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Pam Frampton: Striking a new tone in Tinseltown

I watched the Oscars Sunday night, in what used to be a keenly anticipated annual ritual for my husband and me.

Pam Frampton
Pam Frampton

We’d take the following day off work if we could, and settle in with snacks and sparkling wine for a fun night with the glitterati.

We’ve always skipped the red carpet bit; I enjoy seeing glamourous outfits as much as the next person, but I could never sit through the inane small talk and the over-the-top gushiness of interviews in which any question about the substance of the actor’s work is ignored in favour of, “Oh my gosh, you look great! Who are you wearing?!”

But we made sure to catch the opening monologue, hoping host Jimmy Kimmel would take on the topics of the day with satirical humour, skewering those who deserved it and good-naturedly deflating a few celebrities who might be in danger of taking themselves a little too seriously.

Well, he did and he didn’t.

Most of Kimmel’s jokes incorporated the message of the #MeToo movement, and you can only hear so many jokes on the same theme before they start to lose their edge. Not to mention that there’s only so much humour you can wring from topics like sexual predation, casting-couch obscenities, power trips and wage inequity.

Kimmel joked that the Oscar statue represented the perfect man: “Keeps his hands where you can see them, never says a rude word, and, most importantly, no penis at all.”

I don’t think the #MeToo movement is in favour of emasculating men or wishing away their penises; people just don’t want to be sexually harassed and assaulted and shouldn’t have to be — on movie sets or any other workplace.

As host, Kimmel had a tough job, trying to entertain, enlighten and inform, all in one gig, without sounding preachy. I’m not sure he always succeeded. Indeed, I spent much of the time when Kimmel was on stage longing for the days of Billy Crystal as host, with his saucy, hysterically funny opening musical numbers.

Of course, as we all know now, the kinder, gentler, nostalgic feel of those days was just another one of Hollywood’s grand illusions.

Clearly, these are different times, and social mores are, thankfully, changing.

As host, Kimmel had a tough job, trying to entertain, enlighten and inform, all in one gig, without sounding preachy. I’m not sure he always succeeded.

With all that’s been revealed in the past few months about the entertainment industry’s dirty little secrets — rampant sexual harassment and assault, racial and gender discrimination, grossly unequal rates of pay for men and women, a lack of diversity, ageism, chauvinism and everything else, it’s only natural that — given a highly visible platform — actors would use it to advance their activism.

To have had the opportunity — as Frances McDormand and others did Sunday night — to send a message to the world and not take advantage of it, would seem a wasted chance, indeed.

This year’s audience of 26.5 million people may represent a 20 per cent drop from last year’s 33 million viewers, but that’s still a lot of eyes and ears.

Presenters and award winners took on politics, immigration, racism, empowerment, gun violence, sexual predators and more when it was their turn at the microphone.

It was certainly not our parents’ Academy Awards. Heck, it wasn’t the Academy Awards of a couple of years ago.

And celebrities today are not yesteryear’s stars of the silver screen — though it was nice to see some of them make an appearance on this year’s show marking the Academy Awards’ 90th anniversary.

Gone are the days when movie stars only made public appearances in glossy magazines and on carefully scripted talk shows. Celebrities now — like politicians — are much more accessible, warts and all, thanks to social media.

Like us, they can let their activism and advocacy flags fly and we can engage and interact with them directly in ways we never could before.

Sure, part of me missed the spectacle and pure laughs of Oscar nights past. But it was also refreshing to see Hollywood turn its high-wattage spotlight on itself, illuminating dark shadows and systemic seediness, vowing never to switch those lights off again. I hope they succeed.

Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email Twitter: pam_frampton

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