Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Oscar and The Betty White Factor--Wednesday Journal #2

There is a new Facebook campaign afoot to urge the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to choose Betty White, an Emmy-winning actress in her own right, to host next year's Oscar telecast. 
Although I would do nothing to take work away from Betty White if she wants it, I kind of sense a tone of mockery in this latest campaign.

It seems to be less about White as a talented human being, and more about the Facebook petitioners themselves, and the extent to which they feel they can effect popular culture.  It feels more self-serving than it does like a real tribute to Betty White.  I hope she will politely decline.

She captured our attention, and our hearts, with her good-sport self-ribbing in that Super-Bowl Snickers commercial in which she is soundly tackled on the football field, prompting one player to shout derisively, "You play like Betty White!"   We laughed because White was in on the joke, and we loved her for taking a fall for our amusement, and, it seemed, her own.

Her stint as host of Saturday Night Live last Saturday continued her seeming re-invention as a no-holds-barred, slapstick comedienne, in the same way that Leslie Nielsen and Cloris Leachman had redefined themselves and renewed their careers.  With the help of mostly good material, she was great, and entertained us beyond the initial gimmick of an elderly person being profane and participating in raunchy comedy.  It was a good move for her, entirely appropriate, and endeared her to us even more.

But now, I fear there's the threat of overexposure, of her being used for a cheap and easy laugh, and being forgotten as the talented and established celebrity she has been for so long.  Like Leachman, whose buffoonery on Dancing With the Stars overshadowed what a powerful performer she had been in her heyday (see "The Last Picture Show"), White is in danger of limiting herself.  In fact, "Dancing..." has also made an overture to Betty White, an alarming sign that one's "star" may be dimming.

There is really no reason for Betty White to host the Oscars beyond the ten minutes of novelty and the laughs at her expense.  And, as much as I criticize the Academy and its questionable choices, there are admittedly those who are well-deserving of recognition on Oscar night, and the ceremony should be about them, not the host.  A good host, through wit and timing and graciousness, ultimately makes us care about the honorees. 

A better way for her to participate is as a presenter, maybe of one of those obscure categories (Animated Short Subject?) coming into the show's third hour, to infuse some well-needed warmth and energy into the show by that time. 

Also, if the writing for the show is as bad as it has been for the last several years, as host she will only be embarrassed and subject to unfair ridicule.

Of course, she might be asked to play it straight, and bring some old-fashioned glamor and respectability back to the Oscar broadcast.  But...I suspect that's not at all on the minds of those initiating, and signing, the Facebook petition.

1 comment:

  1. I will say this for her as a host: not only would she bring the funny, not only is she comfortable on stage...but she has a personal connection to a large number of the stars in the audience: Bullock, Clooney, Leachman, Freeman, even Latifah!

    And I do think the majority of people on Facebook genuinely love and respect the great Betty White. I'm 21 and love her, as do most of my peers. And besides: the profile pic is from the Supporting Actress campaign Disney ran for her role in The Proposal.

    The negative: as you say, it would become more about the host than the honorees. And that's not what the Oscars are all about.