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Steven Weber

Steven Weber

Posted: March 9, 2010 01:16 PM

Steve and Alec (or Alec and Steve) Save the World

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Watching the Oscars was a reminder of what television was and should be again.

I'm not talking about the by now routine assemblage of narcissist nut-jobs/nose-jobs or the encyclopedia appendix of thank you's which pass for an acceptance speech or the occasional manifestation of real emotion which still garners reactions of wonder among human beings whose only imperative now is to buy shit from Amazon at the push of an "enter" key.

What it showcased this time out was the medium's discarded brilliance in the persons of Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin.

For those younger viewers to whom ChatRoulette is the perfect match for their 4G attention spans, this was an example of what television was virtually every night of the week. From the 1950's on through the early '80's, tested and ready veterans took to the stages and screens and demonstrated their skills, honed and refined after years of practice, and regularly placed the bar of American entertainment quite a bit higher than we have grown used to.

Now a virtual stripmall of amateur theatrics and low-brow carny spectacles, television was once a fertile playground for everyone from con-artist to genius, as boundless as the internet except with the essential boundaries of taste and time which ensure originality and clever execution. And, mimicking a human being's natural rhythms, it went to sleep around midnight and woke up around 6, as opposed to pulsing and selling and throbbing and selling 24 hours a day, caffeinated and titillated far above and beyond how people are meant to be.

The team of Martin and Baldwin (or Baldwin and Martin) ran the show with real authority, while brilliantly playing morons in authority, giving a demonstration in the lost art of emceeing. In an era when virtually all that is paraded before us on our television screens is an inbred, corporatized, casually diluted shadow of the shows once produced for the medium with passion and verve, Baldwin and Martin (or Martin and Baldwin) reminded the conscious world that there was actual expertise once; that television wasn't just an endlessly repeating trope of "real people" being followed around by cameras or scavenger hunting or clawing their way onto talent shows only to engage in wince-inducing Soul Yodeling.

What we all had a demonstration of was the bygone genre Variety (a word now wholly disdained by know-nothings and dolts, second only to the tragic misappropriation of the term "liberal" by tiny-penised, right wing racists). They hilariously skewered the entertainment culture and themselves in it, holding a mirror up to the audience in a way that a corporate-driven product cannot, being itself devoid of that creative element that the corporate mentality deems as insignificant: it gets in the way of profit.

And to that end, the virtuosity of the hosts and the resultant joy speaks to a deeper issue: the necessity of art in a consumption obsessed world.

Without art and the expertise of artisans, craftspersons and performers of all stripes in all areas, all devoted to art's proficiency and ubiquity, the world -- as we see every day when we turn on our various screens -- is cold, violent and downright stupid.

It's not a stretch to go from celebrating B&M's Oscar eve antics to decrying the absence of art and specialization in our soulless consumer culture. When you have reminders right in front of you to aid in the comparison (the Health Care summit comes to mind, with an informed, articulate, dynamic president sitting alongside an embittered, malevolent cadre of right-wing sellouts), it's easy.

Just the way Martin and Baldwin (or Baldwin and Martin) made it look on Oscar night.