This is why we can't have nice things: On the Oscars, politicism and the PC police

I'll admit that, at first, I cheered. There was Patricia Arquette, up at the podium accepting her Best Supporting Actress statue for Boyhood, when she dropped a truth bomb about gender and the wage gap.

"It's our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America."

Meryl cheered. J. Lo cheered. I cheered from my couch.

Thank you! I don't care if Patricia Arquette (and Meryl and J. Lo, too, obviously) makes a gazillion more dollars I ever will, that's not the point. The point is equal pay for equal work, whatever your income bracket.

But then I heard about Arquette's comments in the pressroom later that night and I cringed. And sighed and, ultimately, felt defeated.

"It's time for women. Equal means equal," Arquette told reporters. "It's in excusable that we go around the world and we talk about equal rights for women in other countries and we don't."

Yes. Yes!

But ...

"It's time for all the women and all the gay people and all the people of color that we've fought for to fight for us now."

This is why we can't have nice things.

Championing equal rights for a particular group, especially under the guise of championing equal rights for all, does not mean calling out other groups of people. It does not mean excluding them. It does not dividing lines between the have-nots and the have-even-lesses.

There were those already criticizing Arquette for just her Oscar speech. There were those who complained that a white, privileged woman calling for equal pay in front of a global audience missed the point because, historically, women of color make even less on the dollar. That, historically, it's women of color who pull that whole "cents on the dollar" pay gap downward.

Fair enough, I thought, but it was Oscar speech and even though Arquette was clutching a piece of paper in her hand I was more than willing to forgive her for not including the whole of womanhood in an excitable moment.

Her words after the fact, however, lacked deeper thinking--the kind of deeper thinking I would expect from a person moved enough to speak on the subject at the Oscar podium in the first place.

At best her comments were tone-deaf, at worst they were offensively exclusionary.

One of the questions reverberating across the Internet today is whether Arquette should be criticized for her comments, especially given the excitement of the moment.

Of course she should. I'm more forgiving of her on-stage remarks, less so of what she shared with the press.

On the one hand her backstage comments shouldn't detract from the overall message and, honestly, I don't think she's harboring any bad intentions. I just think she didn't, well, think about how those remarks excluded entire communities. That's the pervasive nature of privilege: those who hold some of it (even a little--and as an aging actress, Arquette's privilege is small) are often not even aware of how deeply it informs everything they do and say.

Bad Feminist author Roxane Gay put it this way on Twitter:

"I think she is great. I said that. I think these particular comments are not great. Both things can coexist."

At the very least I'm glad Arquette's remarks--on stage and off--have sparked new conversations about what equality for all really means.

On the flip side of this conversation, however, is the quip that Sean Penn made when introducing Birdman director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu.

"Who gave this son of a bitch his green card?" Penn joked before announcing Birdman as the Best Picture winner.

LOL, right?

Hardly. Although several people have since very helpfully pointed out to me that Penn and Inarritu are long-time friends, I found that "joke" to be in incredibly poor taste for the moment.

Like Arquette, Penn's comment was, at best, tone-deaf and tacky. At worst it was exclusionary and, yes, even racist.

A peer suggested I was taking the whole thing too seriously.

Another reminded me of the pair's friendship and argued that the context of the joke was important in this case.

Penn's "joke" might have been more understandable (but still tacky) if he and Inarritu had been at a roast or the like.

Instead the image of Penn bestowing the award upon the director just screamed Old While Male in Hollywood privilege. And for the millions of people not lucky enough to be in on the joke, it rang ugly and distasteful. Like the kind of joke your politically incorrect uncle says at the dinner table at Thanksgiving.

Only worse. Because here was Sean Penn cheapening Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu's moment with a reminder that the director was a minority who didn't belong here.

Ha ha, so very, very funny.

(For the record, there's so much more left to criticize when it comes to this year's Academy Awards. And I'm not even going to get into the Neil Patrick Harris fiasco (but there's a reason why "UnfunnyNPH" was trending on Twitter last night).

At least we'll always have Common and John Legend's gorgeous, perfect acceptance speech right?)

In any case, if someone wants to tell me I should lighten up--take of my PC Police badge, if you will--because I'm offended by Sean Penn's or Patricia Arquette's comments, that's fine.

I'd rather be offended by tone-deaf tackiness, comments that stem from positions of privilege and jokes that aim to take denigrate than be someone who laughs it off and, as a consequence, reinforces a culture in dire need of change.

I'd rather be overly PC and overly sensitive. I'd rather be a humorless member of the politically correct brigade than be an asshole.

But that's just me.






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