"I'd Like to Thank God (and the Academy)"
I realize last night's Academy Awards telecast often fell into the same cliched rythyms that countless others have. The swooning red carpet hosts. The pampered, millionare celebrities talking about their "craft." The light show of sequins and bow ties and all manner of glamor.
Fine. It's Hollywood. And as a movie lover (like so many of you), I actually enjoy ticking off my laser-jet-printed ballot at home to test my own instincts about the Academy's biggest day. And I actually enjoyed the Oscar broadcast. Ellen DeGeneres is a joy. Many of the films weren't just Academy fodder, but movies that the audience had seen and could take personally. There were few awkward moments. And the speeches were largely compelling for a change.
But when Matthew McConaughey received his (well deserved) Oscar and immediately thanked God, I had to once again lament that the celebration of movie magic was pushed aside in favor of actual magic. Matthew's speech began:
"First off I want to thank God, because he's the one I look up to, he's graced my life with opportunities which I know are not of my hand or any other human kind," the 44-year-old Texas native said. "He has shown me that it's a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates. In the words of the late (British actor) Charlie Laughton, who said, 'When you got God you got a friend and that friend is you.'"
It's pretty apparent that McConaughey was actually working the humility angle, magnanimously deflecting praises away from himself, giving credit to a true Source of talent, will, opportunity and inspiration. He's a handsome, charismatic, corn-fed Texas boy who loves his momma and loves his god. And only a killjoy would rain on that parade...right?
Fine. I guess I'm a killjoy. (sigh)
Skeptics often moan audibly whenever a Hollywood celebrity invokes God. Why? Because while many of us are indeed romantics, we also deal in facts.
FACT #1: Matthew...you did all of the work. You lost 50 pounds to play the role, and you informed that role with decades of experience, honed talent and commitment.
FACT #2: Placing your invisible friend at the top of the "thank you" list, above the director, co-stars, screenwriter, producer, crew, composer, financiers and even the catering staff, you've marginalized the hard work done by human hands which actually made your Oscar trophy possible.
FACT #3: As you're a Texas boy, I'm guessing you're invoking the Christian god? (It would stand to reason that they're not worshiping Xenu in Uvalde, Texas.) As you have accepted the Oscar for playing a man who befriended a transgender woman, perhaps a fresh examination of the bible and its ideas about sexuality is in order. It ain't pretty.
FACT #4: On the day of your acceptance speech, 30,000 human beings starved to death across the planet. People were shot in home burglaries, kidnapped by thugs, physically and emotionally devastated by rapists. Children died horribly of lukemia. Loved ones received news that their mothers, fathers, siblings and closest friends were killed in accidents. Natural disasters wiped out cities, communities, homes, families, precious lives. So the assertion that God above ignored the needs of the genuinely needy and the cries of the afflicted so that he could focus his power on making you pretty and talented? That isn't humble. In fact, upon examination, the mere notion is offensive to our deepest integrity.
It's unpopular to make statements like these, because we as a culture have been conditioned to see all deflections toward God as a sign of graciousness and deference. Thanking God is often our way of saying, "No no no...please don't fawn over me. I couldn't possibly deserve all of this attention. My power comes from a source much bigger and better than me. You're very kind. Thanks, anyway." And I'm guessing Matthew McConaughey, a product of the bible belt, was probably operating from that same position.
But it has to be said that the whole thing just doesn't wash. Any deity who would focus on the good looks, bank accounts and celebrity of bow-tied, sequin-gowned movie stars while remaining invisible, inaudible and intangible to the rest of humanity either has a serious problem with priorities or is the universe's biggest deadbeat parent. Either way, we aren't dealing with an entity that deserves respect, allegiance or praise.
To Matthew McConaughey, I remain a fan, and I congratulate you on your award and achivements. I simply insist that those achievements belong to you and those who supported you, and not to The Great Wizard Who Loves Movie Stars.
And now that you've restored those 50 pounds you lost for the film role, perhaps it's time to lose the superstitious baggage you carried with you out of Texas. Trust me...you won't miss the extra weight.