Once upon a time, there was a place called The Roman Empire. And there was a point in time when Rome was so majestic, so powerful, that its fall was unthinkable. Then, much later on, there was a night where the barbarians were at the gate, and the local, depleted militia informed the ruling elite that Rome would fall the next day. And the ruling elite, knowing that there was an uncertain tomorrow where the rules they had lived inside of and enjoyed would be abruptly ending, had an end-of-the-world party where all bets were off. Everyone went wild because they knew it was their last night on earth. When you know the end is coming, why pretend any more? Let your true nature out. Say the things you’ve always wanted to say. Be the person you would have always been if the rules of society hadn’t constrained you. Because the end is coming, and everyone ‘in the know’ knows it.
That’s what happened at the Golden Globes last night.
Ricky Gervais as host is a polarizing figure, which is exactly why he was given the job again. Because the last time he hosted, it was largely viewed as a disaster…until the next day, when, strangely, people were still talking about it. And someone, somewhere, realized that the Academy Awards, long the gold standard of the entertainment industry, are just kind of outdated and boring. In order to survive, and be relevant, the Golden Globes must strive to be something else. They didn’t have the prestige of their cousin Oscar, so they were in a great position to re-position themselves. Rather than the plodding, predictable Oscars, they could award outside the box winners, like Mozart in the Jungle and Gabriel Garcia Bernal! Damn the torpedoes and the obvious craziness of it, they could give acting awards to musicians on horror shows! Rather than having some stuffy host, all buttoned up and making safe Johnny Carson wink-and-nod jokes they could send up a seething outsider to salt the land. Rather than dying like newspapers, they could be the industry version of Buzzfeed.
That’s what happened at the Golden Globes last night.
People will say Ricky Gervais was just being funny, or unfunny depending on your perspective, but there was a method to his madness. Virality is what you need in television and his mandate was that he couldn’t be edgy enough. Find what used to be considered an edge and vault over it. It’s still not enough. Swearing on network television? Please! We’ll mute it out and people will search for it on the internet. Type “what did” into Google this morning and the top search is “what did Ricky Gervais say” (to Mel Gibson). He said “What the fuck is sugar tits?” Ricky Gervais ripped everyone. The very first thing he said was “shut up you disgusting, pill-popping, sexual deviant scum.” Because there is no line anymore. He mocked the winners, pre-shaming them for their pleasure at being recognized. And he pointed out that the awards were already bought and paid for during which they cut to a roaring Harvey Weinstein who knows that’s true.
There are no rules anymore. Vinestars are bigger than Hollywood ‘stars’ and who even knows what that term means anymore since the advent of reality TV. Do you know who Omarosa is? Right. You shouldn’t. I shouldn’t. No one ever should for any reason, but that’s where we are. Gamers on TwitchTV command millions of loyal followers who sit and watch them play video games for hours and Matt Damon admits that there are a bunch of his movies no one went to see. They just decided not to go. Once upon a time there was a barrier to entry in the entertainment industry because if you didn’t have a vast pool of money you couldn’t make anything. Film was too expensive. Hard stop. Now? People can shoot on their iPhones or GoPros and it looks great. Once upon a time you had to have a major network to be in the running for any award anywhere and now places like Netflix and Hulu and Amazon are churning out winners. How can NBC, for example, survive in this brave new world? How can it make virtually nothing viewable and still hope to exist in a medium where people watch the things you make?
Everything is changing and no one in the industry knows exactly what that means but they feel it. They feel it. Even power dynamics are shifting. Years ago, the TV side of the industry was kind of a joke. If you were talented at all, you went to the film side. Period. Now? Those worlds have flopped. TV is full of energy and talent and skill and you don’t have to devote three years of your life to something and kiss ass every step of the way only to have it fail out through no fault of your own. Once upon a time a web series was a joke. Now, they’re gaining prominence. Once upon a time, someone on the TV side running an event like the Golden Globes would be fired and excommunicated from any future Hollywood job if they dared to play music over the likes of Leonardo Di Caprio or Ridley Scott. How do you think it would have gone over if someone had rolled music over Paul Newman or Barbra Streisand or Martin Scorsese? Now? No one is safe in their ivory tower.
The thieves are at the temple. The barbarians are at the gate and people are waking up and searching The Golden Globes more than ever. Ricky Gervais was tasked with jumping over the edge, but the edge is so blurry and misshapen that no one knows where it is anymore. Once the host of an awards show talks about shoving those awards up his own ass, I’d say we’re safely not in Kansas anymore. The ruling elite knows it. But just as it was in Rome, the hoi polloi haven’t figured it out yet. Everyone is still focussed on “who wore it best” articles and “biggest wow moments of the Golden Globes” lists and no one realizes that what they witnessed was the death of old Hollywood. Something that was, though not pure, certainly, was a foundational societal edifice. There will be a certain amount of dignity. There will be a certain amount of decorum. We will respect certain ingrained power dynamics. All of that melted away last night as the ruling elite admitted that they don’t know what Hollywood is anymore or what form it will take in the future.
From the curious presence(?) of Mel Gibson to the personal attacking of Mel Gibson. From presenter Matt Damon introduced with a slight against his best friend to the host commanding the pulpit with a beer, telling the audience over and over to ‘shut up’. From Jamie Foxx doing inside jokes during his presentation for best original score (“the people who know what I mean know what I mean”) to Quentin Tarantino’s casual use of the word ‘ghetto.’ You will see far more today about Leonardo being bumped by Lady Gaga, (even though it was truly nothing —a non-event— of her trying to squeeze between two chairs and his elbow happened to be there), than you will about his recognition of First Peoples and protecting the environment. It was different. Things have changed.
Make no mistake: The ‘Hollywood Foreign Press’ of it all is designed for one thing - to make a good television show called The Golden Globes. That’s what they’ve always been and that’s why there’s only one writing category. Because no one cares about writers. It doesn’t make for good television. The Globes have always been just that, and they’ve always had the whispered reputation of going to the highest bidder. They’ve always been looser and more casual and more fun and drunker than their ‘esteemed’ cousin. That’s nothing new. What is new is the tone.
Most of you, I’m guessing, won’t have noticed this. That’s just based on the fact that I’m not seeing anyone writing about this anywhere. Maybe you’ll think that I’m just old and grandpa can’t take a few zingers about where to hide your balls when you’re the lead actor on an groundbreaking show about gender identity. Maybe that’s true, too. But it may take a little while before people get a nagging sense of missing the days when there was a certain level of professionalism to the proceedings, as rigged as they were and as maligned as they deserved to be. At least, one would hope, the most capable minds in the industry of America’s supposed greatest export would come up with better than a troll being allowed to not only come out from under the bridge, but to also be promoted to sheriff. Ricky Gervais isn’t to blame. He did the job they wanted him to do, and with aplomb. But the nature of that job is the concern. Not everything has to be a sideshow.
In the end, it doesn’t matter. That ship has now sailed and the banquet is now a roast. Maybe it’s good that fatcats have targets on their backs. Maybe it’s high time that the only thing that can protect you from a salty, beer sipping public executioner is your talent. But I worry about the set of unspoken rules this type of event imprints in the minds of younger people. The message constantly seems to lean toward shock value over quality, and that’s a dangerous precedent to set, in any industry. But that’s sadly the world we live in and this think piece will get 1/10,000th of the hits any rudimentary “who wore it better” piece will. The American Idol’ing of the world continues.
There’s a great line in The American President where Michael J. Fox’s character talks about leadership, but we could easily appropriate that message here about entertainment. He says that people are so starved for [entertainment] that “in the absence of genuine [entertainment], they will listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They’re so thirsty for it, they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.”
And the President responds. “People don’t drink the sand, because they’re thirsty. They drink it because they don’t know the difference.”
That’s what happened, at the Golden Globes, last night.