Something wrong with society’s priorities

This week’s events reveal something disturbing about our society. When some guy slapping another at the Oscars makes more headlines than the war in Ukraine and all the other troubles of the world, I have to wonder what’s going on.

To an extent it’s predictable. The entertainment industry is a big business like any other, and one function of big business is to normalise its behaviours to society. So we’re conditioned to suppose the Oscars are important. They are ritualised, starting with red-carpet imagery of the rich and famous using their clothing and ‘look’ to assert place and position within that sub-culture. We watch a ritualised performance of presenters, comedy routines and thank-you schmalz. Only when somebody disrupts the imagery does the underlying purpose of the Oscars as an industry advertisement and demonstration of place emerge. I mean, was the Smith vs Rock moment real, or was it staged? Was Smith asked to leave afterwards, or wasn’t he?

And really, who cares? It’s Hollywood: a place with the emotional depth of a puddle, an industry and sub-culture that sublimates the human condition through the sieve of money, power, ego and status within the field. We tacitly recognise the point already: the word itself no longer means a Los Angeles suburb: it has become synonymous with fakery. A ‘Hollywood version’, by definition, means something that isn’t realistic but is geared to provide vicarious cartoonish thrills for a paying audience.

A beautiful picture of Earth from 1.6 million km sunwards. NASA, public domain.

The real world, meanwhile, is in trouble. Here in New Zealand we have a house-price crash – with all this implies for financial institutions after 30-odd years of ultra light-handed financial regulation on the part of the Reserve Bank (I was there when they developed it). This has joined a sharp jump in the price of living, notably food costs. It’s a perfect storm, economically. But we have a government that has done flat nothing to change the causes of the situation despite being in power now for five years.

Internationally, the first European land war since 1945 has created a tragedy for Ukraine and brought the world closer to nuclear war than any time since the late 1980s. The greater risk is that this war will engulf more of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants. The potential for a second Chernobyl – and a third, and a fourth – somehow seems real. This week’s news that Russia will ‘hand over’ Chernobyl to Ukraine seems somehow hollow.

All that is without considering all the other conflicts and suffering around the world. There’s a major ongoing war in Yemen, for example, where seven years of action by a Saudi-led coalition has produced one of the largest humanitarian crises in recent times, affecting an estimated 24.1 million people. This week the Saudi coalition accepted UN calls for a one-month truce during Ramadan. Wars aside, there’s also a looming crisis globally, driven by the fact that the neo-liberal system has pushed societies to the edge, a problem given intensity by the additional pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic. The ‘anti-mandate’ protests sweeping the western world are sublimating underlying frustration at a general situation.

Mix into that the effects of climate change – including parts of Antarctica being some 40 degrees C warmer than they should be at this time of year – and it’s clear that our current civilisation is on the edge of a very grave crisis, perhaps collapse.

And yet, somehow, one guy slapping another during Hollywood’s annual display of self-congratulatory onanism seems more important. Ouch.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2022

11 thoughts on “Something wrong with society’s priorities

  1. Excellent analysis and of course the only way the Oscars or anything like that survives is with enough people watching. So presumably if no one watched they would cease after a couple of years because the networks wouldn’t make any money. However, we know that is unrealistic and will never happen sadly for us and the human race.

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    1. As I understand it the entire ‘Hollywood’ edifice, including active marketing of actors as elevated beings, began in the 1920s and it’s never really stopped – a century on, nobody ever questions the parameters which are, of course, those of commercial business and profit. The power of it is astonishing: here in NZ government routinely subsidises large movie companies, just to ensure they film here. We also have what’s been nicknamed the ‘Hobbit Law’ (‘The Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Act 2010’) after a union fracas when ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy was under way. The studios threatened to pull out of NZ, and government buckled. I was astonished then – and remain somewhat aghast now – that a sovereign state allowed its sovereignty to be undermined by a film studio. There’s a commentary about the events here:


  2. I missed it. But certainly learnt about it from the news cycle. The only comment I had was he had the chance to raise awareness of alopecia, instead he raised a fist. A classic response in todays world. And why is the world accepting being told they are ‘unfriendly countries’ when asking an invader to stop invading. I say again, humans are the worst species on the planet. There are and has been some wonderful examples out there, but then again… there are some pretty wonderful rocks as well.

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    1. I only found out post-fact – have had no interest in the Oscars for years. To me the incident sums up that whole sub-culture – self-centred, egotistical, self-indulgent and self-referential. As you say, Smith could have raised awareness of alopecia. Thumping people who annoy you isn’t the answer… as, of course Putin is also discovering.


  3. I only saw ‘the slap’ on the news as well, but what struck me was how fake it was. The ‘sound’ of the slap was so loud, a real blow of that magnitude would have floored Chris Rock. Instead, he didn’t even put his hand to his face, a reaction that would have been normal in response to even a small slap. If I were mrs will smith I’d be a teeny bit pissed at having my very real problems used as a marketing ploy. As for Hollywood as a whole? Ptuiiiii…..

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    1. I’m unconvinced it was real. The sound, the apparent blow, and the fact that Rock was apparently unhurt don’t wholly add up. It’s possible his lapel mike amplified the noise, but it didn’t sound like a slap to me. And I wonder – I used to do martial arts, and no way can somebody be hit across the face without needing a few seconds to regain composure. As a marketing ploy though – well, the headlines every day since speak for themselves. I keep thinking we live in a world of unreality these days: yesterday’s reported attack by Ukranian helicopters on a Russian oil depot has been denied by Ukraine. Was it a false flag incident? Doubtless truth will out, but not in a hurry.

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      1. lol – yes, I’ve noticed the flurry of ‘news’. Whatever the truth about the incident, Smith, Rock and the Academy have certainly received a barrow load of free publicity. And I noticed that Smith retains his right to receive an Oscar. 😉

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  4. Excellent article. But now the “suspense” for some continues as Smith has resigned from the Academy. I for one, have outgrown the dramatics.

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