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Step forward, Hollywood's prize twerps
February 28, 2004

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributed to Times Newspapers Limited -
The Times (London)

A CONTROVERSIAL figure in the United States is impacting on the upcoming 76th Annual Academy Awards in a big way. No, it's not President George W. Bush, although Tinseltown's hatred of the American leader is growing faster that the nuptial lines at San Francisco courthouses.

The individual who's packing the academy-size wallop is boob-tube's current queen of obscene, Janet Jackson. Ms Jackson's booby prizewinning performance has provoked an investigation by the US Federal Communications Commission concerning enforcement of broadcast decency laws.

Apparently, the Super Bowl surprise of Jacko's kid sister is also provoking Oscar execs to come up with some precautionary golden rules. One new directive involves a five-second delay that the American Broadcasting Company intends to use to shield viewers from objectionable content.

As news of ABC's control measure has spread, industry folks have voiced concerns that it might be used to zip political lip. In fact, the Oscar telecast producer Joe Roth was recently asked by reporters whether the delay button would be activated for political rhetoric. Roth responded: "No, it applies to the use of profanity." This means the political fur will be allowed to fly. But if it does, Roth may end up snagging an award of his own for My Big Fat Oscar Blunder. The guy may not realise it, but he's opened wide the door for an activity that tarnishes Tinseltown's conspicuous evening of self-congratulation -the practice of blowtorching your political opposition.

Hollywood's world view has reached partisan proportions that rival Michael Moore's waistband. These days Hollywood for the most part thinks it can tout brotherly love while simultaneously practising the low art of character kung fu. And several of this year's nominees and presenters have displayed a propensity to use their celebrity platform to hawk politically correct wares.

For example, included in the Best Actor category for his Pirates of the Caribbean performance, we have the politically daft Johnny Depp. Not so long ago Depp took a pummeling for his sword swipe at the US. With the stiff competition at the awards show, perhaps the lefty swashbuckler won't get the opportunity to spout off.

Three nominees who are likely to pontificate from the podium should they win are The Cooler's Alec Baldwin and Mystic River's Tim Robbins and Sean Penn. Baldwin is considered a long shot for Best Supporting Actor, but both Penn and Robbins are favoured to win in their respective Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor categories.

Some Left Coasters have suggested that Robbins and Penn might garner votes from academy members who would appreciate seeing a Bush whack or two during acceptance speeches. Robbins has already picked up a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award for his Mystic River performance. He used the opportunity of his win to call for a halt to the film production flight that's been occurring in the States.

Robbins made no mention of California's pre-Terminator business-loathing policies that forced studios to seek other venues.

Susan Sarandon, Robbins's wife, is slated to be a presenter at the big event. Last year's awards presentation was subdued because of the impending launch of the war in Iraq. The couple confined their political expression to the flashing of matching peace signs. It's anyone's guess what Sarandon will do this time around, but since she's hopelessly unrestrained when it comes to dispensing superficial foreign policy advice, be on the lookout for some Kofi talk.

One question that has emerged recently is whether or not the paparazzi pounding pacifist Sean Penn will show up on Oscar night. Some worry that, in his endless search for truth, the Baathist party's pin-up might make a third pilgrimage to Baghdad. Penn actually skipped the awards show the past three times he was nominated. Supposedly, walking up the red carpet is a bit too embarrassing for him. But somebody may have encouraged Penn to try to soften his image. He attended the Directors Guild of America Awards and the academy nominee luncheon with his mother. Having Mama escort him once again should he grace the Oscars sounds like a great idea.

Come to think of it, a motherly presence at every Academy Award attendee's side should be mandatory. After all, Mum outdoes a 5-second delay any day.

James Hirsen is author of Tales From the Left Coast: True Stories of Hollywood Stars and Their Outrageous Politics

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Times Newspapers Limited - The Times (London)