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Fake News Is Still News, Right?

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The Academy Awards is no better or worse than the College Football Playoff Selection Show, the Heisman Trophy Award Presentation, the Golden Globes or any of a dozen plus other manufactured events associated with sports and Hollywood.

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It has always been my belief that sports and film interests go hand in hand. But, I’m becoming a fossil and contemporary entertainment options are now so incredible, so diverse, so copious that movies, which I grew up immersed in along side sports entertainment, have diminished to a level almost incomprehensible to me at one time.

When I was a senior in high school I probably went to the theater to see a movie 50+ times, and that did not remotely make me a film nerd. It was on the high side to be sure, but I would guess that most of my friends went at least once every two weeks (roughly 25 times a year). When I was in high school going to the movies was just something you did because there really were not a lot of other options for entertainment on a Friday or Saturday night. Nowadays that calculus has radically changed as there is considerably more competition for the average person’s screen time.

Because of my connection to film and sports at a young age, my personal timeline is always wallpapered by movies and sports. I literally recall past years by contextualizing it through the question, “what were the movies of that year?,” then maybe remembering who won the National Championship in football or basketball or played in the Rose or Orange Bowl, or who won the Super Bowl or the World Series or asking if that was an Olympic year? Many of my friends do something similar, although they may substitute music for either movies or for sports.

At Iowa I had the life-changing experience of enrolling in Professor Dudley Andrews’s massive lecture course on film theory, as a freshman. I won’t bore you with his credentials but just know he is one of the greatest film scholars in the history of American film studies. He was at Iowa from the early 1970s, when he earned his PHD there, until 2000 or so, before heading to Yale. His lecture courses at Iowa were routinely filled to the rafters (500+ students) and the year I took one he paid considerable attention to the films of Orson Wells, which is why to this day The Magnificent Ambersons is one of my favorite films and Wells one of my preferred directors.

I lived in Iowa City for all of 4.5 years, my collegiate years, and those were great years to be an Iowa student — Hayden Fry, Lute Olson, Dudley Andrews, James Van Allen, and the list could go on. I learned the value of knowledge alongside the joy of winning. And at Iowa I actually increased my movie-going, which is unusual as statistics show that the college years are a time when most people consume film and television the least in their lifetime. I attended every arthouse film the campus could coax into the local theaters, and of course I saw all the blockbusters as well. By the time I left Iowa, with no small thanks to Andrews and other professors I learned from, I was a much more educated about film, and in every way (the production and appreciation of it), and my love affair with it only deepened.

Between Iowa City and now I’ve had the good fortune of teaching film, of sorts. I taught a course for several years in college called, “Coming Of Age on American Film.” The course was an interdisciplinary look at the representation of the transition from adolescence to adulthood on American film. More colloquially we refer to these sorts of films as coming-of-age movies, and teaching this course was one of my most enjoyable professional experiences. What the students of this course taught me is that, for the most part, movie appreciation is so much a byproduct of taste that intellectualizing it just serves to rationalize one’s taste. In other words, I am quite certain I would have liked The Magnificent Ambersons with or without Dudley Andrews but his course allowed me to step outside the experience to understand why I liked it so much.

I think the same can be true of sports. Knowing more about it often deepens an already budding or established appreciation of it. Although, early in my coming-of-age film course students initially whined that learning more about their favorite coming-of-age movie spoiled their innocent visceral appreciation of it, but by the end of the class that opinion inevitably matured and students consistently told me they appreciated knowing why their tastes were as they were. I have experienced this reaction similarly here at BHGP, where a handful of people have accused me of trying to over-intellectualize Iowa football or basketball. But, it’s always been my belief that having and understanding curiosity about the things you enjoy most is the joie de vivre, the joy of life.

So, I maintain that sports and movies are good bedfellows, and understanding each deeply is a rewarding and valuable effort. Both provide a respite from the daily rigors of reality. Being a fan of either, or like me, both, serves up ample opportunity for escape. But that escape does not have to come with the cost of unconsciousness. Being a fan can (and I argue should) actually improve your critical thinking, if you embrace that as a desired outcome. But, if you choose for your fandom to be such a respite that it manifests as a passive mindlessness, well, then you get what you deserve.

Tonight is the biggest night for the movie industry, aka Hollywood. Which is frustrating but a fact. Tonight is the 90th Oscars, or The Academy Awards if you prefer. It is the movie industry’s greatest and most critical opportunity to advertise their product. In many ways it has more than proven to be a brilliant idea, one that has been copied relentless. Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM Studios, conjured up the idea for the Academy Awards in 1927 almost entirely motivated by a desire to gain greater control of his industry. He understood that artists had unwieldy and insatiably massive egos and feeding those egos was the easiest way to steer them toward making the product he preferred, much easier than trying to coerce them with money or threatening their access. Once the first Academy Awards was over, and bear in mind that it was not televised or broadcast on radio, only reported in succeeding days by the Hollywood press, its ancillary value became patently obvious to Mayer. In succeeding years the award ceremony would be televised, massively hyped and endlessly reported upon.

For those of you who dislike the Academy Awards just keep in mind that “events” like the NFL Combine, the NBA Draft, the College Football Playoff Selection Show, and on and on and on all owe their respects to Louis B. Mayer and his idea to hand out statues to his employees for doing just as he wanted. The Academy Awards Show and events like it are pseudo-events, and its purpose and value is without question.

What is a pseudo-event?

The term was invented by American scholar Daniel J. Boorstin in his seminal book The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America (1961). A pseudo-event is an event produced with the sole purpose of generating media attention and publicity. Pseudo-events lack “authentic” news value, although they are highly orchestrated to create the impression of a news event, and in doing so they become the subject of media coverage. In short, pseudo-events are a public relations tactic.

“Boorstin defined a pseudo-event as an ambiguous truth that appeals to people’s desire to be informed. He argued that being in the media spotlight was a strong incentive for public figures to stage artificial events, which became real and important once validated by media coverage. Boorstin described pseudo-events as the opposite of propaganda, although both forms of communication have similar consequences and result in public misinformation. Whereas propaganda slants facts to keep the public from learning the truth, pseudo-events provide the public with artificial facts that people perceive as real.” Monica Postelnicu (Univ. Of South Florida)

I’ve written extensively here of my discomfort, if not disdain, for recruiting websites, the College Football Playoff selection system and show, and I’ve always disliked the Academy Awards, all for the same reasons that Daniel Boorstin tells me I should be uneasy about them, and that is because they are an elaborately manufactured hoax. But, the problem for me and perhaps the problem for you too, is that I love movies and I love sports. And so, the quandary for me is not unlike the quandary for those students who used to whine too me about how my course, which was an elective by the way, was spoiling the enjoyment of their favorite coming-of-age films.

I’ll watch no more than 10 - 20% of tonight’s telecast of the Oscars, which is about how much I’ll watch of the NFL Draft or the Heisman Award Ceremony or the unveiling of the NCAA Tournament brackets and so forth and so on. I want to know, I do, and yet I know it’s all pure fabricated bullshit that doesn’t deserve my attention.

Ugh.