The annual Oscars have come and gone, and this year I actually saw more than a few of the nominees (probably because I wasn’t, y’know, studying my butt off as was the norm up until now).
There were a lot of really great moments at Sunday night’s ceremony. But of course, grabbing attention from the get go is important, and what would a Neil Patrick Harris-hosted event be without a dynamite opening number?
Penned by the composer and lyricist of Frozen, I found the song very intriguing given the cultural environment that surrounded this year’s Oscars. I won’t go into detail on all that, as there are others who have stated it better and more passionately than I could.
And also, it is interesting to reflect on the song after having seen the whole ceremony, because so many of this year’s acceptance speeches ended up talking about films as representative of issues that wouldn’t otherwise be talked about. That films even have a responsibility to be socially aware and advocate on behalf of others, and to do it right. And on many levels, I so agree with all of that! All kinds of storytelling invite us to empathize with people in situations unfamiliar to us, and that is part of what makes them so important.
But… what about when we realize that a story we love is problematic?
This happens a lot with older works that didn’t age well, but even more recent works (as has been pointed out by others, again) have neglected to cover all sides of complex issues, or failed to represent people who are minoritized, either by doing so incorrectly/insufficiently, or not including them all together. And there is a higher number of such stories still being made than there probably should be.
And yet, people fall in love with them anyway. Maybe it was the humor, or the characters, or a really great song. Maybe it was a work you saw when you were a kid and didn’t realize all the implications, and you can’t shake your love for it even now that you’re in the know. But, in the end, when a work makes us feel something, something meaningful, it’s hard to admit it might be wrong.
Does that make us wrong? Or sick? Or stupid?
I don’t know. But this is something I think about quite a bit. I think we can love a work while acknowledging its problematic elements, but where do we draw the line? Where does it become irresponsible to support something?
Art can be harmful. I think we forget that sometimes, especially when a work isn’t harmful to us personally. But when real life violence and persecution closely coincides with fiction, I think we have to take a step back and think about what it means. Sometimes such things really have nothing to do with the work itself, but sometimes…
Anyway, my point is, I found the opening number interesting from this angle because it acknowledged how we can fall in love with and be enraptured by things that are problematic. And I don’t think that’s wrong. But, we can and should balance that out by talking about and thinking about how things can be better. And just making us think about it is a pretty powerful thing. In the end, I think all we can do is maybe not to condemn, but to keep working towards fairness, passing on what is good, isolating what is bad, and acknowledging that we are all only and infinitely human, even (especially) in art.
Until next time,