Hollywood, Grokster, and the Oscars

Today, I should be posting a thoughtful reaction to the opening volley of briefs in the Grokster appeal, like Ed Felten. Instead, I’m meditating on the omission of Paul Giamatti from the list of nominees for Best Actor in a Leading Role, as part of the Oscar nominations released today.
There’s no question in my mind that Jamie Foxx should take home the prize, since Morgan Freeman owns the Supporting Actor category this year (at long last), and the star of Ray can’t go home empty handed. Johnny Depp was charming in Finding Neverland, but was he better than the son of Bart? Not this year.

Making me think . . . It’s shockingly easy to get pulled in by the romantic artifice of Hollywood’s annual paean to itself, and to fall into the role that the motion picture studios created for “consumers.” We go to the movies, and we sit there, mostly silently (remember to keep quiet, just like the screen says). We enjoy the show, and we wrap ourselves around the stars. It’s all so . . . seamless and enriching. The movies make me feel good about America! I know that because Hollywood tells me so, at least once a year, at Oscar time.

I love watching movies, but is there any other combination of mass culture and allegedly “high” art that so relentlessly expects soul-denying passivity from its audience? Is there any other business in this country that demands such a high price (aha! the Grokster connection) in exchange for so little in return? Ed Felten writes, a propos the anti-Grokster briefs, “These briefs are caught between nostalgia for a past that never existed, and false hope for future technologies that won’t do the job.” But he could be writing about the movie business itself.