Mark Harris‘s latest Grantland piece is titled “Oscar Season Turns Ugly.” Many Oscar seasons have been ugly to some extent. Some years back David Poland wrote that “every Oscar-bait film is its own little war” or words to that effect. Oscar campaigns are an extension of this mindset, and it follows that they, like any political campaign or debate, are colored by combativeness and certain forms of cruelty. Oscar campaigns don’t exist in a Marquess of Queensberry realm and they never will. Besides last year’s torpedoing of Zero Dark Thirty by a gang of leftist Stalinists over accusations that Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal‘s film was allegedly endorsing torture was much, much uglier than anything going on this year. I still feel nauseous about that episode when I think back on it.
Harris backhands the Academy’s Hope Holiday contingent by noting that “the track record of moralists as cultural critics is abysmal” and that “lack of morality in art has historically been what prigs, bluenoses, and simpletons use to bash Hollywood and dismiss the value of challenging creative work by demanding that popular entertainment reward the virtuous, punish the guilty, and reinforce the certainties of a complacent audience rather than inspire them to reexamine their precepts from fresh vantage points.
“That is still the caricature to which the anti-moralists want to reduce their opposition,” Harris writes. “The counteroffensive they mount is that if you find The Wolf of Wall Street objectionable, you must be either incapable of discerning its implicit condemnation of greed or uncomfortable with any movie that doesn’t spell out its lessons. But the old stereotypes — conservatives object to sex, liberals object to violence, and indignation about immorality comes from people who are already primarily disposed to hate pop culture — no longer apply.”
I disagree. Cliches usually become cliches because they’re supported by repeated behaviors. The anti-Wolf scolds have explicitly said that Martin Scorsese‘s film doesn’t come down hard enough on Jordan Belfort (that’s exactly the observation that Jake Tapper and Sharon Waxman were batting around a few weeks ago) and it has been obvious from the get-go that the scolds want Belfort’s Nero-esque indulgences identified and condemned more clearly and punished decisively during Act Three.