Governance awards: The ‘Oscar’ goes to...

Friday, 4 March 2016 00:05 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

6 tuj


Some things change. Some things don’t. Sometimes, the more things change the more they stay the same. Plus ҫa change. Plus c’est la même chose.

The 88th Annual Academy Awards, 2016 – more colloquially ^The Oscars ’16^ – are proof of this multifaceted hypothesis. Some things change: after six nominations, Hollywood golden lad Leonardo DiCaprio (#What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, #Titanic, #The Wolf Of Wall Street) finally bagged an Oscar. Some things don’t: in an entertainment industry that is demonstrably multiethnic, multicultural, multitalented, the nominations this year were exclusively white, mainly Anglo-Saxon, and more tellingly Caucasian. Sometimes, the more things change the more they stay the same: a point that the Oscars ’16 host, Chris Rock, made in his wickedly wisecracking opening monologue majoring on black actors being shut out.

“I’m here at the Academy Awards – otherwise known as the White People’s Choice Awards.” “If they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even get this job!” “No black nominees...” “This has happened at least 71 other times!!” “In the ’50s, in the ’60s, black people did not protest – why? We had real things to protest at the time... we were too busy being raped or lynched to care too much about who won Best Cinematographer!” “When your grandmother’s swinging from a tree, it’s really hard to care who won Best Documentary Foreign Short!” 

Maybe it’s too much, and in bad taste (or so say the white traditionalists who fear change). Maybe it’s too little, and not outspoken enough (riposte the black radicals who require more immediate rectification). But maybe it was just the right mix of comedic savvy and timing. And biting satire aimed at challenging and changing the status quo in Hollywood. 

Maybe adversarial journalism contra Sri Lankan politics is beginning to betray the emergence of a similar pattern. Some things change: the media as much as the man in the street can now criticise the Government without having +alternative transport arrangements+ made for them. Some things don’t: the mandarins among the powers that be get cheesed off and downright shirty all the same when they are mentioned. Sometimes, the more things change the more they remain the same: we carp and cavil something fierce, but the caravan moves on ignoring the barking dogs.

So, you’ll forgive the stalwarts of the Fourth Estate who believe in critical engagement with the Government of the day – no matter which it is: a hugely oppressively corrupt regime or a slightly crooked democratic-republican coalition – being fed up to the back teeth with administrative apathy on certain fronts. The more things seem to change, the more surely some of the perennial aspects of governance – good, bad, or ugly – remain the same...

Friends of the powers that be prosper by design. Favourites are let off the hook, or let down gently by default. Foes are persecuted, or prosecuted, or both... is it Academy Awards or Administrative Affairs that come to mind? (Of course, some foes are enemies of the state, too, by dint of defraud. Of course, the state of enmity between its foes and its friends is no virtue by which we might exonerate the Government for its investigative vigour.)

And of course, some things change. And some things have changed so much for the better that the powers that be presently deserve more than a belated Oscar for their performance in such a short time of being under a critical lens of observation by the voting public. They have set the governance standard high (maybe too high); gone the extra mile (but not quite the first) not to interfere in the proper running of the republic as far as law and order are concerned; shown due care that the letter (but perhaps not the free spirit) of the prosecution process for even the more egregious alleged crimes is observed. 

And only the most disparaging critics would deny them the laurels they deserve or heap contumely on them for seemingly playing the same mug’s game as the previous regime. At least in terms of pursuing what could be interpreted as punitive investigations and fast-tracking selected prosecutions as political payback. With that said, there is still sufficient goodwill towards Good Governance – warts and all – for the citizenry in general and civil society in particular to support the present trend. 

We who recall the egregiousness of the abductions and torture and murder (cf. Chris Rock’s Oscar-monologue “rapes and lynching”) of dissenters and dissidents in broad daylight – under the watch-less gaze of the then eyeless law and order machine –want our ‘Leos’ to win their ‘Oscars’ soon. A regime that once acted with impunity seems set to reap the dividends of its arrogance soon enough. However, what would make the matter far more convincing as seen through a hermeneutic of suspicion is if all the other usual suspects – now stalwarts of this republican coalition – are also subject to the scrutiny of the sterling FCID and other instruments of fiscal and fiduciary governance-in-retrospect. 

So, Leo won his Oscar spurs after a very long wait. But star-watchers will remember these Academy Awards for being the Oscars with the *absence of black actors being nominated* issue being brought out into the spotlight. Chris Rock’s facetious but satirical suggestion was to have exclusively black categories! His sly wry take that this was the only way for African-Americans to shine in the Academy Awards limelight was well taken by a largely white audience.

To draw a somewhat laboured parallel with Sri Lankan politics, at home, our own ‘Leos’ seem to be more keen now more than ever to win their law and order spurs. Star-gazers and gazing>into>the>distance ex-stars in our political firmament are seeing the writing across the expanse of the sky. Such that their political future seems dim. Despite being desperate to retain their mind- and heart-share of the voting populace’s affections, it now looks like the only way to be lovingly remembered by an ingrate people is as the once mighty ones who had a great fall? 

In an appreciative audience for these antics – composed largely of rich conservatives, staid establishmentarians, and loyalist traditionalists (AKA ‘toiyyas’) – it is ironic that the long arm of the law could still reach out to collar THEM also... if Government is truly sincere about its principled stand – and would let Good Governance run its full and furious course. Rather than simply sit back and permit selective prosecutions to take place and pass it off as happenstance. 

NICE (the naive view): The wheels of justice grind slowly but surely.

NECESSARY (a pragmatic perspective): Government greased the wheels.

NAUGHTY (cynical mindset standpoint): Government can’t afford to get caught with its hand on the grease can. So it has let law and order take a natural course.

NASTY (subversive lens optics): Government can’t afford to let law and order take its natural course. So it is greasing the wheels to make justice skid in its direction; while stymieing the party-political ambitions of erstwhile lawbreakers now looking set to return to political-party activity along disastrously racist lines.

At the end of his Oscars ’16 diatribe, the other pertinent question that Chris Rock pressed on his captive audience was this: “Is Hollywood racist?” In response, he suggested that there are at least two basic ways in which it could be, but wasn’t:

n#Burning Crosses racist – i.e., not violently out to get blacks in a Ku Klux Klannish mien

n#Fetch Me A Lemonade racist – i.e., not paternalistic in a slave-ownerish mode

But Chris Rock was convinced that the sorry paucity of black nominees at the Academy Awards this year could be attributed to what he termed Hollywood’s #Sorority Racism. “We LIKE you, [insert name of black actor]! But you’re NOT KAPPA [viz., you don’t quite make the grade that’s a prerequisite for an Oscar!]” And the host ended with this demand – or plea... “We want opportunity! We want the black actors to get the same opportunities – and not just once...” – And he went on to cite how white [Caucasian, but not necessarily Anglo-Saxon] actors like Leonardo DiCaprio “get at least one good role every year”.

Now if you’ve been reading thus far with an eye on the tongue>in>cheek elements these parallels present, you’ll suspect that yours truly can’t resist an opportunity to push the parabolic envelope.

Here goes.

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM (the majority view/half of all voters thinking like this, arguably): The ‘black lions’ – resurrecting strongmen of a former regime – are blatantly racist. But they won the war. And they know how to get things done. Let’s give them another chance. That’s what they hope for by forming a new party. 

DEVIL’S ADVOCATE (a minority mindset/maybe limited to readers of Daily FT and likeminded newspapers): The ‘Leos’ – desiring to ‘go for gold’ through constitutional reforms – are worthy to be supported at all costs. They’ve waited a long time to ‘win an Oscar’ – and if and when a racist milieu resurges into power, they might not ‘be nominated’, much less ‘win’ in their own right. Let’s tolerate the hitches and glitches in what could, no doubt, have been #Better Governance – only to give #A New Society and #A New Political Culture (both to be effected through constitutional reforms) a fair and fighting chance. That’s what they – and their apologists – would argue, at any rate. It’s a win-win ‘Oscar’. It’s cinematic realpolitik.

How’s that for a stellar performance, by the powers that be? Better than DiCaprio’s in ~The Revenant, brutalised by a beastly bear! Star-struck as we are, let’s hold on to that Oscar for our own version of Hollywood’s ‘Leos’ a tad longer – at least until those racist ‘lions’ (very like that bear), threatening to resurrect the spectre of a chauvinistic Sri Lanka, are well and truly under lock and key. Only then, perhaps, can all art- and life-loving citizenry applaud liberty safely once again. 

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