Being a movie star seems awfully hard work, if only because of the effort involved in keeping up with the latest fashions. We don’t mean the latest in haute couture, as there are no doubt well-paid consultants to deal with all that, but rather the even more exhausting chore of keeping up with the even faster-changing trends in liberalism. Consider the case of screen actress Patricia Arquette, who offered up the obligatory political rant at Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony and then found out in the trades that her opinions as well as her hair style are embarrassingly out-of-date.
Arquette seized the opportunity of her award for best supporting actress to cry out for equal pay for women, which seems a safe cause, having already been enshrined in federal law for the past several decades, but she managed to offend the more sensitive sensibilities by asking “all the gay men, and people of color, to fight for us now.” This strikes us as a meticulously inclusive invitation, and a solid if slightly hackneyed statement of solidarity with the right sorts of people, but that shows how much we know about the latest in liberalism. A writer at Buzzfeed scoffed that “Patricia’s comments show the danger in not being hip to this whole intersectionality thing,” and the “reproductive rights” web site HR Reality Check lamented that Arquette “erased gay women and women of color and all intersecting iterations of those identities,” and the United Kingdom’s Independent ran a round-up of outraged “tweets” that was summarized as “Many pointed out the irony of a wealthy white woman begging people who are worse off in society to help her out.”
Not being hip to this whole intersectionality thing ourselves, and realizing that an acceptance speech’s mention of all the endlessly extrapolating intersecting iterations of political identity groups would take so long that the band would start playing and Bob Hope himself would arise out of the grave to drag a mere best supporting actress off the stage, we can only sympathize with Arquette. She did get some fawning coverage from the likes of The Christian Science Monitor, which is apparently also un-hip to the whole intersectionality thing, and her reputation for Hollywood bravery will be burnished by the criticism she received from the conservatives at Fox News and elsewhere, who rightly pointed out that her “77 cents” figure is pure nonsense and that the Obama White House and Hillary Clinton senatorial office had wage discrepancies between their male and female employees more glaring that, but those unkind “tweets” must surely sting. We are unfamiliar with Arquette’s work but understand that she is the granddaughter of Cliff Arquette, who created the lovable “Charley Weaver” character, and the sister of Rosanna Arquette, who has contributed many memorable nude scenes to the America cinema, so we’d like to assume the best about her intentions.
Even such an impeccably up-to-date liberal as the actor Sean Penn managed to stir up a bit of indignation from the left by greeting an Academy Award winner from Mexico with a joke about green cards. We are familiar with Penn’s work, which is occasionally quite good but all too often in the service of preachy liberal melodrama, but he’s better known for his outspoken political views. He’s sort of the Paul Muni of the present day, and if you’re not one of those hard-core old-time film buffs who still remember Paul Muni that only makes our point. Penn’s liberal credentials include palling around with Latin American dictators, and he used to show up at such George W. Bush-made disasters as Hurricane Katrina to paddle canoes through waters so treacherous only the most brave paparazzi would follow, and he probably assumed that entitled him to some friendly joshing with the Academy Award winner from Mexico, who is reputedly Penn’s friend, and reportedly not at all offended by the joke, but he should have seen the criticisms coming. The joke wasn’t very funny, and Penn is a famously humorless fellow who once chastised another Academy Award presenter for making jokes about an actor named Jude Law, whose work we are also unfamiliar with, but the bigger problem seems to be that the old liberal tradition of making ironically racist jokes to prove that one isn’t racist has been lost. This is a shame, as we know lots of racist jokes and are ever eager to prove ourselves not racist, and we can be just an ironic as any liberal, but Penn should have seen it coming.
Race was the big theme of this year’s pre-Oscar hype, after all, what with so many of the nominees being people of non-color, or non-people of color, or whatever the currently correct locution for white people might be. Having seen absolutely none of this year’s contending movies we have no idea if the nominations and awards reflect racial prejudice or aesthetic discernment, yet we’re still weary of the topic. America still hasn’t achieved a perfection of racial justice, and will likely fail to do so as long as Americans remain humans, but surely there’s been enough progress to have an Academy Awards show not devoted to the topic.
The most intriguing brouhaha to come out of the Academy Awards started the day after, when a former beauty queen turned local news station morning show hostess was having a televised chat with her co-host about Lady Gaga’s performance of a medley of songs from “Sound of Music.” Effusing about the usually lurid chanteuse’s well-reviewed ability with such wholesome material, the young hostess blurted out that “It’s hard to really hear her voice with all that ‘jigaboo’ music that she does, or whatever you want to call it.” This rather jaw-dropping language naturally provoked numerous protests, even if she was on a Fox affiliate, with an audience presumably comprised entirely of racists well-accustomed to such language, and she immediately “tweeted” an apology with the explanation that she had no idea the word “jigaboo” carried any offensive racial connotation.
It is an unusually pleasing sign of the times that her explanation is entirely plausible. This seemingly ambitious young woman spoke the term without apparent embarrassment or defiance in front a black co-host, who was hired despite the Fox affiliation, and seemed slightly befuddled by the word as she spoke it a second time. More importantly, “jigaboo,” like a number of other once-familiar racial slurs, is by now virtually extinct from the American language, to the extent that the darned spell-check system on our computer keeps wanting to change it to “gigabyte,” and we can easily believe that a 20-something woman of sufficiently good rearing to win a beauty pageant and landed a local affiliate morning’s show has somewhere heard the term but not in any context that she was able to discern its meaning. The term is hardly apt for Lady Gaga’s usual material, which we would describe as techno-caucasian, and probably hasn’t been used to describe any musician since Al Jolson was singing “Swanee,” and even at a Klan rally the word would probably sound as dated “copacetic” or “twenty-three-skidoo.” There’s still a stubbornly persistent use of the “n-word,” mostly among people of color, or certain colors, although they substitute an “a” for the “er” and thus render it into an acceptable political statement, but otherwise racial slurs have become so uncommon that a reader would not know what we were talking about if we tried to clean up the “j-word.”
Even right-wing bastards such as ourselves refrain from such foul language, except when the news forces our hand, but at least we’re old enough and right-wing enough to have the advantage of knowing all the terms that we’re not using. Another advantage of conservatism is that it does not require keeping up with the latest fashions. Conservatism is a consistent philosophy based on a timeless understanding of human nature, will always be out of style, and none of us are likely to ever be standing on stage of the Academy Awards ceremony accepting a gold statuette. Liberalism has its career advantages, we suppose, but our bemusement is ample compensation.
— Bud Norman