There are few things I detest more than celebrity culture. But, in stark contrast and wrapped in hypocrisy, I love the Golden Globes. Not that long ago, just after my now wife and I had become friends, we were taking a nice walk on a beautiful spring day in Montreal, headed out for some breakfast to try and get to know each other better. I was tipping shy that day, a bit in awe of her beauty—a beauty that I refuse to describe analogously through comparisons to indie songstresses or pixied actresses—and was kind of fumbling through early friendship questions. What are you reading? I dunno… not much—Saunders. What bands are you in to? Uh, Silver Jews. Do you like stuff? Hmm. Mostly just things. My responses provided no insight, revealed no interesting character beneath my Bon Iver beard and unwashed aesthetic. I was losing her. But then, in a flash of inspiration, and out of nowhere, I uttered: All I really want out of life is someone to watch the Golden Globes with. And a love was born.
What was important in this transcendental moment was that I didn’t profess my desire to have someone to watch TV with. That would’ve been too simple and lacking of perceptive interiority. And I didn’t claim a longing for the Oscars or the Grammys or the People’s Choice Awards. Affection for those ceremonies offers suggestions of alternate character: Glamour and elitism, fondness for trite song writing, celebration of the pedestrian. The Golden Globes suggest an understanding of culture, but also a devotion to the playful, a love of honesty, a tenderness towards organized chaos, and respect for accomplishment and an open bar. In an inspired moment I revealed myself to someone who is three leagues beyond me, and perhaps endeared myself to her.
What I love most about the Golden Globes is the way they reflect the time in which they exist unlike other forms of pageantry and celebrity. The Oscars always seem dated, with safe jokes and anachronistic musical productions. The Grammys don’t seem to understand that music exists outside of Top 40 radio, which further exposes the insulation and ignorance of celebrity culture. The Emmys try to get it right, but then celebrate The Big Bang Theory and Jon Cryer as comedy, and not in a meta way. The Golden Globes—perhaps organically, perhaps by design—communicate a moment in our culture, a snapshot of where we are as a people.
Case in point: The ignorant and transphobic jokes at the expense of Caitlyn Jenner, Transparent and its exceptional star Jeffrey Tambor. Of Jenner, host Ricky Gervais quipped: “I’ve changed. Well, not as much as Bruce Jenner, obviously—now Caitlyn Jenner, of course. What a year she’s had. She became a role model for transpeople everywhere, showing great bravery in breaking down barriers and destroying stereotypes. She didn’t do a lot for women drivers, but you can’t do everything.” He then joked about Tambor’s testicles. No only are these punch lines not funny, but they’re unfortunately indicative of where our tolerance is in terms of understanding LGTBQ issues. That it’s still acceptable to use these issues as punch lines shows that we have yet progressed to the level of understanding we need in order to assimilate all people into our culture. It was like Gervais had told a black joke in 1985 or a gay joke in 2005. It reveals the distance between where we are and where we need to be.
Despite Gervais’ failed humor, the Golden Globes provided, as they always do, a forum for the celebrated artists to address larger societal concerns. Transpeople’s issues are important right now, and Transparent, Caitlyn Jenner, and Laverne Cox are important beacons of that conversation. Last night, Leonardo DiCaprio and Alejandro González Iñárritu (after wins for The Revenant) both asked that indigenous people’s issues be more prominent in our cultural and political discourses. In many instances, certainly too many, venues like awards ceremonies are the only place much of the audience would be exposed to issues more relevant than the Kardashians’ meal choices. And while at the Oscars or the Grammys or the Cable Ace Awards such speeches could come across as preaching, the laid-back and jovial manner of the Golden Globes seems to make political messages more palatable to the audience.
Beyond societal concerns, the Golden Globes provide a place to reflect upon the condition of the mediums of film and TV, and the roles they play in cultural discourse. Last night, Gervais recycled jokes from previous eras and hosting efforts, mocking Charlie Sheen’s addictions, Angelina Jolie Pitt’s adoptions, and Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitism. And while not being funny, they did illuminate and illustrate where we seem to be as a culture artistically, certainly in film and television: We seem to be out of ideas. Now is a time of recycling and rebooting; from Star Wars to The Muppets to old white men in late night film and TV, we seem to be plagued (except in some exceptional cases) with an inability or unwillingness or fear to be ambitious or innovative. The Golden Globes were a reflection of this, from Gervais’ jokes to Sylvester Stallone’s Best Supporting Actor win for Creed to the endless close-ups on Harrison Ford. Even the appearance of BFFs Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Schumer seemed rebooted, like a joke we’ve seen before: this time, the punch line didn’t hit.
The funniest part of the production, and further reflection of the disparity between society and the entertainment we’re fed, was the excessive bleeping of cursing. How is it possible, in an era of unconscionable violence both in art and reality, that expletives can be deemed so dangerous? This is indicative of the flawed manner in which we address issues in society. Swearing in a Versace gown is unacceptable, but the 2nd Amendment is important. Expletives are dangerous but Donald Trump isn’t. The Golden Globes, through the flaw of their network oversight, illuminate this hypocrisy. Perhaps futilely, but at least its there. Nary a celeb would dare drop an F-bomb on the Oscars, even while drone bombing plays live on other channels.
In a more positive light, what I do love about the Golden Globes is the honesty it seems to project, in stark contrast to the polished and tapered product of celebrity we are fed by Entertainment Tonight, People Magazine, and publicist-driven narratives. Other awards ceremonies revel in that culture of disingenuous production, but the Golden Globes celebrate its absence. Everyone has had a few cocktails. Lips are loose. Mistakes are made. There are always a few moments of truth that we don’t often get from the Hollywood machine. Rachel Bloom’s exuberance in her upset win as Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy TV Series, Denzel Washington and his wife without their glasses stumbling through his acceptance speech for his Cecil B. DeMille Award, Jamie Foxx’s noting the absence of recognition (at least musically) for Straight Outta Compton and his love for his daughter (Miss Golden Globe), and Tom Hanks’ Denzel impression are examples of polished and pampered stars being human. And I find something inherently beautiful about that.
We filter ourselves through celebrity. We quantify our aesthetic through its dissemination. We value our art in contrast to theirs. And their success—family, fame, fortune—is what we aspire to, no matter how impractical those aspirations are. I writhe at the lack of humility and grand ego that encompasses it all—both the celebrity and our obsessive filtering. But, once a year—when it’s at its best—the Golden Globes provide a glimpse of the virtue of celebrity and a reminder that these are simply people at the top of their industry, all dressed up, and out for a night of free champagne.
Mike Spry is a writer, editor, and columnist who has written for The Toronto Star, Maisonneuve, and The Smoking Jacket, among others, and contributes to MTV’s PLAY with AJ. He is the author of the poetry collection JACK (Snare Books, 2008) and Bourbon & Eventide (Invisible Publishing, 2014), the short story collection Distillery Songs (Insomniac Press, 2011), and the co-author of Cheap Throat: The Diary of a Locked-Out Hockey Player (Found Press, 2013). Follow him on Twitter @mdspry.