the media surrounding a campaign suggesting that female painters and artists had received a raw deal down the centuries. One’s immediate and instinctive reaction was “Do me a favour – there simply haven’t been any great ones, get over it …” but then one was confronted with push-backs such as “Well, hang on, yes there have – but (because they were women) they never received the recognition that they should”.
Just a minute – is that a completely absurd suggestion, or might there just be something in it?
Who knows? Just as who knows whether an apparent lack of diversity in the membership of the Oscars ‘Academy’ has been affecting its choices of nominations and/or winners?
This week the organisers of the Brit Music Awards have been in the metaphorical dock for the lack of black artistes either nominated and/or chosen as winners. Actually, hold the phone – as of Tuesday night’s 7.00pm Channel Four News which I watched – there is now a suggestion that the Brits are prejudiced against hip-hop music. [I don’t know whether those responsible for the Brits are or not, but at least I know I that am – I cannot stand hip-hop music, in fact I find it difficult to accept it as music at all!].
I cannot resolve all, or indeed any, of these issues. However, I have to admit that in my gut I’m sceptical about these PC-based arguments. If you’re complaining about a general ‘lack of diversity’, how diverse do you want to be? Should there be consideration given not just to black actors, producers, directors, cameramen et al., but also to gay ones, disabled ones, single-parent ones, Down’s Syndrome ones, vertically-challenged ones …?
And hey, while we’re at it, why isn’t there a category for those who are not only Native American, gay, disabled and short, but who also suffer from Down’s Syndrome?
When you think about it, all these industry award jamborees are just opportunities to celebrate and promote the area of life in which the participants operate.
Sure, to be recognised by your peers for your achievements in the life path you have chosen is a wonderful thing, but there is no objective standard that is being measured here. Those who decide such things are fundamentally subjective in their decisions. And yes, some voters may have been swayed subconsciously by their own colour, age and gender – and, of course, God forbid, possibly even by the tens of millions of dollars that the movie company behind a particular film has spent marketing and promoting it in the run up to the Oscars season – but at the end of the day, they (the Awards) are only frippery and froth, albeit perhaps important and influential frippery and froth.
According to an edition of Radio Five’s Up All Night show earlier this week, Leonardo Di Caprio is the strong favourite to win the ‘Best Actor’ Oscar this year, not just because of his performance in The Revenant, but because of all the previous times he’s been nominated as ‘Best Actor’ and never actually won – a sort of ‘lifetime achievement’ award, if you will.
The trouble is that the choice of a winner for any Awards can always be criticised by somebody. So why do we ever worry about it?