It’s no secret that a lot of people thought this year’s Oscars were a mess for a number of reasons: Seth MacFarlane being about as funny as a satchel of wet kittens (read: not funny at all) and probably a little sexist; too many nominees for Best Picture, which made things a clusterfuck, especially considering the nomination montages that got randomly inserted everywhere; most of the dresses being ugly and not risky enough. The list can go on and on, and while I see value in each of these critiques, particularly ones focused on fashion, they don’t bother me as much as one other issue, which grates on my soul in ways I can’t even begin to explain through text (but clearly I’m going to try). That issue being Best Actress winner Jennifer Lawrence and her post-ceremony press interview that was interrupted by screen legend/current crypt keeper Jack Nicholson.
For those of you who have been in media blackout mode, I’ll fill you in: Jennifer Lawrence was doing a mediocre and not really special post-win interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, when all of a sudden like the over privileged and rich old white dude he is, Nicholson suddenly jumped on the platform the two were on to congratulate Lawrence on both her physical beauty and performance in Silver Linings Playbook. Obviously Nicholson was a dick – a well meaning one, but a dick nonetheless. Interrupting the hot young starlet of the day to compliment her on her performance during a major press appearance is not the classiest move in the world, but something about Lawrence’s reaction to this really bothered me. Maybe it was her arrogant snickering when she told him he was being rude. Maybe it was her clearly uncoached and “down to earth” method of interviewing that everyone else in the world seems to love (except me). Maybe it was Nicholson’s reduction to a joke by someone who just showed up on the scene and totally has yet to earn her street cred as being continuously excellent in something other than the fucking The Hunger Games (ok, Winter’s Bone was really good, I just really hate the culture around the former). Remember Jennifer, Jack won one of those very same statues that you have in front of you prior to you even being born. When Frank Costello takes time out of his busy post ceremony schedule to tell you that you are talented even if its at an awkward time, its a pretty awesome day.
Various critics have treated this as a Taylor Swift/Kanye moment; you know, where a belligerent Kanye hurled himself onto stage at the VMAs to tell Swift that Beyonce deserved the award she had in her hands. Nicholson didn’t jump into the interview to tell Lawrence that he thought Sally Field deserved that Oscar. He probably didn’t even realize the interview was actually being filmed because not only is he old and eccentric (like we all know), shit backstage was probably straight up nightmarishly crowded, so cut the guy a break. I mean, perhaps I’m just bowing to some weird “respect your elders” mentality, but I don’t think so. I think I am responding to the gender dynamics of the situation. Nicholson, as an older man, has had the opportunities for a lot of breaks, respect, and authority when it comes to his craft, and the antics we tolerate from him.
Lawrence, on the other hand, as a conventionally attractive younger female actress has to claw her way through all the Scarlett Johanssons, Michelle Williamses, and Natalie Portmans to get noticed as a serious actress and not some dispensable momentary “it” girl – and Lawrence plays into this stereotype to a haunting degree. She takes great lengths to appear normal, approachable, and as the girl next door who just happens to now have an Oscar.
I can’t decide which bothers me more; Nicholson’s male privilege or Lawrence’s ridiculous performance of feminine embarrassment, shame, and bewilderment at his complimenting of her. You’d think I’d be on the side of the young Hollywood actress, but here the lines are totally blurred. In my opinion, to act the way Lawrence did is not the feminist feat like the media wants it to be. If she had told him to fuck off (literally) it would have been a subversive moment because she would have risked her brand and broken the linguistic rules of being a woman in the public eye. She would have had to look tough and assertive, which people tend to not like in their young Hollywood actresses (Don’t believe me? Try to name a young Hollywood actress who is actually aggressive rather than submissive. None).
Here she just giggled and acted like we would all expect her to. The Oscar winning actress just gave another award winning performance, but this time of gender and its social rules. It’s moments like this where I can really see how gendered dynamics between men and women have a long way to go, particularly when it comes to young pretty women standing up to older dudes. You can tell she was shocked and startled from her win in general, which undoubtedly influenced her reaction to the Nicholson incident, but I think it goes beyond that. I think it speaks to a deeper societal problem that forces women to resist forceful language. In women’s studies we like to say that “men act and women react,” and that is EXACTLY what happened here. I would have liked to see Lawrence act instead of react.
Maybe that’s why I’m so disappointed. I don’t know why. Maybe it was all the press I read before actually watching the clip in question that had me thinking I was going to have another Ashley Judd on my hands (Judd is one of the most outspoken actresses in Hollywood). Maybe my expectations are too high for media, but if Lawrence had graciously thanked Nicholson and acknowledged her debt to him as a new member of Hollywood instead of making fun of him once he walked away, I would have been totally fine, that’s agency and confidence, not trying to look cute in the face of awkwardness. If there is anything women should aim for, it’s not cute. Cute is an adjective people use when they can’t think of anything better. This young woman just played one of the toughest female characters in contemporary literature; you’d think she’d have learned something from her alter-ego.
I know I’m being really harsh, but whatever; 2013′s Oscars were a gender circus, with this moment being in one of three rings – and all the dresses WERE ugly. Except Adele’s. She looked perfect as always.