Those Parochial Golden Globes

One commonly assumes that movies and television shows that win industry awards are therefore the best movies and television shows, the apex of artistic achievement. With the new year approaching, the awards buzz starts again. The unveiling of this year’s Golden Globe nominations underscores that in some instances the “best” are being saluted. In others, Hollywood is celebrating its own sense of enlightened outrageousness.

In one sense, the Golden Globe Awards are a bit of a (bad) joke. How many people know the Golden Globes are a tiny operation run by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which consists of only 83 voting members, all heavily lobbied by studio brass? It’s better to think of the nomination process not as a measurement of art but as the Hollywood equivalent of a high-school popularity contest. And just like high school, the trendy, naughty stuff that shows a little skin and talks with a little titillation is more likely to prevail in any judgment of “art.”

For TV, the drama-series picks were Fox’s “24,” ABC’s “Lost,” FX’s “Nip/Tuck,” and HBO’s “The Sopranos” and “Deadwood.” If this is the very “best” in television, the Golden Globes underscore the miserable condition of the entertainment industry today.

Hollywood judging panels always bow and scrape toward HBO, hailed as the courageous envelope-shredding pioneer of pay cable, even as “The Sopranos” vanishes and the dark, depressing Western drama “Deadwood” features a “realistic” though perfunctory f-word every 30 seconds. At least those shows have some production values and some vague sense of good and evil. You cannot say that “Nip/Tuck” has either of these. In fact, you can never say too much about how ridiculously offensive it is. Its long-running subplot about the female “life coach” sleeping with the 14-year-old boy (and her own teenage son, too) culminates with the revelation that “she” was really a transsexual. It’s this kind of plotting genius that is so appealing to the Golden Globes crowd.

The comedy nominees were Fox’s “Arrested Development,” ABC’s “Desperate Housewives,” NBC’s “Will & Grace,” and HBO’s “Sex and the City” and “Entourage.” Once again, these nominees all share one thing in common: They are also dark and disturbing, even when the humor is attached.

For example, one plot on “Will & Grace” this fall featured Grace joining Alcoholics Anonymous for the free food, even though she’s not an alcoholic. If that’s not cynical enough, Grace then jokes that she wants a beer because “Michelle was talking about having a cold frosty one before the state took away her kids.” The laugh track ran a large guffaw at this “hilarious” joke about a family being destroyed by alcoholism; it’s “thumbs-up” stuff for the Golden Globes.

Then there are the movie categories. One thing you can no longer say about the Golden Globes is that they’re not a reliable indicator of who will win the Oscars. In early 2004, the Oscar winners and the Golden Globe winners were exactly the same in the major categories. Charlize Theron and Sean Penn in lead roles, check. Renee Zellweger and Tim Robbins in supporting roles, check. Lord of the Rings, best picture, director, and even best song and score, check.

It follows, then, that if the Golden Globes ignore a film, so will Oscar.

This may be why Mel Gibson decided to forgo wasting his money on trying to get award consideration for his massive hit The Passion of the Christ. Not only was the Gibson film snubbed from Golden Globe nominations in every category; the exclusion was excluded from multiple news reports. There was no mention of the Passion snub in the Associated Press story, the Hollywood Reporter, The New York Times or The Washington Post.

While the Golden Globe movie picks aren’t as universally dark as the TV nods, it’s not surprising that the libertine left (or is it the libertarian right?) in Hollywood did find characters worth honoring with Golden Globe nominations. Nods of approval went to the sophisticated sexologist Kinsey and the abortionist title character of Vera Drake. These figures make better Hollywood heroes than the suffering but certain Jesus of Gibson’s vision, a Jesus so unlike the confused horny-hippie Jesus of Martin Scorsese in The Last Temptation of Christ.

The Golden Globe may desire the cachet of being a global honor, but nothing is further from the truth. These awards are only parochial, with everyone involved in the festivities reflecting only the twisted values that rule in the 90210 zip code. It’s comforting to know that over time, what the rest of America holds dear in their hearts will be remembered, and a lot of today’s pointless sleaze, which the Golden Globes is honoring, will be forgotten.