Sunday, September 24, 2017

This Is Not Us: Thoughts on 2017 Emmy Awards

I start out my thoughts on last week's 2017 Emmy Awards with an apology.

I apologize to Meryl Streep.

I opted to skip the Emmys and instead attend Game Five of the Pacific Coast League baseball championship between my hometown El Paso Chihuahuas and the Memphis Redbirds.  Memphis, like The Handmaid's Tale, won, alas.

I understand you won too, Ms. Streep, for Outstanding Narrator for the documentary Five Came Back.  My most heartfelt congratulations.

As I opted to go to a sporting event rather than watch these prestigious awards, I must have revealed myself to be a rube, one of those great unwashed who know nothing of culture, of art, of refinement. 

Never mind that I have a Master's Degree in Library Science. 
Never mind that I am an actual librarian. 
Never mind that I am a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. 
Never mind that I travelled from El Paso to San Antonio to see Loreena McKennitt in concert. 
Never mind that one of the music stations I have from Sirius XM is Sirius on Broadway.
Never mind that I know who Dame Joan Sutherland and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa are and can almost tell them apart voice-wise.
Never mind that I have finished reading Lolita and am starting to read A Room With a View.

As I made the decision to attend a sporting event, which I'm told, is not 'the arts', over watching a television special where awards of merit to quality television were presented, I have shown myself as an uneducated, virtually illiterate man of low cultural knowledge and/or aspirations.  In short, the fact that I would rather have the autographs of Hunter Renfroe and Christian Villanueva over those of Aziz Ansari and Lena Waithe reveals what an unworthy individual I am.

I beg your forgiveness and hope that my attendance at Beautiful: The Carole King Musical three days later proved appropriate atonement for my sins.

Even if I hadn't had Game Five of the PCL Championship, I would have skipped the Emmys and not because I would have watched any football games, something of even lower quality which I'd be stuck watching forever if not for Streep or Amy Adams or Avant-garde actor Ryan Gosling. To be honest I prefer baseball over football except for the Super Bowl.

Simply put, out of the Outstanding Comedy Series nominees (Atlanta, black-ish, Master of None, Modern Family, Silicon Valley, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Veep) and Outstanding Drama Series (Better Call Saul, House of Cards, Stranger Things, The Crown, The Handmaid's Tale, This is Us, and Westworld), I have seen precisely...none.

I don't have Netflix, Hulu or HBO subscriptions and I don't watch a lot of network programming.

In fact, looking over the programs that I do watch or did watch on a regular basis that are still on the air, I can name but a few: The Americans, Doctor Who, Elementary, and Gotham.  Out of those shows, Doctor Who and Gotham are the only ones that I am still up to date with, having missed two seasons of The Americans and about three for Elementary.

Truth be told, I'm pretty satisfied with reruns of The Golden Girls, Designing Women, or Empty Nest and documentaries on National Geographic and Nat Geo Wild (I probably watched Wild Scotland and Wild New Zealand, whose narrators Ewan McGregor and Sam Neill lost out to Streep).  I'm also more likely to watch something on Turner Classic Movies and, sad to say, MLB Network (I always end up watching either Casablanca or The Sandlot whenever they are played on one of them). I'm also a big fan of Autopsy on Reelz, Flea Market Flip on HGTV, and Mysteries at the Museum on Travel Channel. 

As a side note, poor Ewan...three time Emmy loser.  Couldn't Meryl give him one of hers?

I don't watch commentary shows like Last Week Tonight, The Daily Show, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, Real Time with Bill Maher, Late Night with Seth Meyers, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel Live or Saturday Night Live.  All these show save Real Time may insist they are 'comedy' or 'variety' shows, but this is a case of 'they doth protest too much'.  Real Time is pretty much upfront about what it is: a political commentary show with a left-wing viewpoint.

All the others still insist they are not, evidence notwithstanding.  In case anyone wonders, I rely on clips to make my assessment on these shows, along with an occasional sighting as I channel-surf.

All these programs now have essentially one purpose: to push a particular agenda.  You can't have Emmy winner Kate McKinnon sing a mournful Hallelujah as Hillary Clinton and not think she was singing more for McKinnon (and the SNL cast/crew) than 'in character'.

For better or worse, all these shows served as de facto campaign ads for Mrs. Clinton/Democratic Party and against now-President Donald Trump, and the Emmy Awards were a chance for all of them to vent their anger, their frustration, their disappointment one more time.

Let me now put some things out in the open.

I will not say that the winners were not deserving.  If I get a chance to see them, I might think well of them.

I will not say 'stars' or anyone working in the entertainment industry should not make their sociopolitical positions public, bearing in mind that not everyone will agree with them nor should everyone agree with them.  Debate is wonderful.

I will not say said 'stars' or anyone working in the entertainment industry should not use their programs to promote their ideology, again bearing in mind that not everyone will agree with them or watch said programs.

I will not say that I might not even disagree with whatever 'stars' say on certain topics of the day.

This is what I will say.

This year's Emmy Awards' low interest (one of the lowest-rated presentations in its history) was a result of two aspects.  The first is that most viewers are simply not familiar with or interested in the nominated shows.  More people watch Sunday Night Football (18.5 million viewers) airing at the same time than have ever seen or heard of The Handmaid's Tale or Master of None (neither of which have their actual number of viewers available).  Hulu as of this year has 32 million subscribers, but even by the most generous standards it is highly unlikely if not unrealistic to think 32 million people watched The Handmaid' Tale.

For all we know, Elisabeth Moss and Aziz Ansari may be metaphorically playing to an empty house. Why care over something you don't know about?

Meryl Streep may bemoan this as a sign of the End of Western Civilization but for those who actually watch/attend a Green Bay Packers/Atlanta Falcons game over watching/attending the Emmy Awards, at least they have a vested interest in who plays, who wins, who loses, as oddball or loopy as that may be to Streep or even to me.

Do people really care that much if Alexander Skarsgard beats out Alfred Molina?

If we go by the top ten-rated shows on network television, we find that football, that 'thing' we'd be forever condemned to watch if not for Dev Patel, makes up five out of the Top Ten and Four out of the Top Five most-watched programming events.  Sunday Night Football is the most watched program in America, with Thursday Night Football on NBC and CBS not far behind. The only non-sports program in the top five is NCIS (which has yet to win an Emmy in any category, let alone be nominated for Outstanding Drama Series).

In short, more Americans would prefer watching Aaron Rodgers win than Ann Dowd win.  It's not slam on Dowd.  It's just how things stand.

This Is Us, the highest-watched show to be up for major Emmy consideration, is at fifteen.  One can imagine where Transparent is in terms of viewership or interest among those who can name the entire offense and defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  It does not make one ignorant, stupid, uncultured or bigoted to have a greater interest in one over the other.  It just means that for better or worse, more people would rather watch one over the other.

Ratings-wise, football, that lowly entertainment of the hoi polloi, that modern American equivalent to gladiatorial contests, dominates the screen and more surprising, it isn't just NFL games that get more viewership than Last Week Tonight.  College football inspires more passion than John Oliver.

I'm not a football fan, though I will watch an occasional game live or on television.  I have no interest in who wins or loses, but I am not going to sit in judgment over those who think the win-loss spread of a Pac-12 match is something that requires great analysis.  That leads me to what I think is the second reason for low ratings/interest in this year's Emmy Awards.

The second is that there is a growing disconnect between Hollywood and its audience.  Various Emmy winners and host Stephen Colbert made constant references to President Trump, none of them positive or supportive.

That is their right.

That, however, reinforces the idea that those in entertainment have a contempt for those whom they insist pay them, either in terms of attention or business.  It reinforces the woeful comment Hillary Clinton made about those who weren't with Her as being part of a 'basket of deplorables'.  It reinforces the idea that people like Oliver and Donald Glover and Alec Baldwin and Julia Louis-Dreyfus think those who don't watch their shows or don't agree with them are somehow 'lesser people' if people at all.

There is something hectoring, lecturing, pompous, arrogant about people in lavish wardrobe, dripping with jewels, with chauffeurs and large paychecks telling those who make less than the cost of some of those outfits and jewels that they essentially are dumb people for not agreeing with them, for not seeing things the way the presenters and winners do, for wasting their time and money on MMA when they could be using that time and money listening to the wisdom of Elisabeth Moss.

As a side note, it does look a bit curious that The Handmaid's Tale and Moss in particular would think they are saying something grand about female oppression in a fictional dictatorial Christian theocracy they insist is a parallel to a Trump-era America when ISIS is beheading women and tossing gays off buildings. Moss' religion of Scientology isn't known to think highly of dissent in general and their record on gay rights is sketchy, so maybe there seems to be a slight disconnect there, but I digress.

I would like it explained how say Kate McKinnon can essentially tell people, 'you are dumb to vote against the person I wanted to be President, you are sexist, homophobic and pay to watch me perform'.

The Emmy Awards appear to be the latest event in a series of curious decisions by those in the entertainment industry.

There was Meryl Streep's speech at the Golden Globes which I'm sure she doesn't think was condescending or even appeared to be so despite telling people that without Amy Adams or Dev Patel we'd be 'stuck' watching nothing but football or Mixed Martial Arts, helpfully adding that the latter was not 'the arts', in case I ever confused Conor McGregor with Maria Tallchief.

There was the endless parade of performers cheering on Mrs. Clinton in the run-up to the election: the Katy Perry, Beyoncé/Jay-Z concerts that were meant to draw millions to her side.  I'd have no problem going to see Perry or Lady Gaga perform...and then vote for Evan McMullin.

There was Stranger Things actor David K. Harbour's speech at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, where he all but threatened violence against those who were not of his same viewpoint.

There was the Women's March where Ashley Judd went on an almost unhinged rant about being a Nasty Woman and Madonna waxing rhapsodic about 'blowing up the White House'.

There was the endless parade of performers who threatened to move to Canada or Spain should Trump win (Amy Schumer did the latter).  I think Cher threatened to move to Jupiter.

As of today, no star who said he/she would leave the country should there be a President Trump has yet to take up permanent residence in Montreal or Madrid.

As another side note, it seems a bit strange to me to think that people would be influenced to vote for anyone based on whether or not Miley Cyrus would continue living in the United States.

I, again, am not saying that people like Jimmy Kimmel remain quiet when it comes to politics.  I am saying that perhaps they could find better venues than their eponymous shows or awards unless they stated right from the get-go 'Jimmy Kimmel Live is not going to be an entertainment show.  It's going to be a tool to promote my personal political agenda and I'll throw in some jokes in'.

Like it or not, these kinds of acts are not helpful.  I would argue they are hurtful and are doing more harm than good.  James Cagney was a strong liberal.  James Stewart was a strong conservative.  Yet I don't think Cagney or Stewart went on such diatribes as today's performers do on a regular basis.  They didn't hide their politics, but they didn't think that their position made them either experts on everything or take on an almost antagonistic and hostile view of audiences who didn't hold them.

I know many liberals who love Stewart and conservatives who love Cagney.  We don't think about who they voted for or what they believed. We focus on the pleasure they brought us, not on their stand on the Vietnam War or on welfare reform. Same goes for right-winger Ginger Rogers and left-winger Henry Fonda.

Johnny Carson is still the gold standard for hosts in part because no one really knew where he stood politically.

He mocked both sides with equal aplomb, but Carson never took sides so openly as Kimmel or Oliver, let alone insist to audiences that his views were the right views and those who didn't agree were wrong at best, almost murderous at worst.

There is a time to act and a time to protest.  They need not be the same time.

2017's box office is the worst in over a decade.  A large part of it is due to the dearth of good movies. A smaller part may be because people are turned off by how politicized Hollywood is now.  I am not a subscriber to that theory, but I'm not ruling it out.

Even football, which Streep appears to hold such contempt for, is seeing ratings and attendance drop. Again, there are many factors to the decline: high ticket prices, uninteresting matchups with poor playing, excessive commercial breaks.

However, the current trend of NFL players taking a knee during the National Anthem as a protest being in part a cause of the decline cannot be dismissed out of hand.  Again, we have a situation where professional sports players are apparently lecturing their fans.  I figure there are fans who disagree with whatever the players are protesting and don't agree with them.  I figure there are fans who agree with them but don't think a game is an appropriate venue to stage those protests.

That is their right to protest.  It is also the audience's right to ignore them or remove their viewership.

If stars want to protest, they should.  If football players want to protest, they should.  Stars, football players, or anyone else who makes a living in entertaining others should not then turn around and complain when their protests turns people away and those people refuse to hand over their time and/or money to them.

I don't watch Betty White to have her tell me whom I should vote for.  I don't watch Rocky Gale for that reason either.

There is nothing wrong with entertainers being social activists.  There is also nothing wrong with viewers deciding they would rather do something else than listen to them.

Forgive us our sins, Meryl Streep.

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