In Defense of James Franco
It’s been two days now since the Oscars aired, and while yesterday’s news cycle brought a massive outpouring of knee-jerk disappointment, today has brought a more thoughtful, though no less disappointed, response to the proceedings that took place Sunday night in the Kodak Theater. Specifically, the media is dumping all over James Franco, last week’s golden boy of Hollywood, and this week’s fiendish goat. Two insightful and well-written pieces in particular, one at Film School Rejects and the other at Movieline, take issue with Franco’s brand of performance art, the culmination of a year’s worth of oddball projects, like the Saturday Night Live documentary, his stint on “General Hospital,” his Oscar-nominated turn in 127 Hours, his Funny or Die! pervasiveness, and his upcoming role in the Planet of the Apes prequel, all of which he managed while juggling a class load at NYU.
Both Landon Palmer and Mike Ryan were apt in the critiques, too. He shouldn’t have phoned in his hosting duties. Even given bad material, he could’ve demonstrated earnest effort, he could’ve amped up the Franco charm, he could’ve taken a fucking Red Bull and tried, instead of spending half the night backstage on Twitter. The dude checked out. That James Franco’s hosting performance was disastrous is not in dispute.
But there is a theme that resonates within these think pieces.
Each year, awards season rolls around in October and the next five months are devoted, in part, to assessing the odds that a certain individual or movie will be awarded with some empty recognition that almost feels disconnected from the films and performances. And each year, the external consensus seems to be one of apathy. “Nobody cares! What’s it matter! It’s just a stupid award!” Do a Google search the three days leading up to, and the day after an Oscar’s telecast and you will find the phrases “masturbatory,” “circle-jerk,” and “self-congratulating” more than any other time of year.
But here’s where Franco’s inadvertent genius is revealed: I’m not sure what he was trying to accomplish, or if it was indeed some sort of performance art, but unlike other years, the one thing that you can’t argue in the aftermath of this year’s Oscar’s telecast is that people don’t care. It’s evident in the reaction pieces. It’s evident in the disappointment. It was evident on Facebook and Twitter throughout the entire ceremony. Thirty-seven million people watched the telecast, and twice that number complained the next morning. It’s not just the media; it’s comment boards and social networking sites. People were genuinely and often passionately upset with James Franco’s lackadaisical approach to the his hosting duties.
So, maybe Franco did fail miserably as a host of the Academy Awards, but what he has demonstrated is that people do care about this Institution. We may mock it mercilessly, and we may feign indifference, but goddamnit, it’s not within a smug celebrity’s right to intentionally ruin our fun. Our fun should ruined organically, and not through determined laziness.
Indeed, by approaching his hosting stint with the same detached listlessness that many of us pretend to have about the Academy Awards themselves, Franco has inadvertently stumbled upon a revelation: We do care. The Oscars do matter. Maybe the awards don’t. And maybe to many the movies don’t, either. But when it comes to sitting for four hours in front of the television to watch a “self-congratulatory circle jerk,” we care more than many of us are willing to let on, enough to get outraged when the host shits on the Oscars. That’s our job, and that motherfucker James Franco took all the fun out of it.
If Franco’s intent was to hold up a mirror to the rest of us and show us how ugly we look when he pretend not to care, at least he accomplished that. Real or feigned, the “I don’t give a shit” attitude is obnoxious. Every time you say “Awards suck! What a meaningless pile of drivel,” you look like James Franco hosting the Oscars, whether the sentiment is true or not. Don’t be that guy. Don’t be James Franco. And maybe next year, we won’t be so quick to criticize the more earnest efforts of the Steve Martins, the Alec Baldwins, the Billy Crystals, and the Jon Stewarts.
But then again, where’s the fun in that?