#OscarsSoBland: the frocks are more interesting than its message of ‘empowerment’

I am not invulnerable to Reese Witherspoon. Between us, her ruling class charm once struck so hard, I took a picture of it to a stylist and said, “Make me look like this.” So, yes: Hollywood women may have authority over intimate lady things, including my hair. That they can touch us less superficially is unlikely.

Of course, this is an unpopular view and “media effects” thinking is now a religion. If someone—possibly including a media effects theoretician—suggests that the culture industry has anything less but the most foundational power to transform everyday behaviour, then they are, like, a total dick. In the West, one must publicly agree that Good Role Models make Good People. If one does not agree, one is a contrarian or a bitch, possibly an idiot. If one does agree, one may be able to charge a good fee to address a women’s business luncheon.

My hope that the empowerment industry is endangered got a little boost yesterday as I watched the 90th Academy Awards.

As I continue to consider the limits of Ms Witherspoon’s influence, I have not been asked to address a women’s business luncheon.

(Sidebar: I did receive a recent request to be a Keynote Woman speaker, but it turned out that feminist organisers had meant to invite Helen Garner. As I enjoy torturing myself with proof of my market irrelevance, I kept an eye on the event and note that the lauded writer did not accept. In the place of her biography is that of another writer, one who will speak to the importance of empowering female stories in corporate media. The extreme religion of media effects can prove extremely profitable.)

Still, I hold out hope that the Counter-Terrorism For Her industrial complex will fall apart. Not so I can laugh (much) at the heroines of the present who applaud, say, the “empowering” qualities of Gal Gadot, a person whose past actions and present views might both be read as far more brutal than those of Harvey Weinstein. Not so I can make (much) money, as I truly know I never will. Honestly, I am just sick to the shitter of this extremist faith in popular culture as a political force.

Sure, a good flick might lift the spirits. Certainly, propaganda is of great political value—we’d not see this current vintage revival of the Russia-US arms race without Western outlets making like “Putin started it and stole our real president” for the past 18 months. But, honestly, it just sticks in my craw that we accept, without evidence, that Wonder Woman can transform the lives of girls while remaining blind to the material things that truly transform the lives of girls. I’d say that the lives of Palestinian girls might be more immediately improved with fewer assaults by Gal Gadot’s former employer than an empowering Gal Gadot matinee.

Even in the case that Western media can be said to transform the lives of ordinary Western women—a case I do not uncritically accept—we must still ask: WTF? Surely, if one accepts this, one ought to then be truly crapped off that any industry holds such power. Rather than the search for Good Role Models, which may include Reese Witherspoon, one should spend all feminist hours training girls, and boys, in tactical media avoidance. If you are angry about life as it is currently practiced—a perfectly reasonable rage—get angry enough to wrest control of life from a few powerful people, even if they are nice, like Reese Witherspoon.

To believe in the power of Good Role Models is to believe that power as it currently exists must not be challenged. It is also to ignore the possibility that Reese might one day change her views on “empowerment”, and possibly go and enlist, Gadot-style, with the IDF. This is the whole deal with democracy, right? Power should be shared? Not just afforded, as it is, to the wealthy or to the apparently meritorious or to women who are quite good at acting.

Anyhoo. My hope that the empowerment industry is endangered got a little boost yesterday as I watched the 90th Academy Awards. Not sure if Reese presented, as Jimmy Kimmel’s “brave” monologue about the emasculated Oscar and the power of courageous women etc. etc. acted as a sedative. As did the re-do of last year’s “let’s thrill the common people with our star power” stunt. It was quite funny last year to surprise those everyday people whose lives Hollywood is so certain it has the power to transform. This year, it was as fucking boring as the endless news reports that began with “Amid the glitz and the glamour, Hollywood had an important message”.

The whole thing was blander than a bland white blancmange.

No, it didn’t. Hollywood has the same message it always does: we are very important, and our industry survival depends on you believing this as much as we do. The whole thing was blander than a bland white blancmange who just loves to watch Steven Pinker do his TED talks about how nice everything is, and if you couldn’t see that Oscar had the wobbles, then you have eaten all the bullshit about media effects. Entertainment! It can transform our lives more quickly than an Israeli settler trained in combat by Wonder Woman!

That top-drawer satire Get Out achieved any acknowledgement at all was one of the ceremony’s few decent moments. Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph were funny enough to provide another—very funny, but not sufficient to defend the coronation of that stupid movie about fish. The rest of the time, presenters seemed insincere, self-serving or, as in the troubling case of Salma Hayek, still too raw to speak powerfully about the #MeToo moment. Honestly, the best thing about the whole thing was the frocks.

But, as Witherspoon has advised, one must #AskHerMore than the name of a designer. Gowns remain beautiful, custom-made and still often carry a high five-figure price-tag. Still, one part of the entertainment industry must work with another part of the entertainment industry and pretend that these dresses of great beauty and value are not relevant. What really matters is what an actor thinks.

What would I know? I am an idiot, contrarian bitch.

I miss just worrying about how an actor wears her hair. They’re good at that. They’re not always good at interrogating a feminism that may be useful to those of us watching at home.

Still. Whatever floats your boat. Also. What would I know? I am an idiot, contrarian bitch. Hardly Reese, and never Helen Garner.


33 responses to “#OscarsSoBland: the frocks are more interesting than its message of ‘empowerment’

  1. despite all of that rabble-rousing, we in Australia have the inimitable Helen Razer who has landed on our Australian psyche like a friggin cane toad. Similar to Paul Keating, Jeremy Corben and Sally Mcmanus we are still too young, inexperienced and parochial to see the unpolished diamonds that could alter our consciousness…….it will take a bit more time but I have faith.

  2. I chuckle, I laugh out of sheer joy of being able to read your scintillating, stimulating articles on life, the Oscars and everything, Helen. And the varied Comments. Thanks muchly.

  3. “What would I know? I am an idiot, contrarian bitch.”

    I must be crazy to find the least reason to disagree Helen. Somehow I have an urge to say I agree with some of your Oscar review, while also seeing the unsubtle jab at Israel and the leftist lurve of the Palestinian cause. Given the real fact that American Jews run half of Hollywood it is that reality which coyly dare not speak its name at the Oscars or any commentary on same.

    After the ’67 war I was a fan of brave little Israel, laughed with the crowd at the Arabs leaving their boots in the desert as they ran away, loved the bepatched Moshe Dayan being so clever and devoted to the cause, revered Golda and her smokers gravel; yet over the years in business I started leaning to the old rubric ‘never let a Jew get between you and your money’.

    In recent times, as Islamic fascism took hold and I learned more detail of the Middle East history in the 20th century, I grudgingly accepted that on balance the survival of Israel trumped the never ending hostility and vicious internal divisions of the Palestinian cause. As Winston famously said (not in Darkest Hour), ‘anti-semiticsm might be a good starter but is a bad sticker’.

    Like the Oscars, American Jews show up the extremes of America; in its very best and its very worst: smarter, crazier, more insufferably entitled, harder working, more flawed and depraved and yes richer and more vulgar; but most importantly never troubling with that most revered Jew’s 2000 year old idea of …..life after death.

    1. Archie, my boy! You know that not everything is about jews ay? Do you know there is a difference between jews and zionists? Yeah. Its the frocks!

  4. Helen, I bloody love your writing! Yesterday’s piece was a ripper! Thank you for being the voice of reason and intelligence.

    Our household also thought #oscarssobland. For any major red carpet event it is now a ritual for us to find the best photo gallery and totally judge the frocks, and the fellas’ suits (socks or not?; ankle length pants?; bow tie matching the partner’s dress?). We don’t care who is who and won what, it is all about colour, fabric, design, jewellery, hair and makeup, and how much boob showing is too much. It is now necessary to add to what degree the plastic surgery adds/detracts from the look (eg. Sandra Bullock looks so stretched that she really can NOT wear her hair straightened; Ashley Judd seems to have been unsure how much or little face to lift, so she did a bit here and there and left out some bits). And the shoes, which my friend describes as, “car to bar”, because one could not walk any further than that in ridiculous footwear. So much pain involved to look so perfect. Which is why I love that Frances McD looks like she has not combed her hair in her entire life. Also of note, very little bling.

    There was no clear standout ‘wow’ for us this year. As expected, our Nicole thought she was the wow, with that bold colour and dramatic bow, but no – it just never works looking so ‘blessed’ all the time.

    Helen, please keep up the anger and the rage towards all the things that matter. You are doing us an invaluable service. You make us think. And I am grateful that we have you.

    1. After congratulating Helen Razer on her highly critical article on the Hollywood in-house event and praising her for being the “voice of reason and intelligence”, I am somewhat mystified as to why “B” then goes into a detailed exposition of some aspects of this self-important,”blander than bland white blancmange” delusional event.
      Surely reason and intelligence would have avoided comments on actors’ plastic surgery, provocative dresses and hair styles – and the rest of the pantomime. Reason and intelligence at the service of conceit, self-serving display and the arrogance to believe it has genuine political clout? Surely not.
      I did not read Helen Razer’s article as the type that came to praise Caesar rather than bury him! Rage and anger does not reside in design and description.

  5. I do feel like this is the kinda thing Helen can, and has, written in her sleep. Is it really a shocker at this point that Hollywood celebrities are self-interested and the oscars are self indulgent? IT’s like writing about how water is really really damp.

    Although it is nice to know about your womancrush on Reese Witherspoon.

    1. No. This is not a shock.
      What is a shock is the uncritical support corporate feminism continues to receive. From people who should know better.
      I intend on amending this. Until somebody listens.

  6. A pleasure to read your take on the recent Academy Awards.
    The Hollywood “myth” is still alive and well.

  7. Your personal lash at Gal Gadot is a perfect example of ignorant, progressive, dogmatism.
    a) You may FEEL that Counter-Terrorism activities (that cost allot of money) are just a money grabbing racket (part of the infamous military “industrial complex”) and we (i.e. Humanity) should all just live in Love, Peace & Harmony, but in the hard cold reality, your day to day safety (in travel, public venues, the streets and even your home) which you seem to take for granted, is largely dependent on robust, behind the scenes, counter-terrorism activities and in any case, Gal Gadot has nothing to do with this “industrial complex” you are mumbling about
    b) You are seriously suggesting that Gadot’s “past actions” and “present views” are “far more brutal than those of Harvey Weinstein”???
    In the two year, mandatory stint in the IDF, Gadot was a fitness instructor with zero contact to Palestinians but the larger issue with your premise is your die hard, emotional conviction that it is Israel that is 100% to blame for any and all of the misfortunes plaguing the Palestinians (many Syrians today would swap with the Palestinians in a heartbeat!!) and that those same Palestinians hold zero responsibility for their own poor choices, actions, negligence and overall approach re commanding their own destiny – when you totally ignore / absolve the profoundly negative contribution of the Palestinians themselves to their dire situation, you pass at best as a low information, superficial , highly emotional, self righteous SJW, or at worse, as a closet Antisemite

    When you refer to Gadot’s “present views” I assume you are talking about her 2014 twitter denunciation of Hamas (a radical Islamist terror organisation that controls the Gaza strip and literally holds more then a million Palestinians hostage to its delusional / homicidal aspirations to kill all the Jews) that practices war crimes by using non combatants (their own Palestinian brethren) as human shields
    Can you really not agree that this cowardice / criminal practice of Hamas (on its own people, no less) is worth denouncing?

    If you think that raping / molesting / sexually harassing / blackmailing scores of woman (50+) is not as bad as anything Gal Gadot did or not do (even if Israel as you suggest is pure, Satanic evil, it is not Gatot’s fault she was born there), you have some major reality checks to do re common sense / emotions vs facts / fairness and impartiality / Feminism…

    Across the board, overwhelmingly positive reactions (critics and box office) of girls / woman of all ages (including mothers come grand mothers from the Linda Carter Era!) to Gadot’s Wonder Woman, tell a totally different story re feminine, positive role models, then your bitter rant suggests

    1. No. I believe that the US is largely to blame for Israel’s vile and bloody foreign policy.
      No. I do not think we may all live in peace and swim in chocolate rainbows.
      No. I do not believe that the military industrial complex is a myth. Nor did the Republican and former general, D Eisenhower. As a gent clearly educated in foreign policy, you’d know that, though.
      To say that Israel and its forces have not enacted extraordinary and asymmetric violence on the people of an occupied territory is not just my dreamy dream dreams. Oddly, this even occurs to diplomats. Sometimes, they even say it out loud.
      To call my attack on a former enlisted soldier who continues to offer her support, very openly, for IDF actions personal is just a bit silly, no?
      Well. Unless you think that an occupied territory with no rights and often no water has an armoury like Israel’s.
      FFS. This is a boring old Realist view I have. (You’d know about that school, I guess. Being a PhD in international relations, as you clearly are.) Your state tortures and occupies a people, your state can expect a little opposition.
      Please. Don’t fuck with me with that old “little girlie you know nothing of this hard man’s world”. Reading about the Middle East is a hobby of mine. Reading propaganda from the US State Department is your deal, little girlie who does not understand the world.
      Oh. Also. You are bitter. And you rant. Like a girlie.

  8. I agree with you on this summation of the Oscars 2018, Helen. I actually didn’t find much to laugh about at all…with the exception of the retro intro which was…? There is too much self congratulatory back-slapping in the industry and please, can Meryl Streep’s cranky husband – or whoever the heck he is – be given a standing ovation for being bored to death by everyone falling over themselves to applaud her ‘Streepness’. I was happy that Gary Oldman finally won his well-deserved Oscar. My final comment is that whatever his flaws – and i’m no fan of the man -the best Oscar show for presenter in relatively recent times belongs to Hugh Jackman. At least he always stuck to what he does best: entertained us to perfection with cohort Anne Hathaway all those years ago.

  9. “In the West, one must publicly agree that Good Role Models make Good People.”

    I never understood the ‘role model’ thing. Sure, I’m probably the one out on a limb here, but I just can’t look at other people through the prism of ‘role model’, no matter how virtuous and good. It’s sort of demeaning really, comes from the same place as envy and lack of self respect, but best not to talk about the self-respect thing. I can appreciate others virtues, but role model? Not for me.

    And Frocks, such an old-fashioned word, I quite like it. I know it does get used more these days, ‘frock up’ etc, but I’m always reminded of a fear old nanny figure (grandma) when I was about 4 years old, as that was when it was last in regular use.

    Take care Helen. I’m afraid you may be in an economic catch-22. If you ever made serious money, you may not be so acerbic and vocal, and therefore less angry and less interesting as a writer. Trade off quality for money? Why not, you know I would, if I could.

  10. Apparently the Oscars have just been awarded. I’ve just returned home after 10 days in Victoria/Melb and didn’t bother to check much media business. I’m heartbroken I missed it all (whatever the ‘all’ was). So far my life hasn’t collapsed in a heap.

    1. I am very eager to eradicate all bigotry from my own form. If I have said something antisemitic, I would be very grateful if you could point it out, so I could apologise and learn.

      1. Helen you know damned well criticism of Israel is forbidden and automatically anti Semitic (especially in Hollywood). I am heartily sick of the nation of Israel increasingly behaving like a rogue state and being excused for whatever evil they can manage because they are Israel. Mr Heimann it seems has lost the power of logic.

      1. Taking that further, does that mean if someone was against the former apartheid regime of South Africa, they were anti-Christian given that was the majority faith of the ruling party?

  11. Oh but it was very brave of them to give the best original screenplay to the movie that makes fun of and questions the motives of smug, self-serving, upper-middle class liberals. But then they went and grabbed and hugged and hugged with am I imagining it? *palpable* relief the soppy unchallenging allegorically humanist Wonderful World of Diversity lady loves fish movie, which showed us who the real enemy was: some evil guy in a dark tie and short-sleeved shirt, from sixty years ago.

      1. There was – I’m not making this up – there was a moment watching The Shape of Water when I wondered if the Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener characters from Get Out were not in fact its ideal audience.

        1. That is SUCH a good idea for an essay.
          We should totally tell Žižek to write it.
          FFS. The Shape of Water with its fantasy “other”, as though the only failure of society is not be sweet enough. What a bunch of liberal shit.
          Get Out, on the other hand, I fucking loved. That Peele dude is the Jonathan Swift of horror comedy.

  12. Helen your comments are so achingly accurate I wonder how you get anyone to pay you for them. Thank you for bringing a breath of fresh air in a world of sanctimoniously empowered toilet matter.
    I personally would like to see your effect on a room full of botoxed business chicks, what is your going speakers fee?

  13. Maybe I’m just a grumpy old man who enjoys having their prejudices confirmed, but it sure does feel good to know that my total disinterest in the Oscars (I can’t even get excited about the dresses) has a serious intellectual and political justification. Thanks, Helen.


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