Last year, comedian Marc Maron brought in author Chuck Klosterman as a guest in your wtf podcast. Both discussed many things (including Klosterman’s then-new book, But what if we’re wrong?, which he was there to promote), but one of them was sports, and the particular thrill they offer to the public. Sporting events, Klosterman argued, promise the most dramatic of things: an unknown outcome. Unlike other highly-watched events (the Super Bowl halftime show, the Grammys, the Oscars), the main selling point of sporting events is that their finishes are, by definition, unpredictable. Inside them, anything can happen.
Okay. While a lot can be said about Sunday’s Oscars, it can’t be said that the dazzling awards show was boringly predictable. The 89th annual Academy Awards ceremony, just at its conclusion, brought a mix of confusion and shock and utter, profound delight to its viewers as Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway joined forces to announce the winner of Best Picture. and proceeded, due to a backstage mistake. , advertise the wrong movie. Chaos ensued, and some very, very good television. Weary East Coasters were summoned back to their living rooms from their bedrooms, on the grounds that “OMG, you HAVE to see this.” Twitter erupted with jokes about Bonnie and Clyde doing it again, about schrodinger’s envelopeon “Dewey Defeats Truman” getting an Oscar-friendly update. It was a Sunday afternoon and the unexpected had happened in the most unexpected way, and it was, like my colleague Adam Serwer perfectly summed up, Of Moon.
However, it was all also a reminder of how rare it has become for the public to witness, collectively, something that is truly unexpected. This was live television, with all the potential human error that live television can bring (chaos, correctness, drama, grace) in its depths but also in its heights. What happened on Sunday was more or less based on the same mechanic that gave the world all those Left Shark memes, and those “She Persisted Yet” tattoos, and the term “wardrobe malfunction” – the Oscars they evoked affection by way of surprise. The Best Picture blunder has become infamous overnight for much the same reason its predecessors did: It’s extremely rare, in the highly produced world of media, that expectations are expected.
We know a lot today. We are, in fact, Of course about so many things—about politics and human psychology and Hollywood award shows and the right ingredients for guacamole. During a time when Google has made so much information instantly obtainable, knowledge has become a default presence in American cultural life. Oooh, that show is supposed to be great. That movie is supposed to be terrible.. Poke bowls are the thing now. The big cultural events, the stuff of the Grammys, the Emmys and the Oscars, are in many ways the culmination of that stance: we know exactly what to expect from them. We can report, as they unfold, that everything went according to plan, because we knew all along what they were supposed to be; we can do that story, too, on a disappointed note. After all, there are few things more boring than meeting expectations.
In that context, Beatty Dunaway’s blunder at the Oscars was a gift to the public (and perhaps to ABC’s future live ratings). It was also Chuck Klosterman’s point for Maron, both tried and wrong. Here was the logic of the live sporting event where anything can happen, applied to the highest, most ceremonial rituals, and most driven by Hollywood expectations. That was a powerful thing: During a time in America that so often takes for granted that “reality” is something that can be produced and experienced, the Best Picture Oscars blunder was a powerful reminder that reality , still has its own production values.
Yes, the failure was also many other things: a pity for Moonlight, which so deserved to win the award for Best Picture and whose victory threatens to be overshadowed by the mistake and the dramas that follow. an embarrassment for la la country, whose producers gave their full acceptance speeches before learning that their “winner” had been announced in error. A field day for photographers, both professional and not, who took reaction shots onstage and backstage and among celebrity audiences. A moment of grace, like la la countryJordan Horowitz’s producer responded to Jimmy Kimmel’s cheeky suggestion that everyone should get an Oscar with a politely defiant “I’m going to be so excited to hand this out to my friends at MoonlightAnd also, of course: a metaphor for the slingshots and arrows of the 2016 election. A confirmation of pop culture’s current obsession with alternate realities. A vehicle for many, many pranks. at Steve Harvey’s expense.
For the most part, though, it was an unexpected ending that came in, it seems, in the most twisted way: a shock that came not at the hands of a clever producer, but at the hands of a peculiar reality. Twist endings may have been a defining feature of the events of 2016 and early 2017: The reality show that was the 2016 presidential campaign found its expertly ratified favorite defeated in the final episode; the 2016 World Series featured another victorious underdog; Super Bowl LI found the expected winners winning, but only after their game went into nail-biting overtime. Its twists, however, took place within events whose endings were, by definition, unknown. The Oscars were a ceremony, surprisingly interrupted. It was the expectation, irresistibly frustrated.
And so: it was powerful in a way that few things can be, already, in a world that knows so much and hopes, in the end, so little. In test by screen crush Last year, Erin Whitney argued that “ours is a culture built on anticipation, where movies end with scenes that tease the next installment of the franchise, not allowing a moment of respite to absorb what we’ve just seen. We talk about movies years before they are released, analyze television plot twistsY anticipate albums for years before hearing a single song.” This whole process has led, Whitney argued, to “the slow death of surprise.”
The best evidence of that may be the fact that marketers have recently focused on surprising consumers: capitalism goes to great lengths to keep that particular kind of magic alive. the dropped album. the surprise tv show. the secretly produced trailer. The live broadcast television musical where anything could happen. they are trying to capture what Klosterman conveyed to Maron in that wtf interview: “Sport is a connection with authentic life”, the author put it to the comedian. “This is not something that anyone can control or write. It’s this unknown thing.” He added, “There’s something really interesting about ‘nobody knows,’ because you just don’t experience that anymore.”
You don’t, until you do, until that mistake hits the most dazzling, most scripted set of all Hollywood stages. Sunday’s Best Picture mistake isn’t just iconic anymore; it’s also already the subject of conspiracy theories from a wide range of Oscar truths suggesting that, among other things, the mistake was the result of President Trump’s vendetta against Jimmy Kimmel; either a joke pulled by Kimmel himself; either the dark dealings of leonardo dicaprio. They may have a point; it’s unclear, for now, how the wrong card got into the hands of Warren Beatty. What they forget, however, is what Klosterman knows, and what all those delighted audiences on Sunday knew along with him: that the best conspirator is often people’s sheer capacity to make big, dramatic mistakes.