If the last minute twist at the Oscars was viewed to echo all the last minute twists in American culture lately: the Super Bowl, the election, bullshit five minute segment Earlier in the evening it should be noted for what it captured about the country’s ongoing tensions and tastes in iPhone peripherals.
Host Jimmy Kimmel’s team arranged for a tour bus of supposedly “real” tourists to enter the room, expecting a museum exhibit about the Oscars, but instead found themselves in the middle of the real thing. “Welcome to the Dolby Theater,” Kimmel announced. “This is the home of the Academy Awards, which, in fact, are taking place right now.”
—Jimmy Kimmel (@jimmykimmel) February 27, 2017
The part was both funny and twisted: a weird microcosm of Hollywood’s relationship with America, America’s relationship with the media, and Jimmy Kimmel’s ability to make everything a little more awkward than it needs to be. .
The hunger for popular heroes (and memes)
Leading the pack was the man who would be the breakout star of the moment, “Gary from Chicago.” In a tuxedo room, he wore basketball shorts, a baseball cap and a “Hollywood” sweatshirt, with the gender-progressive touches of a purple phone case and a purse that could have been his fiancée’s purse. If the ambush of ostentation intimidated him, he showed no sign of it, happily introducing himself to the stars and nimbly responding to Kimmel’s banter. On social media, pop culture is itching for quirky, symbolic people—see: Ken Bone, Joe the Plumber—quickly was made known. So did the cravings for various corporate marketing teams.
Our collective addiction to the phone
The dozen or so tourists seemed to notice what was happening at different rates and with different emotions (fear, euphoria, indifference), but banded together to keep their phones in front of their faces. “You know we’re on TV, so you don’t need to do that,” Kimmel said as Gary continued to film the room. His response: “I know, but I want to do it. I wanna.”
The phone accessories themselves could become a post-show fashion column: One woman sported a sparkly jeweled case, another wielded a selfie stick like a talisman. Devices in hand, the group enticed celebrities to take selfies; Gary even handed his phone over to Mahershala Ali while she posed with the actor’s Oscar.
For tourists, it was a rare opportunity to see people in person who are normally only seen on a screen. However, they still insisted on having a screen between them.
Piercing the Hollywood bubble…
In an era when Americans have become acutely aware of how isolated their various niches are, politically, socially, and geographically, everyday citizens across the country were literally bussed in for cultural exchange with the cultural elite. . The stars received them warmly: Ryan Gosling offered Gary some kind of gift, Jennifer Anniston handed her sunglasses, Meryl and Mahershala and others smiled and hugged. Denzel Washington even “married” Gary and his fiancée Vicky, though it has to be said that particular movie icon seemed to be in a bit of a hurry to get back into his seat.
… or reinforcing it
Oscar (host) So White
The tourists were a mix of white, black, and brown men and women. But Kimmel made diversity seem anything but normal by using tired humor about “funny” names, that is, unusual names for white Americans. As the tourists entered the room, he caused the crowd to shout “MAHERSHALA!”, the name of MoonlightWinner of the award for best supporting actor. Kimmel later reacted with horror when a woman of Asian descent told Kimmel that her name rhymed with “jewels.” When her husband said his name was Patrick, Kimmel responded with mock relief: “Look, that’s a name.”
At an event that has recently been accused of white supremacy, this was a pretty deaf stunt. But Gary, of course, helped deflate it. “I feel like you’re ignoring white celebrities,” Kimmel said. Gary: “Because I am, though!”
Live TV Madness
My stress reflexes were in full effect watching the segment, and judging by the embarrassed reactions on Twitter, I wasn’t alone. It’s definitely possible that the tourists were just actors, or at least had been trained to a greater extent than we were led to believe. But still, the spectacle of chaos in a space as highly choreographed, watched and culturally charged as the Oscars was riveting. By the end of the night, viewers would be reminded of what makes live television like this so electrifying: the potential for disaster and miracles.