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There’s no business like show business

Susan Estrich

Susan Estrich


Who cares about the Oscars?

Not quite as many people as last year, it turns out, but more than the two years preceding that, at least as measured by the ratings for the ABC telecast.

Of course, Twitter was twittering at full speed, there were sizeable bumps in Internet traffic, the red-carpet shows scored, and “Good Morning America” beat “Today” the morning after (fueled by people who didn’t change the channel before falling asleep). But despite being almost universally panned (as Oscar shows usually are until we view them fondly in retrospect), in a year in which the big movie was “The King’s Speech” and not “Titanic,” the Oscars did just fine, thank you.

And this speaks well for America.

The new conservative majority in Congress includes plenty of fans of American “exceptionalism.” To be honest, I didn’t even know what that meant until someone explained — only very slightly in jest — that it was the prettifi ed version of the tried and true campaign slogan about “making America No. 1 in the world.”

The problem with the campaign slogan, anyway, is that while it always tests off the charts (Sir, would you like America to be No. 3 or No. 4 in the world?), once you try to turn it into something, you end up with a host of problems. For starters, someone always objects because it suggests that we aren’t No. 1 already — which, depending on whether you’re the incumbent or trying to unseat one, can be a dangerous suggestion. Someone else always objects because it makes no sense to pretend that America can be No. 1 at everything. That person has no future in political campaigns.

No, American exceptionalism is a masterful political idea — the idea that we are the chosen country, the best at everything, a gift to the world.

But we aren’t the best at everything. And we aren’t going to be.

The whole idea of living in a global economy is not that one country is the best at everything and everyone else competes for second, but that many countries have many strengths, and some of them might even be better — at least if better is defined as cheaper or more efficient — at doing certain things than we are.

I buy clothes proudly made in Los Angeles, but Los Angeles is not going to be the garment production capital of the world — which is not to say that we are second best. What we make here, better than anyone in the world, is entertainment. Celebrity. Stardom. Hollywood. The whole nine yards.

It isn’t just a show once a year, but a huge industry that literally covers the globe. You may like or dislike our politics or disagree with our principles, but everybody watches our movies. For all the talk of Bollywood and the Nigerian film industry, and God bless them all, the best movies in the world are being financed and marketed and distributed, if not literally made, right here in the United States.

In recent years, the entire entertainment industry, from movies to video games, has been the subject of easy political attack, particularly from conservatives: too sexual, too political, too angry, too much violence. The truth is, a lot of it is bad. Many times you just shake your head and wonder why, with all the smart people who can’t get arrested in this town, so much truly and unredeemingly bad stuff still gets made.

Sure, it looks easier than it is. (How hard can it be, with all those stars, to make a good television show?) But that is not the only excuse. Chris Dodd, the former senator from Connecticut who is taking over as head of the Motion Picture Association of America, will find himself in the hot seat more than he’d like.

But at the end of the day, there really is no business like show business. It is a true example of American exceptionalism, which may not be enough to get conservatives to truly embrace Oscar. Thankfully, much of the globe does. ©2011 Creators

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