Monday, September 8, 2014

Kennedy Center Honors 2014: Some Thoughts

Hanks for the Kennedys!

And The Betty White Gets Screwed Again!

Oh, Kennedy Center...why do you keep deliberately slipping into irrelevance?  In the past few years the Kennedy Center Honors went from saluting such figures as Ella Fitzgerald, James Stewart, Maria Tallchief, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Ray Charles and Katharine Hepburn, to finding such illustrious honorees as Steve Martin, Oprah Winfrey, and Led Zeppelin.

For the record, I love Steve Martin, but even if I were the biggest Martin fan in the world, I would have said it would have been far too early to acknowledge him when he was so honored, but that is perhaps for another time.

While the Kennedy Center has had a few bumps in the past few years (the Led Zeppelin thing being perhaps the most outrageous, with the Center telling Hispanics to go F-Themselves when they had the temerity to question why in nearly thirty years they'd managed to find only two Hispanic honorees a close second), it looked like with a more open selection process and even invitations from the public for honorees things would improve.  Let's look if they have.

This year's honorees are:

Singer Al Green
Actor Tom Hanks
Ballet Dancer Patricia McBride
Musician Sting (why couldn't it be Gordon Sumner)
Comedienne Lilly Tomlin

Well, at least they got two women (and one gay person), but while this list isn't horrible it is also a bit 'meh'.  It isn't one that inspires great passion or excitement.

Lilly Tomlin?  I have a sense that most people under 40 have little to no idea who Lilly Tomlin is.  I think she was in a Muppet movie, and she was very funny in The Incredible Shrinking Woman, but is America jumping out of their chairs to salute Lilly Tomlin?

I don't mean to sound like I'm bashing Tomlin in particular or that she somehow isn't worthy, but in the 'calling a spade a spade' tradition, this newest batch ain't nothing to rush out and see.  However, if the Kennedy Center used THESE clips as part of the Tomlin tribute, then I'd DEFINITELY watch.

Foul language in clips.  Be warned.

Of course, they wouldn't, nor will they dwell much on Hanks' early years as a comic actor. They'll go on about Philadelphia and Forrest Gump (a film I absolutely detested the first AND second time I was made to watch, to where I was called 'un-American' for not liking that drivel), but will they show clips from his Criterion Collection-worthy Turner & Hooch or Dragnet (a personal favorite)?  I do get a sense they will have to mention when the Reverend Al Green had boiling grits thrown on him by an angry girlfriend while he was in the shower.  Talk about a downer...

Even more surprising, it's one of the whitest groups in the Center's history.  Having only one minority honoree doesn't necessary doesn't necessarily mean they are ignoring minorities (though maybe the failure to include Hispanics or more African-Americans is a backhanded compliment to the Annenberg Minority Study which found that there are few Hispanic or African-American characters on film and television and fewer black and Hispanic writer/directors, shocking absolutely no one).  I would just argue that this group is perhaps the most vanilla group, one where the appeal to non-whites is pretty limited.

When was the last time Sting had airplay on BET?  Apart from Misty Copeland, can anyone name an African-American prima ballerina currently performing? 

2013 Honorees:
Strength in Diversity

This isn't a terrible group on the whole.  I'd question the selection of Sting (who may be the first single-named honoree in the 37 year history of the event, for even B.B. King was billed as "Riley B.B. King" at the ceremony rather than by his stage name).  Sure, I like Sting's music, but shudder to think I'll have to hear someone play Fields of Gold (a pretty but frankly sleep-inducing number).  Well, who doesn't know Every Breath You Take?  One can only hope they don't go on about that tantric sex...

I do also question Hanks' inclusion.  No, he deserves to be honored, but we must be honest.  Isn't he a bit 'young' to receive this recognition (and yes, at 58 it does seem strange to say he's 'young')?  It doesn't help that Hanks has grown increasingly partisan, putting aside his "Loveable All-American" persona to stir up controversy.  There was his overt Obama-worship, which in itself wasn't wrong but it was the first time he became so enmeshed in politics when he had pretty much steered clear of such things.  Rather, it is in regards to his The Pacific miniseries, when he suggested American fought the Japanese because of racism on America's part; I guess that whole 'Pearl Harbor' thing was just a mild misunderstanding.  The internment of Japanese-Americans was wrong, immoral, and illegal, but it was also brought to you by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, liberal of liberals. Whatever flaws George W. Bush had (and he had many), at least HE didn't lock up Arab or Muslim-Americans in gulags like FDR did to "the Japs".

Maybe Hanks will get around to putting that in another "World War II was the only war worth fighting" production. 

The Kennedy Center could have honored Peter O'Toole (a better actor than Hanks).  Oh, wait...he's dead.  They could have honored Broadway veteran Elaine Stritch...oh, wait, she's dead too.  I'm sure they would have gotten around to it, once Led Zeppelin and Oprah Winfrey got their just desserts.  I'm sure they'll be plenty of time to honor 94-year-old Maureen O'Hara, 93-year-old Carol Channing, 92-year-old The Betty White, or 84-year-old Gene Hackman.

After all, none of them contributed much to American culture or are as big as Lilly Tomlin...

Again, this isn't a bad list per se.  Each certainly has achieved great things in the arts.  However, try as I might I can't work up great enthusiasm for seeing them honored.  I skipped the KCH two years ago.  That time, I did it out of protest over honorees David Letterman and Led Zeppelin (whom I felt both made a mockery of the Kennedy Center Honors goals).  I think I'll skip it this year too, only this time, out of sheer boredom.

No Class of Honorees will ever beat 1997, which I consider the greatest collection of talent ever honored in one year apart from the very first Kennedy Center Honors.  Sorry, Class of 2014, you'll never be as big or as great as these...

1997 Kennedy Center Honorees:
Dylan, Bacall, Villella, Norman, Heston.
Legends All...

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