Searching For Normalcy
On Sunday night, I received a text from a friend asking if I was watching the Grammy awards. I responded with something that’s become a common refrain for me as of late. I said “no, for some reason I’ve never been less interested than I am this year.” Which is true. I usually enjoy the Grammys, but some combination of music and culture made this year’s broadcast seem completely unappealing. This is also the first year where I didn’t watch the Super Bowl, or the Golden Globes, and may even skip the Oscars. And don’t think for a minute that this is because of some exciting development in my social life. I currently have a clock on my computer counting down the days until the fourth season of Billions premieres (March 17th on Showtime, FYI). So suffice it to say, I could definitely make time for the Grammys if I wanted to.
So I wonder, why am I so disinterested in all of these cultural events that I used to love? I can’t be the only one, because TV ratings are down everywhere. I’m sure that part of it has to do with fragmentation. There is so much music and television to choose from, to the point where there are fewer and fewer things that we all watch and listen to. We can pick the art that caters to our highly-specific tastes, so the group consensus and debate that once drove us to award shows is less prominent. But I also think the absurdity and divisiveness of our culture plays an even bigger role. The concept of high quality, “mainstream” entertainment barely exists anymore. Rather than the artists who create non-offensive work that attracts a massive audience, we seem to reward the people who scream the loudest, shock and provoke the most, and attempt to divide us (in both political and apolitical ways). The result is that award shows, once islands of escapism, end up feeling like homework to watch.
So what can we do about it? All I’ll say is that instead of watching the Grammys, I rewatched A Star Is Born, my favorite film of 2018. There isn’t much to say about the film that hasn’t already been said, but a fantastic op-ed by Sean Penn, regarding Bradley Cooper’s Oscar snub for the film, shines light on this problem. A Star Is Born is the kind of movie that used to make the Oscars fun. It’s a timeless love story, executed to perfection, with great music and relatable acting. It’s a movie that literally anyone can love, the kind of film that everyone could root for. But as the Academy Awards become increasingly performative, love stories are no longer taken as seriously as pieces with political messages. So Bradley Cooper was not nominated for Best Director, while filmmakers behind much more polarizing films took his place.
As an aspiring artist, one of the things that drives me is a desire to restore normalcy to entertainment. A desire to see more “big tent” movies and shows, and less absurd divisiveness. As so much of our world has begun to feel flat-out weird, I find myself clinging to romantic musicals and Paul Simon albums and multi-camera sitcoms more tightly than ever. Art that reminds me of a status quo where harmless art won awards and large percentages of the nation could enjoy the same things. This isn’t to say that nothing should ever change or improve, but I find it hard to believe that anyone is enjoying award shows more in 2019 than they were in 2009. I’m certainly not. And if we aren’t happy, what’s the point of entertainment?