Sacha Baron Cohen and the Oscars

The reason the film industry is losing the American public.

Last week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that they would not allow Sacha Baron Cohen, star of the upcoming comedy The Dictator, to attend the Oscars. Although he was later allowed to attend, the Academy initially banned him because he intended to show up dressed as the title character from his new movie, complete with long black beard, white uniform, and chestful of fake medals.  The movie itself is the “heroic story of a Middle Eastern dictator who risks his life to ensure that democracy never comes to the country he so lovingly oppressed.”

So why did the Academy originally attempt to bar outrageous comic from attending? Deadline Hollywood’s Nikki Finke asks the key question, “Whether the fact that the 84th Academy Awards will be beamed into 200 countries had anything to do with Baron Cohen being banned from the Oscars was unclear.”

Baron Cohen responded to the Academy’s lack of humor with a decidedly  un-PC comment on his website: “Admiral General Aladeen willd elvier a formal response tomorrow morning to being banned from the Oscars by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Zionists.”

So, the Academy was reluctant to allow Baron Cohen to show up wearing a goofy dictatorial outfit because the night is simply too serious – or because he might offend actual dictators around the world. Welcome to the Oscars, where it’s forbidden to take yourself too lightly or to tick anybody off … except Republicans.

And that’s the problem with Hollywood. They take themselves way too seriously. Who cares if an actor shows up in costume? That’s what these people do for a living – they dress up as other people and say lines they’ve memorized. Why in the world should they care if somebody mocks them on a red carpet while they’re busy feting themselves?

But they do. Take, for example, Sophia Bush. Ms. Bush is the star of One Tree Hill on the CW, where she spent approximately two decades playing a high schooler. When Ms. Bush stated that she would consider leaving the United States if any of the current Republican candidates became president, I tweeted, “If Sophia Bush left US, America's average hotness would decline by 0.00001%. Our average IQ would rise by 3.67%.” Instead of letting the joke roll off her back, Bush quickly tweeted back, “@benshapiro too scared to tag me on that tweet? Classy. I was meeting with Tina Tchen at the White house two months ago. You? #GrowUp.” How seriously do you have to take yourself to respond to a drive-by tweeting with a reference to visiting the White House? I did respond to her, of course, by pointing out that visiting the White House does not make you intelligent, just as having dinner with Stephen Hawking does not make you a physicist. I’m not sure Sophia got it.

Celebrities here feel it necessary to mouth off on topics on which they are not just ill-informed, but outright ignorant. When George Clooney pronounces his views of the Middle East conflict (and gives policy advice  to President Obama), he’s making a fool of himself everywhere but in Hollywood, where his passing knowledge of the situation makes him a Krauthammer-like expert – or at least makes him feel like one.

Many in Hollywood see themselves as philosopher kings, artists worthy of the greatest respect even when speaking about things they know little about.  I wouldn’t presume to tell George Clooney how to act (although I’m not a fan); he shouldn’t presume to tell the president of the United States how to handle Iran. This seems like a fair deal.

But  not to the Hollywood left. They want to be ignorant and well-respected at the same time. That’s why they ignore their own hypocrisy. My friend Jason Mattera of Human Events has a new book coming out shortly, titled Hollywood Hypocrites; in it, he lays out a full-blown case demonstrating that many of Hollywood’s biggest wigs are happy to live high on the hog while telling everyone else that the hog ought to be redistributed.

The same holds true with regard to humor. Hollywood wants to thumb its nose at convention, but it doesn’t want to offend any of its friends. That’s why it balked at Baron Cohen coming dressed as an anti-Semitic dictator.  And that’s why it’s losing the American public.

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