Did Joe Courtney Tip the Oscars? And Other Conundra.

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I think the answer to the title question is “yes, but not intentionally.”  I’ve seen a lot of coverage depicting Courtney as a cynical grandstander — all of it written by out-of-staters with no sense of the man. He’s about as self-effacing as congresspersons get. This was a history nerd talking, not a guy trying to become an Oscar player.  Was he right?  I’ll weigh in at the end of this post. (By an odd coincidence, I gave blood with Courtney and dined with Tony Kushner, prior to interviewing him onstage, in the space of a few days in January. Do I have a life or what?)

But first, other matters.

Before the telecast started, I spent a couple of hours at Oscar Night in Hartford. I am pleased to report that it was packed and that it glittered.  Watch for photos.

I was back on our couch for the show.  A few thoughts.

The Seth MacFarlane experiment will be a one-off. He missed more often than he hit, especially with the endless and pointlessly meta opening in which he tried to have it both ways: being both above and coated-with tastelessness. “We Saw Your Boobs” is about what we’d expect from the creator of “Family Guy” (a boorish devolution of “The Simpsons” without the latter’s discursive wit.)  Among the boobs cited and seen that song were Jodie Foster’s in “The Accused.”  That was in  a gang rape scene. Tastelessness wrapped in tastelessness. A pig in a porklet. But it all seemed like something done in lieu of actually writing some strong material that worked.  The Clooney joke. Bomb. The Lincoln joke…well, that was a little more complicated, because it was meant to be a joke about the trope “too soon.” But nobody saw it that way because — this is the important part — there’s something fundamentally unlikable about this guy.  He comes across as a smart alec with no creamy center. So if it’s any kind of jump ball, you tend to believe the worst about him.

Why did nobody stop some of this? Well…the producers were the producers of “Chicago,” and they seem to have fixated mainly upon presenting that musical as some kind of defining moment in cinema history. Which it is not. They are also the producers of “Smash,” which utilizes a huge budget to make a TV show that I (and countable others) watch every week just to get mad at it for how good it could have been, with some guts and vision. (The Times today points out that NBC is in such terrible condition right now that nothing in its prime time line-up — including the hyped “Smash” — gets as good a rating as “The Talking Dead,”  a talk show about another show on basic cable.)

Did Michelle Obama jump the shark by co-presenting best picture? I think yes. It’s time for her to dial back all the cameos. On the other hand, it was a (perhaps unintentionally) perfect summing up of this moment, in which Hollywood and Washington have each other in mutual Heimlichs. “House of Cards,” the Congressional commentaries on both “Lincoln” and “Zero Dark 30,” Chris Dodd, “Argo,” Ashley Judd. I could go on.

The local version of that type of conflation was summed up by the repeated “teaser” bulletins throughout the telecast, informing us that later on the local news we would find out …which one of their anchors is pregnant.  Somebody needs to sit those WTNH folks down and have a talk with them. That was an embarrassment.

In the NFL they call this parity: Look at the four acting awards, plus best director and best picture.  Six different movies. I’d be surprised if that has ever happened before.  (UPDATE: I was wrong. See comments.) It also means that nothing really became a steamroller. And if anything was going to do that, it was “Lincoln.” Which is why I say…

Joe Courtney tipped the Oscars, but really only because of Tony Kushner’s petulance and Steven Spielberg’s overreaching.

On our Friday show, Hank Paper, owner of Hamden’s Best Video (possibly the only legit video store left in the state and, with 50,000 titles, five times the size of Netflix’s menu) made an interesting point in the other direction. With the passing years, he said, movies are making their way into the classroom and being asked to do the job of books. And they’re not meant to bear that weight. They’re movies.

I would take Hank’s point, if it were the case that Spielberg and “Lincoln” were being dragged there kicking and screaming. As we know, the opposite is true. Spielberg had the idea of donating DVD copies of his movie to middle and high school history classes across the U.S.  When you do that, you can’t hide behind “it’s just a movie” anymore. If you want it to be a teaching aid, you have to start taking responsibility for things like the Connecticut vote. And it would have been so easy to get that right. You had to go out of your way to get it wrong.

Seth MacF by Gage Skidmore , via Wikimedia Commons


Seth_MacFarlane_(4842476373)It pains me to talk about how badly Kushner handled this — telling MoDo he was “outraged” — because my one fabulous night with him in January left me impressed (forever, I thought) with both his staggering intellect and his mensch-hood. I didn’t have to wait long, did I?







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21 thoughts on “Did Joe Courtney Tip the Oscars? And Other Conundra.

  1. Matt

    I was baffled by Kushner’s weirdness, but I think it comes down to this: 1. “Lincoln” will make its way into education. 2. The producers made a big point of all the historical research that went into it, and their reverence for same. 3. Yet somehow the memo about Congressional roll calls in 1865 did not reach Kushner at the moment in the screenplay when he needed early “no” votes. 4. His embarrassment takes the form of petulant defensiveness and wishing everyone would just shut up about it.

    Too bad, because as you say he’s carrying around an amazing mind. (Which might also be contributing to his reaction.)

  2. Connecticut Man1

    For many of us? The Oscars are about as meaningful to the real world problems of feeding our kids and educating American nutters enough so they can become functional members of society as the dresses, suits and 48 grand loot bags are going to taste or teach. The bestest movie evah? Buy! See the dress you will never pull off? Buy the knock off, made in a sweat shop by a child at Walmart! See the uber-elite bling that you will never even get near at the store where they sell it? Buy the knock off costume junk at Target!

    Boob gawking is about as close to reality as it can get in that ridiculous media created advertisement for uselessness.

    But I am glad you enjoyed it. Seriously? Yes… I am glad you enjoyed it. We all have our guilty pleasures.

    I am no different. One of my guilty pleasures? Mocking a good measure of a failing society…

  3. Michele Rowe

    I have an issue with “Lincoln” being part of a curriculum if it is not historically accurate. Even if teachers address the inaccuracy regarding Connecticut, I would have to assume there were others as well, and what is going to make more of an impression on a viewer? The movie with lavish costumes, wonderful acting and a moving soundtrack, or the droning of the teacher that a high schoolstudent tunes out on a regular basis? But then history is rewritten all the time, in text books and by mass media. Who’s to say which is worse?

  4. Richard

    I don’t have a problem with historical films using a composite representation of reality. After the “Roger and Me” controversy when Michael Moore created some composite scenes in his Oscar winning documentary it would seem that the issue of accuracy in film would be long ago put to bed.

    “Schindler’s List” and “Malcolm X” aren’t historically accurate but are rather artistic representations of reality with their own viewpoints.

    It’s not that film doesn’t belong in the classroom; it’s all in how its used.

    I gave up on Oscar around the time “Philadephia” was being honored and the whole condescending “we are teaching Peoria about AIDS” thing. Here we had an industry on display where AIDS was a far greater problem than in Peoria telling Peoria they are being educated. I wanted to paste a condom on Mary Steenburgen’s head and have her walk around San Francisco and Beverly Hills for the rest of her life handing out free condoms signed “Courtesy of Peoria”.

  5. Bast

    The Lincoln joke? It isn’t about 150 years ago but more recently about 20 children. He is a grade A asswhole.

  6. Paul

    I find Kushner’s dismissive, petulant reaction more Washington like than Joe Courtney will ever be.

    I gave up local TV news years ago when weather reports became available on line. No disrespect to personal tragedies but why do I need to know about traffic accidents halfway across the state? The pregnancy tease gave me another reason to enjoy the half hour a day I gained back.

  7. Jonathan McNicol

    Just ’cause I love nerding out about this crap (and ’cause I twittered about it last night): The top six awards have gone to six different films three times previously.

    The last time was 2006. Your Best Director winner that year? Ang Lee.

    The other two times were 1957 and 1953, when Lee wasn’t even nominated.

  8. peter brush

    Don’t like Lincoln, don’t like Spielberg, and didn’t see the movie.
    Gather that Courtney was upset at the movie’s inaccurate portrayal of the Ct. delegation’s votes in Congress on the 13th Amendment. Mr. Courtney is apparently a patriotic Nutmegger dedicated to the protection of the State’s good progressive name. Does he have anything to say about the fact that Connecticut didn’t ratify the Bill of Rights until 1939? By the way, how did Connecticut’s delegation vote in 1862 when Congress segregated D.C.’s schools? Presumably, Honest Abe signed that legislation, as, given his commitment to white supremacy there was no reason for his not doing so. Would also point out that Mr. Courtney’s history is a bit off as well; the cinematic votes in question were not for or against “ratification” of the 13th amendment; the state legislatures did the ratifying just as they did of the original Philadelphia Constitution.
    Describing his experience watching the movie, Courtney wrote: “As a Member of Congress from Connecticut, I was on the edge of my seat during the roll call vote on the ratification of the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery. But when two of three members of the Nutmeg State’s House delegation voted to uphold slavery, I could not believe my own eyes and ears.”
    I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.

  9. Sue M

    Couple of things:
    – Did you watch the show with your son? What did he think of Seth? McFarlane’s humor skews younger. Surely that was part of the reason for having him. I’m ashamed to say I laughed about the Boobs song, and would never have analyzed it to the degree you did to find offense with any of the scenes mentioned. It was meant to be silly, stupid fun, and it was.

    2. When we saw Lincoln, the first thing we said to each other upon walking out was about the vote of the CT delegation. I was proud of Courtney for bringing it up. I had no expectation that anything would be done about it, but you are absolutely right. If Spielberg is going to distribute his historical films to schools, he should take pains to be more accurate.

    3. We as a society make entirely too much of the Oscars. Again, it is silly, stupid fun. I pity anyone whose livelihood depends on making more of it than it is. That said, last night was my first time reading live #Oscars tweets during the telecast, and I’ve gotta say, it’s the only way to go. There are some funny, funny people out there!

  10. equality 7-2521

    EGADS!!! you mean not everything in historical films is accurate?
    Why not just have our friend Senator Chris Dodd contact his buddies in Hollywood to Perform technical magic to right the wrong. Afterall now that the good Senator is no longer an elected official, he should have the time and influence to do this if it hasn’t been done already.

  11. Jane Harris

    All this blather about the Oscars seems like unnecessary distraction when the real question is, how can you justify conundra, Colin???

  12. John R. McCommas

    Well I am NOT an out-of-stater and in fact Joe Courtney is my Congressman. He has a very odd way of surviving and odder still it seems to work for him. Since August 2, 2009 after things went very badly for him at a Town Hall meeting, he has kept himself hidden. He only shows up for friendly lap dog local press events. No more Town Hall Meetings that I have been made aware of where his positions can be challenged by real people.

    So it strikes me as very uncharacteristic that our shadow Congressman should now draw attention to himself this way on a national stage. Courtney doesn’t have time to meet with his constituents but he does have time knit-pick trivial details in a movie.

    1. Richard

      Lets not forget Peckinpaughs run. Janey needed to convince another 8.5% of the voters she would be better for them. Outspent 10 to 1 it was a tough road. I do think she could have won by picking up one constituency and getting National Committee funding. The GOP could win the 2, 4 and 5 with money and a Jack Kemp message.

  13. DrHunterSThompson

    To witless:

    Look! Your mindnumbingtoweringcolumnsofblatheringBS has spawned a host of copycats! Holy world of idiots batman!


  14. ron blei

    I, too, had been at some point impressed by Kushner, after an evening of ‘back and forth’ at Wesleyan a few years ago — articulate, an accomplished wordsmith, certainly knows how to handle an audience. Alas, that impression was completely erased by his reaction/diatribe(?) responding to Courtney’s setting the record straight. Kushner came across foolish and arrogant — a self-infatuated man, who can do no wrong… Sad to say, I am no longer a fan.

  15. John R. McCommas

    I didn’t watch the awards show but everyone was talking about “We Saw Your Boobs” by that guy so I had to watch it on Youtube. I thought it was pretty cute – as was he and his backup singers.

    I don’t think anyone has any right to be offended. Both men and women actors put it all out there. Are we supposed to pretend not to notice? They are not victims. What is wrong with calling them out on it? Good for him.

    We saw your boobs!

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