Interestingly, the cameo comic monologue by Robin Williams blew Rock out of the water. Williams apparently shares most of Rock's political beliefs, but at least he was funny. Williams followed in the edgy tradition of prior Academy Awards emcees like Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal. They've all taken their jabs at conservative politicians, but with a sense of balance and with their funny bones in working order.
Why does any of this matter? It probably won't to Rock, who will remain entertaining and successful as the Oscars fanfare subsides. The point is less about Rock as an individual and more about the industry he represents.
In my handful of encounters with the film and entertainment industries several years ago, it was confided to me more than once by trusted friends and associates never to reveal that I was a Republican.
Those friends were right. From studios in California to newsrooms across the nation, there remains in place an overwhelming, if usually unspoken, article of faith that anyone Republican is unworthy and probably untalented.
Sure, the occasional Ben Stein is allowed to utter a few lines of pro-business sentiment during a comedy skit. Or someone of conservative-lite credentials may sometimes rise to the top, as Clint Eastwood did when he became mayor of Carmel, Calif.
When I made past appearances on TV "entertainment" shows, such as Bill Maher's "Politically Incorrect," it seemed customary for staff and fellow guests to warm up to me only when I mentioned that I was in the Republican minority because I liked Bill Clinton. That usually served to transform me in their eyes from a Newt Gingrich troglodyte to a reasonable, likeable fellow. (Host Maher was himself an exception to this rule; he balanced his own political views with those who felt differently.)
Unfortunately, Chris Rock isn't Bill Maher. At the Oscars, Rock stumbled out of the gate as an amateur entry in a field of political-humor pros. And he turned off many viewers who were only looking for a little Sunday night distraction before facing the real world again on Monday morning.
Despite the awards show, my family and I still don't regret being part of the handful of people who spent Thanksgiving Day 2001 viewing (and for the most part comprehending) Pootie Tang at the local cinema. If only I had comprehended Rock's comic strategy this time around.
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