That's what celebrities are made of.
Award season is in full swing. Golden Globes, Independent Spirit Awards, and the various Guild Awards are enough to keep fancy clothing designers and acceptance speech writers (if only there were such a thing) in business. But these awards and their ceremonies are a mere prelude to the most spectacular of all awards show spectacles: the Oscars. I watch the Oscars every year for two reasons: first, because I like movies, and, though every year has its Titanically tragic missteps, the Academy Awards are genuinely the most important awards in Hollywood. And second, of course, I watch for the glitz and glamour, the auditorium packed full of fabulosity. In short, for the front row view on a universe that seems to run parallel to my own.
It’s like this: at some point on each of the greatest television shows of our time, a character comes dangerously close to missing prom. Perhaps their dream date ditches them, or they mistakenly believe that it is unimportant that they go to prom, like because prom is just so establishment and a stupid ritual that forces people to spend way too much money on clothes and conform to someone else's ideal of beauty. Fortunately, a true friend helps them to see that if they miss prom they will regret it, soon and for the rest of their lives. A few less fortunate television-souls realize too late just how horrible missing prom is, and their losses are healed only when a belated prom is thrown for them in their living rooms. We’ve all seen that episode (unless we are this guy).
I watch these shows, and I think, Seriously?!
I did not go to prom. I was one of those characters who just didn't get why it would be interesting. Except I'm still waiting to feel sad about it. Maybe I should keep a disco ball and some old tunes in the closet and a therapist on speed-dial in case that ever happens. But I’m pretty sure there are two types of people in this world: those who believe they will be unhappy if they miss prom, and those who know they will be never really miss prom. And I am reasonably sure I am one of the latter.
I have sometimes felt it would be nice to be a fly on the wall at such an event, though—dressed in jeans and invisible, taking in the ritual as a non-participant observer. Apart from the golden statue idolatry, this is approximately what watching the Oscars is like for me. I am mesmerized by the people who, like those of my high school classmates who breathed for prom for weeks, seem to sincerely regard this evening as Significant and Worthy of all the time, resources, and concern they’ve put into it, the ones completely horrified at anyone who makes a fashion blunder, or whose appearance reveals a cavalier attitude toward the Event. Personally, as I watch all those important people navigate the red carpet interviews, I try to spot the ones who are there just for the punch. For example, I think I caught a bit of (slightly self-congratulatory) perspective shining through George Clooney's award night make-up last year.
Part of my confusion and awe stems from the weirdly heightened image-consciousness of these special occasions. We expect that, come prom night, that acne-encrusted, greasy-haired kid that sits in the front row of math class will be buffed and combed just a little, that hairy legs will be shaved, mascara will be there where it wasn’t and thicker where it was. Here, our greatest overpaid actors have it rough. Our starting vision of them is as flawless, airbrushed, scripted, reshot beauties, and they must show up to the Oscars as prommed-up versions of that, trying like hell to hide the fact that they, also, are real, blemished, wrinkled, sometimes inarticulate people.
This is a lot of pressure. A recent story on CNN.com uncovers the incredible technology and art behind Oscar glam: silicone breast enhancers and nipple covers, tape, spray-on muscle-contoured tans, more tape, hair extensions, and even more tape, tape, tape. It takes hours and hours of overtime for make-up artists make a few people look, if a little stiff, like reasonably close facsimiles of their on-screen selves as they shimmer and sparkle and tell people who they are wearing.
Normally, the resolution of our television screens helps keep these measures secret, smoothing the edges and hiding the tape and fake tan lines. With the spread of HDTV, however, lines of all kinds are emerging. That’s right—the high definition of high definition television reveals not just incredible detail in the hairs on a zebra’s ass, but more than a few human pimples. I haven’t experienced this for myself, but if you’ve ever seen a Charlie Rose interview and realized, Wow, Robert Redford really is in his 70s, I imagine it’s something like that.
So here’s where things get a little weird. The response to the HDTV effect has been…an increased demand for plastic surgery. Obviously. Which makes me wonder at what point technology will reveal so much reality that these poor actors will stop trying to hide that reality with more technology (and tape). I'm not sure whether they go it for themselves or their audience, and maybe I’m too oblivious to understand, but it seems absurd to demand of our stars that they not reveal their or reflect our own aging realities. A 40-year-old woman can look like she has the skin of a 20-year-old on-screen. Great. But shouldn’t we all know on some level that there are a few wrinkles underneath, just as we knew what was hidden under our classmates’ cakey prom make-up? Come Oscar night, I have no real problem with stars covering up their blackheads and thinning hair, but it should be done with a bit of a wink. We should realize that, when actors return home from the after-parties their Oscar gowns may fall to the floor to reveal a few stretch marks and sagging bellies. And if we all know and accept this, at some point the amount of plastic and silicone used to maintain the "secret" seems just a little ridiculous.