The Oscars: Knowing When to Leave the Stage

OK. Let’s admit it. There are plenty of big fish in the skillet these days: Libya, legislation in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere aimed at public employees and unions, the possible shutdown of the federal government and so on. But since I’m on spring/winter break and letting the lamestream media keep a watchful eye on events foreign and domestic I’ll opine on something that really doesn’t matter much: the Academy Awards.

I managed to watch 90 minutes or so of the broadcast last night. And it was boring. You would think that professionals in the entertainment business could figure out how to put on a, well, entertaining TV show. Go figure. Hey, what was up with James Franco? He seemed less interested in what was going on than most of us. I digress.

Here’s from an article in WaPo, “At the Oscars: The kids were all right and the Speech was well-prepared“:

Anne Hathaway hosted the 83rd Annual Academy Awards on ABC Sunday night, as scheduled. And her co-host, James Franco, did what exactly? (Besides be handsome? Besides a little Marilyn Monroe drag? And besides shouting “NYU, whassup!” to the Best Live Action Short winner? What, that’s not enough?)


As for your hosts, Hathaway worked her derriere off and Franco came off like that lacrosse boy you wish your daughter didn’t hang out with so much, sort of heavy-lidded and smirky and … well, let’s give him credit for being James Franco, the 23-hour-a-day workaholic/grad student/filmmaker/soap-opera/not-Best Actor wunderkind of his generation.

Turns out hosting Oscars is when the dude decides to take a rest. The only required trick for Franco and Hathaway was to manage to not look like they were doing one of those flirty commercials for a phone plan. (He’s so laid back! She’s so hyper! And now they get unlimited 4G downloads and texting! etc.)

Anyway, I managed to watch most of the movies that were nominated for the major awards, and I liked The King’s Speech, which deserved the nod for best picture.

But here’s the point. For a broadcast that was aiming for a younger demographic in terms of audience, did the producers really need Kirk Douglas slurring his speech and trying to balance on a cane while announcing the award for best supporting actress?

I thought it was embarrassing for Mr. Douglas and pathetic really. Hey, this guy was Spartacus. And I’m not making fun of him. He’s 94 and appears to still be playing with a full deck. I should be so lucky. But the point here is that many — most? — of us won’t be, and there has to be a time when you have to be willing to leave the stage, whether that stage is in entertainment, politics, sports, government or business.

What got me thinking about this? It’s a book by Susan Jacoby, “Never Say Die.” Here’s from a NYT review by Ted Fishman:

Susan Jacoby has long made it her project to uncover ill-formed, cynical “junk thought” and administer a cold dose of reason and logic against it. But Jacoby is no Mr. Spock. Her rationalism is delivered in an angry barrage peppered with enthusiastically snide asides. In previous books, including “The Age of American Unreason” and “Freethinkers,” her targets have been right-leaning religionists, social Darwinists, and the paucity of reason in a generation that stares too much at glowing screens and too little at learned books. In her latest jeremiad, “Never Say Die,” she fights to slay the conspiracies of ignorance and greed that she believes conceal a single, and indeed irrefutable, truth: extreme old age can be nasty, brutish and long.

Jacoby sees a new ageism that doesn’t just stigmatize old people for their years, but blames them for physical ills that no lifestyle adjustments or medicine can yet forestall. In particular, she believes that our dreams of active, vital old age block a clear vision of “old old” age, the highly vulnerable stage that begins around a person’s 85th birthday. Among other perils, the “old old” have a roughly even chance of being counted among the mind-eaten ranks of Alzheimer’s victims. We may not like to think that poverty, social isolation, crippling pain, dementia and loss of autonomy are likely to come calling the longer we live, but it’s a fact.

Jacoby argues that Americans, and baby boomers especially, are blinded to the most regrettable facts of old age because we (I am 52, Jacoby is 65) have been steeped for decades in the national can-do, self-help, will-can-make-it-so stew. Boomers may believe they can reinvent life past 60 just as they reinvented adolescence and young adulthood. They may think their late years will be filled with vigor, work, active social lives and “giving back.” And they may believe that medical science will transform human biology and spare us all from decrepitude. Dream on, Jacoby says. Or rather, don’t.


Even if we prolong our healthy lives, she writes, our last years are likely to be as full of handicaps as ever: “At 85 or 90 — whatever satisfactions may still lie ahead — only a fool or someone who has led an extraordinarily unhappy life can imagine that the best years are still to come.” The advances of modern medicine may just draw out our unhappy ends even longer. Jacoby, an avowed atheist, argues that suicide is hardly immoral when one’s final days are an unbearable compound of physical and psychological insults.

Jacoby repeatedly hammers home the suffering of the very old, reminding readers how large the risk of dementia looms. Indeed, we need to face this individual truth in order to face the broader social one. By 2030, the 70 million aging boomers will nearly double the ranks of Americans over 65, straining Social Security and, especially, Medicare to the breaking point (though Jacoby is quick to argue against the “greedy geezer” stereotype, which she sees as a half-truth pushed by conservatives who want to gut entitlement programs). Jacoby persuasively argues that the needs of the old old can be met only with a stronger government role, but that younger Americans would be unlikely to support this unless their health care needs were better met, too. She also notes that our insistence on personal choice in health care often leads to the obliteration of personal autonomy in late life, when the prohibitive cost of home care forces older people into low-rung institutions where they lose control of their lives.


See. This is what happens when I stay up after nine o’clock. Unless, of course, it’s to watch Bristol Palin on Dancing With the Stars.

So I better get up and run now — with a great six-mile loop around Dataw Island.

And note to self: Send the producers of the Academy Awards a copy of Jacoby’s book before they start lining up presenters and hosts for next year’s show. There really does come a time when you have to leave the stage.





2 responses to “The Oscars: Knowing When to Leave the Stage

  1. James Franco demonstrates there’s also a contingent who should forgo taking the stage in the first place. Live TV is a tough gig that requires more than merely showing up–regardless of what Woody Allen thinks.

    • Brian, I completely agree with you. Hosting these shows requires special skills and talents. Clearly that was lost on the producers who thought James Franco would be a good host.

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