David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

Mission Accomplished at the Oscars

It’s official: after Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony, the film “Brokeback Mountain” is a loser, according to large swaths of the mainstream media.

Never mind that an intimate, low-budget, slow-moving film about homosexual cowboys directed by a Taiwanese immigrant has made $138 million worldwide off a $14 million budget. Never mind that the film garnered a slew of Oscar nominations and earned little gold statues for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director and Best Score. Never mind that the film has entered the public consciousness in a way that few cinematic works ever do. “Crash” beat “Brokeback Mountain” in the Best Picture category, and so “Brokeback Mountain” is a loser.

A sampling of headlines ripped from Google News: “Lovers Spurned by Oscar,” “Critics Attack Academy for Brokeback Snub,” “Gay Cowboys Shot Down at Oscars.” Reuters began their so-called analysis by stating that “The Oscars opened the closet door to gay-themed films but shut it almost as quickly.”

I’m less interested in discussing the merits of the two films and more interested in how everything the media covers has turned into a winner-take-all duel to the death. (For the record, I will say that I saw “Brokeback Mountain” the other day for the first time and enjoyed it quite a bit, even though for us Northeasterners the concept that there might be closeted gay people living stressful and unfulfilling lives in places like Wyoming is kinduva no-brainer. I haven’t seen “Crash.”)

It’s one thing when these mindless dichotomies are applied to something meaningless like Hollywood box office statistics. But these false dualities have become what passes for political discourse in this country. You’re either a winner or a loser. John Kerry? Lost the presidential race by a handful of percentage points, so he’s a loser. Ditto Al Gore. John McCain is a winner for getting the president to agree publicly with his no-torture-whatsoever stance. In a week or two, someone will be anointed the winner of the Dubai ports deal issue, and someone else the loser. If you’re ever confused about which is which, Newsweek even includes a handy scorecard of conventional wisdom with little up and down arrows every week.

We seem to be involved in a war against gray areas here in America, a war which has only accelerated since 9/11 and the President’s Iraqi adventure. You’re either Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, for the war in Iraq or against it, pro-life or pro-choice, a Red Stater or a Blue Stater.

The Bush Administration giddily proclaimed “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq on an aircraft carrier a couple years back. As if a catastrophic war in which tens of thousands of people die could really just end with a nice little victory party. John Kerry tried to take a more nuanced approach. We can argue endlessly about whether Kerry’s ideas were right or wrong for the country, but they clearly required more explanation and were therefore panned by the Republicans as “waffling.”

But is this really a Republican thing or a Democratic thing? Neither… it’s a capitalist thing. The so-called “mainstream media” condenses its coverage of political issues into a single yea-or-nay issue, because that makes for more gripping television. Because black-and-white issues grab our attention and keep the advertising dollars from fleeing, whereas the moral grays simply sound wishy-washy.

And honestly, which article are you more likely to read — one titled “Brokeback Mountain Snubbed by Oscar” or one titled “Brokeback Mountain and Crash Both Honored at Oscars”?

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