Occupy the Golden Globes

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“Of course the Golden Globes are about the awards, but let's face it: You really want to see who wore what.” This is one of the headlines from aol.com’s coverage of the Golden Globe awards. But no, actually: I didn’t really want to see who wore what. This annual cakewalk down the red carpet is obvious enough and does not require the peep-show promises leading up to the event to tempt viewers to watch. The event offers designers and fashion houses a chance for display that is no different than the ubiquitous celebrity photo-op backdrops plastered in corporate logos. I didn’t need to see what these human mannequins were actually wearing to know that. What I did want to see was some sort of political demonstration, an Occupy the Golden Globes to match the Occupy the Rose Parade protest of a few weeks ago. But I didn’t see that. I did see, after an online search using the phrase “Occupy the Golden Globes,” that it occurred to a few other people that such a demonstration would have been an appropriate juxtaposition to the parade of designer dresses, each worth more than an average annual American income (not to mention the jewelry displays). But I didn’t see a demonstration, and therein lies the significance of the Golden Globe awards (or the Oscars, or the Grammys, and so on). Because if you want to find a good chunk of the top 1 percent, you needn’t look any further than into the charmed lives of the stars of what I call the sports-and-entertainment-postindustrial-complex.  But somehow, this cohort of the American upper class enjoys an immunity from popular resentment. Why? First, the indemnification of entertainment stars in times of economic distress is not new. After all, the Golden Age of Hollywood took place during the Great Depression, and then, as now, Americans took to the movie theaters and sports stadiums to seek distraction from the painful realities of everyday life. It’s also useful to point out that Nathanael West’s novelistic prediction in The Day of the Locust that the masses would someday violently turn on the entertainment industry in disillusioned rage never came to pass. No, Americans will scapegoat anyone but entertainers. One explanation for this puzzling phenomenon could lie in that foundational American mythology we call the American Dream. After all, most members of the entertainment pantheon come from modest origins, having been flung practically overnight into the stratosphere of wealth, privilege, and fame. But then, this could also be the case for the corporate portion of the 1 percent as well, so while the American Dream factor cannot be dismissed, it isn’t a sufficient explanation. The key to the matter, I think, lies in fantasy. From the red carpet to the end zone, the silver screen to Netflix, Americans vicariously fantasize that they can be a part of the dazzling world of the entertainer. Advertising, of course, explicitly encourages such fantasies, as does reality television. In the midst of such fantasies, the appalling fact that about a third of the American middle class is on the ropes and going down, is conveniently swept under the (red) carpet. Of course, America’s financial institutions, which are the target of the Occupy movement’s protests, encouraged the American tendency to fantasize as well, promising mortgage and home equity line borrowers alike that housing values could only go up. So now that that particular fantasy has shattered and the lenders are coming for their collateral, bankers are a natural, and appropriate, object of resentment. But it is the proclivity to prefer the fantasy to the reality that is the underlying culprit, and, refusing to give up their fantasies, Americans stick staunchly to their entertainers, whose march down the red carpet is the greatest fantasy of all.
About the Author
Jack Solomon is Professor Emeritus of English at California State University, Northridge, where he taught literature, critical theory and history, and popular cultural semiotics, and directed the Office of Academic Assessment and Program Review. He is often interviewed by the California media for analysis of current events and trends. He is co-author, with the late Sonia Maasik, of Signs of Life in the U.S.A.: Readings on Popular Culture for Writers, and California Dreams and Realities: Readings for Critical Thinkers and Writers, and is also the author of The Signs of Our Time, an introductory text to popular cultural semiotics, and Discourse and Reference in the Nuclear Age, a critique of poststructural semiotics that proposes an alternative semiotic paradigm.