The reviews for the VMAs are in and they are…

bad. Overall, critics and audiences weren’t pleased with the show MTV put on—that is, unless you break it up into chunks.

Turn to your Twitter feed this morning and you’ll likely find a number of people still in awe of how Beyonce or Rihanna rocked the stage, how Britney Spears is back in the spotlight, how Drake is back on the sideline. Any moment with any pop star resulted in dozens (in the case of the former two, maybe even hundreds) of tweets and discussion items, not to mention articles buzzing about who wore and said what.

So the reviews of the show is bad. So what? MTV’s goal with the VMAs has, historically, been about creating big moments in a chaos chamber. The performances and kerfuffles they create in the meantime is the sundae, not the cherry on top.

“[We] put those chaotic elements in the room together and then we kind of let go. We don’t produce things really tightly the way other awards shows might,”Van Toffler, a former Viacom executive who worked on the VMAs for 28 years,told Billboard last year. “We love when people talk about the event.”

In the age of social media, having those two or three moments that get people talking—and, more importantly, sharing—seem to matter much more. The question is: Will other award shows follow?

I’m hardpressed to believe that organizations like the Academy or the Grammys will let performers bounce off and go balls to the wall the way they do at the VMAs, but the idea that a few choice moments are what viewers are after isn’t so far off from how many people I know watch bigger award shows. The Oscar’s has the openings, and maybe some choice winners in a category or two; the Grammy’s and Tony’s often feature some of the best musical performances audiences will see all year; the Emmy’s has a better (and more funny) version of the Oscar’s opening bit. While networks try to figure out what formula, host, and red carpet hook will reel in viewers each year, overall viewership of awards is dropping. Like in late night programming, people are more in for the clips than they are the ride.

The VMAs is perhaps the only show that understands this. And though many viewers don’t care about the actual award (not even MTV devotes itself to music videos anymore) they can care about the personalities involved. And any awards show that offers up its stage for a Beyonce medley? Well, that’s just that isn’t it?

beyonce_welcome

 

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Acknowledging Whiteness

I understand the idea that we can’t ask celebrities and people of that ilk in the public eye to be representatives of political agendas. But it’s odd to say they’re wholly independent of them.

People and their artistic creations exist in a cultural context, and that cultural context exists within a continuum of social and political agendas. Sinking all your hopes on representation on a celebrity may be ill-founded—just look at the racist reactions by white actors to the #OscarsSoWhite campaign. But claiming that means we shouldn’t expect artists who devote their lives and waking hours to contemplating bigger questions and honing their respective craft to have something to say on it is misguided.

Though I’m no fan of him, Macklemore’s “White Privilege II” shows that he is (and has been) contemplating his grander place in the context of hip hop music. The song itself isn’t much of a song, almost more of a personal essay than spoken word, but it’s a public proclamation of him falling in line with Black Lives Matters and at least beginning to acknowledge the privilege he benefits from in the world and the rap community. Whether it ultimately succeeds is another story. But the fact that it’s out there—and for once in Macklemore’s career speaking from his own lane to people within that lane—is something.

It’s no coincidence that two years running has seen Hollywood award exclusively white performances. In the Academy’s mind there’s a certain type of “Oscar worthy” performance. And when that comes to narratives of people of color it’s even more focused. It’s images of black bodies in pain, being rescued. Not proving themselves, whether in the face of the music industry, a multimillion dollar sports organization, or the shadow of their father’s legacy. It’s latinX people winning awards for trafficking drugs, not being enigmatic tech geniuses. It’s white men portraying trans women as tragic figures, not trans women of color playing themselves in a modern farce. It’s a problem that has roots deep in Hollywood, far beyond the Academy, about the stories we choose to tell when it’s not a cis, straight, white, able-bodied man.

And it may not be their job to speak out on these issues. But it seems clear that it’s their job to properly portray them.

All the White Ladies

It’s that time of year again: When Autumn starts to fall into Winter. Or, for me, the time of year when my schedule fills up with movies to see, reviews to write, and opinions to share. For those who might not know, right now is the part in the yearly movie cycle where the films churned out are in prime placement for consideration for Golden Globes and Oscars. Like I mentioned, that also means there’s a sincere uptick in not only the quality (and/or intensity) of the movies coming out, but a significant uptick in speculation around those movies.

I will be among the first to admit that I place no solace in awards, accolades, or even reviews to a certain extent. Movies will resonate with me in their–and mine–own way; if I liked it then I’ll tell you why, and fuck the haters. But I still know a good talking point when I see one, and unfortunately for me award season is that.

Now we’re past discussions that purely talk about what we thought of the movie, or (my favorite) what gems of wisdom, insight, or genius we can mine from the film. No, now it’s all about the politics of what merits an award that pretty much everyone agrees means nothing but we all desperately care about.

And right now we’re at the time when we’re not just speculating about who will win, we’re speculating about who will even be nominated. It’s that much of a circlejerk. Thus press circuits turn to campaigns, interviews turn to stump speeches, and largely that stumping pays off. Almost any film critic or culture writer could write pages on awards that went to the wrong person who played the game better or had a stronger producer backing them (even though they don’t care and they’re total bullshit anyway).

Which is why the latest Hollywood Reporter cover has me disappointed: they basically took the opportunity to convene a room full of white women to discuss issues that “face women in Hollywood.”

Look at that diversity
Look at that diversity

I get it, ok? It’s not like it was a particularly banner year for women of color in media. But since we’re still in the age of speculation, why can’t we even try to think outside the box? The women in this piece gave great performances, some gave outstanding ones. But pretending like that makes them any more qualified to discuss the issues facing women in Hollywood is total horsecrock.

I would wager that there are issues facing women of color in Hollywood that this piece couldn’t even begin to touch on (nor should it, with a lineup like that), so clearly that’s not what the magazine is really trying to get at. They’re all about playing the game.

If The Hollywood Reporter–one of the biggest trade mags in the biz–can’t see the cyclical nature of these sort of self-fulfilling prophecies that go around and around each year, then I don’t know what to tell you. They clearly know that there’s a game being played, because they’re staking a major amount of real estate in their magazine to get in on the action. And with the amount of white in that room I think it’s blindingly clear where they stand.