Dancing with Stars vs. Academy Awards

With all the noise about the right wing supposedly propping up Bristol Palin, and people whining that if the best dancer doesn’t win then the credibility of the show will be ruined, bear in mind that the Academy Awards have been more about advancing social issues than good movies for years.
The academy awards usually feature a lot of movies about over-simplified moralism and there has to be a token, excruciatingly dull, Meryl Streep movie.
Movies that are well constructed with popular appeal are usually nominated for technical awards that get no buzz, like best costumes or cinematography, instead of best picture.
It’s a bit like when you see a “Miss World” or “Miss Universe” contest and some ugly chick wins after giving some trite speech about eliminating world hunger.
When a good movie does win or get nominated, it is usually a blockbuster with lots of well known names, a little overdone but not quite enough to qualify as farce [as opposed to Avatar, which is way off in self-parody land].

The better Palin

There is an interesting phenomenon on Dancing with the Stars, which I have never watched, with Bristol Palin being kept continually in the running by fan support.
Probably at least some of it is about people’s affilation with her mother.  But I suspect that a lot of it is about the ways in which she is the opposite of her mother.  If she acted like her mother she probably would have been voted off in two episodes.
It’s really difficult to have any negative feelings for Bristol Palin.  She has an overbearing ogre of a mother and has had every mistake that she’s ever done dragged through the media at a very young age and is a victim of her mother’s political aspirations and willingness to use her children as props.  She has a real woman’s body and is well rounded instead of being a A-list clone.  Yay!  They allowed a real woman to go on TV!   She’s a little awkward and clumsy but that doesn’t stop her from trying and she puts her spirit in to it.
In short, it should have been Bristol Palin instead of Christine O’Donnell making an “I am you” commercial.  Because she is us, in a way that politicians and professional entertainers can never be.
On the flip side, the voters dismissed the pair with the perfect score.   That could be for any number of reasons, not least of which is Americans back an underdog, don’t like being told what to like, and that having perfect fundamentals isn’t necessarily inspirational.
Every one of us has been in the kind of position that Bristol Palin was in at one time or another, whether it was trying out for a sports team or some other endeavor where we weren’t quite good enough to take it to the next level.   That gives a huge sympathy advantage.
Brandy on the other hand has had numerous successes in the past, with a successful music career and an actoring career for which she was nominated for various awards.   Brandy lacks the sympathy factor, she isn’t like most of us, she’s like the popular kid in school that was the captain of every team and valedictorian.  We don’t root for somebody like that to monopolize something else.
Will it be bad for the show if she wins?   Hard to say.   There is a reason why movie formats with hero as klutz and villian as near-invincible mastermind seem to sell, the idea that being good enough without being perfect can be enough expresses an underlying frustration with a society in which robotic perfection without individuality is expected.
As for Bristol’s success being some right wing conspiracy, well, I don’t see it somehow translating into votes and I don’t think attacking the daughter because we don’t like the mother is appropriate.   Slinging mud at Bristol Palin is tasteless and uncalled for and more likely to backfire in her mother’s favor than any good come of it.
If I were voting on it, I don’t think I would have the heart to vote against her.
I hope if she wins that she gets the pluck and resources to emancipate herself from her mother.

Morality plays in movies- is subtlety dead?

Ah, Avatar.  Not a bad movie, better than I expected given the previews.   The message though has about the subtlety of a sledgehammer.  
 
Those that seek moral guidance from nature tend to fall into two camps, what you might call the "gaiaists" that believe that nature is pure and the "pseudo-darwinists" that believe in some bloodthirsty survival of the fittest doctorine.  Both of them are crap.  Everything from motherhood to serial killers comes from nature.  Everything is from nature, all the living things have been naturally selected for.   Greed comes from nature.  Altruism and idealism come from nature.  Greed can lead to environmental destruction and immoral conquests.  It can also build up modern civilizations that are better able to provide for the sick and the poor an reduce infant mortality rates.  Idealism and self sacrifice can society to make great strides forward. It can also lead to people dying for the Third Reich or becoming suicide bombers.  Anything outside it’s proper place becomes a mindless cancer.  Life is messy and complicated.
 
I remember once seeing on TV a grizzly bear run down a baby deer and instead of a clean kill, rip its guts out and start feeding on it while it was still alive, bleating in agony and terror.  It’s really hard after seeing that to think of hunting of predators as cruel and wicked.   Nature isn’t about some gentle nature goddess. Nature can be really ugly. 
 
It’s been suggested by some that Avatar is racist, for instance the natives need a white saviour.   There is a dangerous element to that, in that it promotes the idea that non-whites have to be saved, which can lead to more meddling and disruption.  On the other hand, when a non-white civilization is being taken advantage of by us the reality is that most of the people that will be in a position to put a stop to it will be white.  Of course grabbing a machine gun is one of the less effective ways to impede imperialism.   Putting the brakes on in the houses, senates and parliaments of the world and outing exploitation in the media is more likely to be effective.
 
Well, the noble savage is something of a racist cliche too, as as the cliche that all white men are machine gun toting thugs (although given our treatment of other races that cliche is not wholly undeserved).   I’d also ask tongue in cheek if the emerging cliche of one black man saving white civilization (e.g. Morgan Freeman or Will Smith) is racist in the same sense…although I think the underlying psychological motive is that casting blacks as heros and presidents makes us feel good about ourselves treating them equally, while the bulk of them in America continue to languish in poverty with few prospects.   Retaining the same system but moving more blacks up in it, and replacing them with more whites languishing in poverty isn’t a particularly good solution either, systemic change is needed.  But that is for another rant.
 
Movies like Love Story, Terms of Endearment, Titanic and Avatar rely on cheap emotional ploys to manipulate an audience.  Although it is hard not to react to some scenes on another level it is exasperating.
 
Fortunately subtlety is not completely dead, it just produces lower box office returns.
 
Daybreakers should get early consideration for best picture next year, the most truly original vampire movie in a long time.   It forsees the practical problems that a civilization of vampires would have.   It has vampires that refuse to drink blood and that assist the human resistance.   Most interesting, it is the first vampire movie that is not really about vampires, it is advancing modern ethics. 
 
There was usually an element of moral persuasion to the vampire mythos, and it has ranged from the promotion of religion (holding off vampires with Christian widgets) to warnings about women being incautious with strange men, little red riding hood style, to in more modern versions using the sexual overtones to promote sexual immorality.   Daybreakers brings in real modern problems, such as the callousness of modern society and people looking out for themselves, competition for resources, corporate immorality, etc.  It also brings in elements of Christian ethics, for instance at the end when some of the bad vampires are turned back to human they are killed by their own.   Those who lived by the sword die by it so to speak.   Do not do unto others what you would not have done to yourself.   Then there are the vampires that have the same temptations as the others but will not give in to them.   Everybody has temptations.   Some people give in to them and some don’t.   It isn’t the lack of temptation that makes the good person.
 
Along slightly different lines, the movie Final Destination in 3D last year had a good underlying message that was not sledgehammered.   The movie was in essence about safety.   I have to wonder if it was sponsored by Worker’s Compensation Boards everywhere.   Every time somebody got hurt or injured, it was because they took some unnecessary risk.  And they were just the sort of unnecessary risks that people tend to take every day, sometimes with disasterous consequences.   Even in the final scene where the main characters die off, it is because the male lead, after seeing a problem and tells a worker about it, lets it go instead of having it fixed on the spot. 
 
The flip side is that if a morality play isn’t entertaining, it won’t have an audience.