If you ask a random sampling of dads to wax nostalgic on the first time they sat and watched an annual televised event with their sons, you’re going to have to run through a lot of poppas before you get to one, like me, who will tell you, “The Oscars.” We’ve definitely watched World Series games together, and I remember getting up early on vacation with him once to watch a World Cup final. I just don’t remember the first World Series we watched together. I do remember the first Oscar broadcast. He was seven, and we watched it from a hotel room in Vegas.
Spoiler alert: This is not one of those posts in which an ethical lesson lies below the surface. In fact, it’s rife with bad parenting choices, questionable family values, and an almost complete disregard for age-appropriateness. It’s just an anecdote, and not really a very good one, because it’s more of a snapshot than a story. Some of you may want to turn away now. I’m sure someone on WordPress is blogging even as we speak about diaper bags or sportsmanship or sharing or whatnot. Feel free to browse.
OK, so first of all, I took my seven-year-old boy on a vacation to Las Vegas. We had a week, we wanted to see the Grand Canyon, and it’s not so easy to just fly to the Grand Canyon and back. But it’s way easy to fly to Vegas and back, and from Vegas rent a car to drive to the Grand Canyon. And there’s a ton of stuff to do in Vegas with your kid. We saw Siegfried and Roy. We saw Blue Man Group. We went to the M&M’s place. We rode stuff at Circus Circus, caught the joust at Excalibur, and the pirate show at Treasure Island. We collected cool coin cups, which we still use to rinse the dogs when we give them baths. We saw the aquarium at Mandalay Bay, and we went to the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum, so right there it was like an educational trip. And we spent a couple days at the Grand Canyon. And stopped at the Hoover Dam on the way. So cut me some slack, I was showing my kid America.
But Sunday night of our vacation presented us with a golden opportunity. For years I’d decried the false competitiveness of The Oscars, and the fact that many factors other than art contribute to who is nominated, and who wins. But I’d watch anyway, and hate myself for it. So, I eventually decided that since I was going to watch anyway, I’d simply accept it, and stop hating myself (well… at least hate myself for different reasons. I have many to choose from). So for a few years, I’d been watching the Oscar broadcast. I figured I’d skip it this year until I realized four things:
1. We’re on the west coast. That means the Oscars start at 5:30, not 8:30, like they do on the east coast, which means my kid can actually watch the whole broadcast.
2. It’s Sunday night. By a fluke of the knucklehead-sharing agreement between his mom and me, he’s almost never with me on a Sunday night, except on vacation. This could be our only chance!
3. It’s 2002. That means it’s the first year there will be an Oscar for Best Animated Feature, which means The Knucklehead will have actually seen the films nominated in that category.
4. I’ve already taught my son how to yell at the television during baseball games. But how will he learn when and how to yell at the television during nonsporting events? Shouldn’t I, as his father, be the one to guide him?
So we treated ourselves to some room service pizza and settled in.
We began with the Red Carpet coverage, which I usually skip, but as a child, The Knucklehead needed to understand why he wasn’t missing anything by skipping this. I have no interest at all in the trappings of celebrity, just their actual craft (I feel the same way about baseball players. No thank you, David Ortiz, I don’t really care to hear your recipe for a vinaigrette. I would love to hear how you’re able to tattoo something coming in low and inside.). First, there’s the odd query, “Who are you wearing?” which it seems to me is a question only Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs could correctly answer. Unless Jennifer Garner walks in with an elderly Italian gentleman draped over her shoulders and announces, “I’m literally wearing Giorgio Armani” which is something that would totally make the Red Carpet show worth watching. Not to mention the after-party. Secondly, the guys are all wearing suits. Essentially, only the girls get to go nuts on Oscar Night. And that’s just not fair.
As the Oscars themselves begin, we find we have much to discuss. To prepare him for the event, I already talked about how the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences carefully and scientifically weighs the merits of each film or performance. They mail ballots to a bunch of people, most of them older white dudes. The older white dudes, almost none of whom have actually seen each film in a nominated category, vote for their friends or employees. Or they hand the ballot to a personal assistant and say, “Fill this out, wouldja?” So forget justice. Don’t expect it, you’ll only be disappointed. As Clint Eastwood helpfully explained to Gene Hackman in Unforgiven, ” ‘Deserves’ got nothin’ to do with it.” Hence, the yelling at the television. And since the voters aren’t sweating having seen every film or performance, why shouldn’t we laypeople take the same liberties?
But if he hasn’t seen any of the non-animated films, I hear you ask, how can possibly engage himself in the entirety of the broadcast?
First: Why do you speak so formally?
Second: That’s what I’m for. Having seen a lot of the films, I give him a quick, age-appropriate synopsis of the plot of the film, the look of the film, and my impressions of the actors’ performances. Which do I clearly remember, and why? By doing this, I’m showing him how I watch a film, and what runs through my mind as I’m watching. So when the animated features come up, he gets to tell me why he thought Shrek was more deserving than Jimmy Neutron. And, thus, earn his outrage when The Academy screws that up.*
Third: There is a whole lot more to the broadcast than just the nominated categories. There are the musical numbers, which is an excellent chance to teach a child that musical comedy often comes at the expense of both music and comedy. There are the montages. These are important, because the give everyone in the room a chance to yell out which performer or film they’re seeing based on a 2-second clip, which is the only chance in life some of us have to show off. Except for the montage of the Parade of Dead People, since those are captioned with their names. But it’s important to have quiet for that, because you want to hear the audience reaction as they vote for the Dead Person they liked the best through their applause. There’s always some cinematographer or wardrobe person that we’ve never heard of that turns out to have meant a lot to the people in the room. I like that part. Of course, it’s harder now, because a few years ago they turned off the audience mics when they realized the celebrities were voting, and we at home had picked up on that. If anyone in The Academy is reading this (HAH!) please reconsider. It’s really the only time in Hollywood nice guys get some press.
Third-and-a-half: The montages are also helpful in that there’s some honest film history in there. Not much, but enough to remind you of some of the older flicks your knucklehead needs to see later that week.
Fourth: He doesn’t engage himself in all of the broadcast, any more than at seven years old he engages himself in all of a ball game. Twenty minutes into the broadcast he’s got some toys out, and I’m working on a crossword puzzle in between lecturing. It’s not like I’m putting him through the Ludovico technique.
So, that’s a fun memory for me. He was probably the only kid in the first grade to have watched the Oscars, and I’m the kind of dad that takes a perverse pride in that. But he did get a chance to see something of one of his dad’s passions, and I think that’s honestly valuable. In many ways, it isn’t that different from the way some parents watch the Superbowl with their kids. Or the Indianapolis 500, or the Grammys, I guess. Whatever floats your boat, share it with your knucklehead. Sharing our interests is a way of sharing ourselves, and our histories with our kids. That’s not so bad, even if it does happen on the Las Vegas strip.
Oh, crap. There was a lesson there after all. Sue me.
*Which they didn’t.