Teachers and Oscars

When I was a young actor, I used to fantasize about winning a Tony or an Oscar. I’m guessing most young actors have done this. In my acceptance speeches, I always thanked my teachers. Sometimes I would choose one, but most of the time I included my 4th grade teacher Mr. Hoekema who picked me to narrate the Christmas Play for Dutch Day at the Chicago Museum of Natural History. Also Mr. Meyer who cast me as Helen Keller my first year of high school when I didn’t even know what a play was. My undergrad drama teacher, Mrs. Boeve, was probably the biggest influence on my life. Her slides of her travels all over the world fed my imagination and my curiosity to see the world and find out about other people. Her lectures on Kabuki theater would come in handy later with my foray into politics. I became a huge fan of Bertolt Brecht because of her. In grad school it was Dr. Bergwin, Dr. Weisfeld, and Dr. Beaver, the later wooing me away from theater and into film.

So I was especially disappointed at this year’s Oscars. With teachers sleeping in the rotunda in Madison’s state capitol and standing out in the snow and cold on the streets of Wisconsin, not one academy award winner thought to thank their teachers. (Maybe somebody did and I didn’t hear it because I nodded off quite a bit during that show). Last year I heard on the Oscar stage “God bless our troops”. This year I yearned to hear “God bless our teachers”.

I remember fondly when the Oscars were always full of surprises; Streakers running across the stage; Sacheen Little Feather accepting Marlon Brando’s Oscar in order to deliver a political statement on treatment of Native Americans in film and denouncing the siege at Wounded Knee; Vanessa Redgrave speaking on behalf of the Palestinians; and Michael Moore chastising George Bush.

Then there were the outfits like Cher’s 1986 Bob Mackie with that huge feather headdress, Bjork’s dead swan dress, and the South Park guys dressed in drag, to name a few.

There were also wonderful speeches by winners. Tom Hanks who won for his role in “Philadelphia” gave a moving tribute to all those who had died of AIDS. Russell Crowe gave tribute to his grandfather, his uncle, and “one bloke” Ridley Scott. He paid tribute to his “childhood imaginings” that allowed a suburban kid to dream of such a moment as winning an Oscar.

But most of the winners this year seemed strangely subdued excepting, of course, Melissa Leo’s “f” bomb. Gone for years has been any sense of anarchy. But now emotion and a sense of being part of a family or part of a history seems to be seeping away too. Has Hollywood, like the U.S., become a place of oligarchs and those who serve them so much so that no one even dare be “different” or “inappropriate”? Has everything just gotten too big? TBTF? Or did it all start getting phonier with the advent of “the Red Carpet”? When did an industry award event become more about fashion than film?

Don’t get me wrong, there were wonderful films this year so that is something to celebrate including the foreign films that I have yet to see. Pictures like “The Fighter” and “Winter’s Bone” depict American lives that many of us know little about. And, quite frankly, “Social Network”‘s elite world is something fewer and fewer Americans will ever get to enter or even dream about. There was some great story telling this year including the intriguing and difficult “Inception” which also painted a dark view of the greedy and corrupt culture that has infested our lives.

Yes, I know The Oscars are mostly about marketing films, but it used to have a little more heart. I wish I had thought about thanking teachers before the Oscars and had posted that on Melissa Leo’s Facebook page ( if she had one) because she would be the first winner of the major categories and then maybe a tsunami of thanks to teachers would have occurred. Thanking teachers would have been deliciously subversive without every mentioning the awful “u” word– “union”. Darn. But maybe somebody will read this with a bigger viewership than mine and start thanking teachers whenever they appear on the TV or radio. Maybe we can start that tsunami with a little ripple here and there. Thank a teacher today.