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Hell hath no fury?

March 8, 2010
The 82nd annual Academy Awards presentation was last night, and if you didn’t know it then I’m sure your friends on Twitter were happy to let you know.  I very nearly missed them, as I live in the area affected by the spat between Cablevision and ABC7, in which ABC7 temporarily took its feed off the air and both sides expected consumers to sympathize over an issue that came down to a company being paid 240 million dollars as opposed to the mere pittance of 200 million.  However, they made up in enough time that I was able to catch part of Christoph Waltz’s acceptance speech, but not soon enough that I was able to see the opening joke routine and some sort of musical number by the verging near overexposed Neil Patrick Harris.  If you ask me, that’s actually pretty great timing.

Anyhow, it was its usual overlong, masturbatory, gloriously tacky spectacle, with the standard reminders of how worthless human life would be without the miracle of film, a message that is somewhat muted when the broadcast breaks for commercials for Hot Tub Time Machine, The Bounty Hunter and She’s Out of My League.  All of the acting awards were given to the exact people predicted for weeks, with the predicted grumbling over whether or not Sandra Bullock “deserved” to win (see my post on Taylor Swift sweeping the Grammys as to why it’s pointless to continue complaining about such a thing).  The only real surprise came at the end of the night, when The Hurt Locker, a little seen, grittily realistic film about a military bomb squad in Iraq triumphed over the giant blue juggernaut known as Avatar for both Best Director and Best Picture.  In winning Best Director, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to earn such a recognition in Oscar history.  Yeah, I know, I was genuinely surprised that it took this long too.

I haven’t seen The Hurt Locker.  I understand it’s a good movie though, so I will at some point.  I also haven’t seen Avatar.  I understand it’s not a particularly good movie, but spectacular looking, so I’ll see that at some point too, once people stop thinking that the future of movies being that of computer animation replacing actual actors is a good thing.  To be perfectly honest, I was rooting for Inglourious Basterds to win, even though I knew it wouldn’t.  However, I’ve been amused by this manufactured “rivalry” between Bigelow and Avatar director James Cameron, who, as you probably know by now, were married at one point, for barely two years nearly two decades ago.  Bigelow has since kept her personal life on the down low, while Cameron has married two more times, but to read around the internet her Oscar wins last night weren’t just historical, but sweet revenge she’s been patiently waiting on for years.

I grimaced a bit when, after picking up the award for Best Director, Bigelow was played off the stage by an orchestral rendition of ‘I Am Woman,’ a song that has become a parody of feminist values, if it was ever taken seriously in the first place.  I suppose it could have been worse, though: it could have been ‘Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves’ or ‘We Are Family.’  What made me grimace more, however, were all the Tweets and blogs claiming that Bigelow’s success was a “win for ex-wives everywhere,” and how delightful it was that she was finally “getting back at” the ex who did her wrong.  It became a real-life chick lit novel or romantic comedy.

Bigelow’s win wasn’t for “ex-wives everywhere,” it was a win for her.  How minimizing of her success for us “feminists” to assume that Bigelow wouldn’t view it as the culmination of over twenty years in the business as a respected if not overlooked filmmaker, but as the opportunity to approach James Cameron in the audience, shove her two Oscars towards him and yell out “In your face, you louse!”, just before forming a high-five line with other famous ex-wives like Jennifer Aniston and Nicole Kidman.  As satisfying as we assume it would be (though Bigelow to my knowledge has never indicated that she holds a grudge against Cameron), it’d be a bit petty and tacky, not to mention a reinforcement of the stereotype of women being vengeful harpies who never let anything go, particularly anything involving men.

Perhaps I speak from a place of privilege, as I am an ex-wife who is on very good terms with my own ex.  If we were up against each other for some kind of award and he won, I’d be cheering the loudest in the audience.  Nevertheless, I get tired of the cliche, too often upheld by women ourselves, that men can just walk away from a relationship without a moment’s glance back, while women stew in our own bitter juices, spending months, even years plotting heinous revenge.  If and when we finally get that revenge, which often involves publicly humiliating the offending ex, it’s considered “empowering,” whereas if the tables were turned it’d be merely “malicious.”

I’ve never much seen the entertainment value in movies like She-Devil and The First Wives’ Club, in which the ostensible heroines resort to underhanded, dishonest, occasionally bordering on psychotic tactics to get back at their hapless exes, often for little more than just being insensitive jerks, which we all are on occasion.  In the end they end up as obnoxious and unlikable as their foes, but we’re supposed to be rooting for them anyway.  Magazines like Cosmopolitan occasionally make cutesy suggestions on how to strike back at former flames, such as showing up at places they’re going to be and flirting with other men.  Instead of moving on and being done with people who really weren’t worth our time anyway, we’re encouraged in the most strident “you go, girl!” manner possible to make them pay for what they’ve done, over and over again, even if the punishment eventually outweighs the crime.

I’m sure James Cameron is an insufferable person to live with.  He’s an egotistical blowhard, which is par for the course for most filmmakers, particularly those who refer to themselves as “visionaries.”  If memory serves, he left Bigelow for Linda Hamilton, whom he later left for his current wife, actress Suzy Amis.  That wasn’t a very nice thing to do.  Regardless, it’s rather ludicrous and more than a bit insulting to Kathryn Bigelow to imply that she and Cameron being nominated for the same award in the same year is anything more than an amusing coincidence.  I’m not glad that he lost because he’s apparently a lousy husband, I’m glad because he’s an egotistical blowhard, and because, contrary to popular opinion, “it made a lot of money” still does not always equate “it was an Oscar-caliber movie.”  Let’s give Kathryn Bigelow some credit for being the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Director, rather than just one more woman sticking it to another heel.
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