For at least a decade and a half, my interest in the Oscars has gone precisely as far as my paycheck; this year, it was in the form of soliciting the oddsmaking opinion of DraftKing’s Director of Race and Sportsbook Operations, Johnny Avello. It was an interesting conversation with a pleasant and knowledgeable gentleman, and Mr. Avello had a prescient observation about Best Actor nominee Will Smith.

“Sometimes,” Mr. Avello said, “you get recognized for your body of work.”

The money was on the Fresh Prince running away with the thing. This was indeed to be a “well, he’s waited long enough” version of the Julie Andrews 1965 Oscar of Revenge. The award was ostensibly presented for her work in Mary Poppins, but was actually a middle finger to the powers that be of My Fair Lady. who brought into the film every single person in the original Broadway cast except for her. Audrey Hepburn got the role instead, but not so much as a nomination for Best Actress. And on Oscar night, Audrey Hepburn is pictured with everyone else from My Fair Lady holding their golden trophies while Audrey holds… Rex Harrison’s arm.

So Will Smith’s Oscar, I wrote last week, was a tribute to his body of work ,a solemn nod to his long, slow ascent from fluorescent baseball hat-wearing rapper to fluorescent baseball hat-wearing sitcom star to action hero to Very Serious Film Person. It’s a rocky trail, one pitted with boulders and sandtraps; few have negotiated it and lived to tell the tale. Tom Hanks made it. Tom Cruise didn’t.

This was Smith’s third nomination; the other two came for his roles in Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness. Sunday night was to serve as the apex of  35-year career that began with the lyrics “You know parents are the same no matter time nor place/They don’t understand that us kids are gonna make some mistakes.“

Just so we’re all grounded in the immensity of that time span, that song, “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” references a car phone as the epitome of a meaningful and glamorous life.

And, in the moment his open palm met host Chris Rock’s face, I did not think, like the rest of the internet, “What just happened?!” but “What compels a man to thrown himself off the mountain he has just summited?”

Will Smith is sunk; I don’t mean that his career is over, or that he will never perform again, or that he cannot possibly move forward from this moment a different and finer man. I mean: He is sunk. He has sunk into an alternate universe of the grotesque from which there is no returning. He either just gets more bizarre from here, or he charts a comeback course that will be eternally measured by two seconds on a Hollywood stage.

The Oscar he held in the air less than half an hour later does not, cannot, change this. The post-industrial population is not a people of “Wait, let’s think about the many facets of this unique human soul who happens to have a body and has charted a singular course through this world of ours.” No. That’s not allowed. Will Smith has now vanished with Doc Brown into another timeline of his own slow making. Maybe he finds his way back to us in double trails of fire. Maybe he doesn’t.

But either way, there’s no pretending this didn’t happen. Particularly for those of us who grew up admiring him, Will Smith has been in our lives so long that his first albums were issued on cassette tapes. He’s had time to think about this. He is an intelligent person. He’s seen the crashing and the burning, both quickly and slowly. He picks his way through the corpses of less cannily steered careers every single day.

There was a controversy not so long ago about whether or not celebrities and sports stars should be regarded role models. Those terms are not the same, you know. My parents and my big sister and my teachers—they are beyond role models. These people kept me alive. They steered me around the alternate timeline. There were no seats for them at the Oscars last night.

And, really, why do we care who did sit at the Academy Awards? Why should we? In 2022, it’s more a question of why we wouldn’t. These people aren’t just larger than life in a theater we visit maybe a couple times a year. They’re in our homes now–and not just the living room, either. Celebrities are in the kitchen. In your bedroom. On the back deck. While you’re driving, at the bar, waiting in the vestibule at church, in the dentist’s waiting room, the little hygienist’s work station where the dentist checks your X-rays, and on a smeared little screen blaring at us from the side of the gas station pump.

Celebrities from every possible field are everywhere, all the time, and, sometimes, if we tap the phone screen in the right sequence at the right time, they’ll even acknowledge our existence.

They’re in our homes. We invite them there. They’re in our lives. We invite them there, too. We know them.

Right? We know them.

This is one of the reasons why the Pete Rose saga cut so deeply and wounds across generations. You think you know a guy. But, really, you don’t—or you didn’t let yourself know what you know you should know.

That is why attachments form so deeply and so true in baseball; the roster might shift and the season doesn’t end correctly, but for half the year these men are in our homes–dropping in and out of the dinner prep, the late-night feeding, the drive to the grocery store. It’s every day. It’s the last thing in on the planet people listen to on the radio.

It is, for a season, a deep and dependable relationship. Baseball games aren’t in a rush and baseball careers last years and years. Even if we don’t chase the player name across the country, the slogan on the front is a bulwark against all things dreadful.

And, in baseball, sometimes you get do indeed get recognized for your body of work. It takes a while for dimensions to develop and re-develop into alternate ones, and we need that to survive a world in which our telephones know what we want at the store before we buy it.

13 Responses

  1. Mark Moore

    Great thoughts once again, MBE. And some very interesting thoughts. I didn’t watch or follow the Academy Awards. I was happy to see the recognition for CODA, but since I don’t have Apple+ I won’t be able to see it anytime soon. As for Will Smith … it was an odd altercation and Chris Rock really shouldn’t have said what he said, but do we expect anything less from him after all we’ve witnessed in the past?

    One “body of work” that springs to mind when thinking about the Oscars was the final awards for the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, mostly bestowed en masse after the 3rd installment.

    As for baseball and our own beloved Joey Votto, we can only hope his body of work will be remembered by those certain voters the same way we fans will remember it. He should get his “statue” from where I sit.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I keep hearing about Ted Lasso. Maybe I should sign up for a free trial the next time I have 48 hours to spare on binging.

      • Joe Shaw

        Ted Lasso gives Ala Alda from MASH a run for his money on the schmatlz from time to time. But … its a GOOD kinda schmaltz! I recommend.

  2. LDS

    Ah, such a traditional view of baseball. Sadly, I think the games will be “faster”. That seems to be the goal, ghost runners, etc. As for Pete Rose? He should still be in the HOF. His body of work demands it. He lacked the natural skills of a Ken Griffey, Jr. but never “phoned it in” on the field. Did he bet on baseball? Yep. Did he ever throw a game to win a bet? Probably not. Was he part of the PED crowd? Nope. He just busted his butt. As for Will Smith and Chris Rock? Well, the slow-motion videos suggest a bit of stagecraft but who knows. Better still? Who cares? Not me.

    • Jimbo44CN

      Right, rich people patting each others butts for 3 hours. Isn’t the money, name recognition and fame enough? Guess not. I do admit I am a patented hater of all the award shows but this one takes the cake.

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        I wrote an article on the history of Oscars hosting once and was surprised to discover that it used to be an extremely solemn occasion, and only recently has comedy come into the picture. Started with Bob Hope. I sincerely doubt anyone ever thought we’d wind up here!

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Josh The Pilot, a high school wrestler, votes for stagecraft.

      • greenmtred

        I didn’t see it until the next day. I don’t give a rat’s behind about awards shows. The problems with the stagecraft theory are that, 1) the stagecraft would have had to include very realistic sound effects and, 2), the point you made in the article: the arc of Smith’s public persona is changed–possibly forever, and probably not for the better.

  3. Scott C

    I pay no attention to the Oscars, so didn’t know about the “slap” until the next day when I saw it on the news. It made me wonder, do you applaud him for standing up for his wife when someone says something as hurtful as Chris Rock did. (I’m all in favor of freedom of speech but it is not funny when someone uses another’s pain as comedy), or do you condemn him for not being able to control his anger, or as one friend of mine put it “What kind of man slaps another man?”
    As far as Pete goes, I was hurt when I first heard that he had bet on baseball. He was one of my favorite players but I knew in my heart that he had done it because I had heard too many testimonies of the things he had done to others. Perhaps this is a good reason that players now don’t stay too long on one team. We don’t form the same attachments. Still I was really sorry to see Winker and Geno go to the Mariners.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I think 99.99% of us heard about the incident on social media. The ratings were even lower than in prior years.

  4. Joe Shaw

    Two Baller Moves That Need to Happen:

    1. The Reds just make Pete Rose their head coach. Have him release his picks for the rest of thebkeague before each game starts, too. MLB balls at the idea? Who cares? They have no credibility anymore after this recent lockout.

    2. Will Smith and Chris Rock host the Oscar’s next year.