Sunday night I sat down to watch one of my favorite events of the year: the Oscars, particularly the Red Carpet at the Oscars. As a little girl I dreamed of someday winning the Oscar for best costume designer. I love the fashion. I love seeing how women are choosing to express themselves, for example, that many of them chose to wear black last year to bring awareness to sexual harassment in Hollywood, or are increasingly wearing pants and tuxes or their own version of a superwoman outfit (see Melissa McCarthy). In the past, I felt that it was a glimpse of the pulse of our culture. It answered the question: What is on the minds of the people who influence culture in America?
Yet last night was the first year for me where the decline of the Oscars and the feeling of datedness was palpable. It has become evident to more of us that the Academy, the Oscars and the films they pick do not represent American society and the way things are – take a listen to the New York Time Daily on What the Oscars Keeps Getting Wrong About Race. (Interestingly, this is occurring during the same year as a very obviously declining Super Bowl).
I am no football lover, yet the decline of these two cultural institutions makes me uncomfortable. It is another bit of evidence about how much is changing in our world. If the old guards of culture are changing – no longer white moneyed men in Hollywood or white moneyed owners of sports team, where do we look to understand what is going on with our culture?
I write today to put words to this discomfort in case you too are feeling uneasy witnessing big change around you in the things that, for better or worse, you used to depend upon. I don’t have solutions today but I can tell you what doesn’t help – eating and drinking your feelings away while watching the decline of a favorite cultural institution on your television.
Perhaps the root of my discomfort lies with the question: who we are as Americans? No one is going to answer it for us and that’s pretty scary. It is becoming clearer that the burden is on us, we are all creating the answer to that question. And it is also a teensy bit exciting as well. It means that we can create our identity, remake it where a void has been left. We can take our new, special visions for the world and introduce them one day at a time through our actions, through our words, through our communities and friendships. It means that each of us can fill that void with a different story that contributes to a much more colorful, much more real presentation of our identity (it includes African American stories, women’s stories, working class stories, immigrant stories and non heterosexual stories among others).
Gone are the days of counting on someone else to tell us who we are. And maybe that’s a good thing.