The 2015 Oscars were most notable for the plethora of politically-charged acceptance speeches. And though the issues the actors highlighted are all significant, one reaction may be even more revealing about the state of American political life.
Last Sunday’s Academy Awards shocked everyone for its highly-politicized acceptance speeches. Actress Patricia Arquette used her speech to draw attention to the gender-based wage gap, by which women working full-time make 77 cents for every dollar that men make, according to the National Project for Women and Families.
John Legend shed light on the pervasiveness of racism in the criminal justice system, pointing out that “we live in the most incarcerated country in the world,” and that “there are more black men under correctional control today than there were under slavery in 1850.” Legend’s claim, which most likely originated from Michelle Alexander’s acclaimed book, “The New Jim Crow,” was dubbed by PoliFact — a political fact-checking project by “The Tampa Bay Times” — as true.
Finally, director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu — whose film “Birdman” won best picture — dedicated his speech to immigrants who have yet to naturalize:
“I just pray that they [the latest generation of immigrants] can be treated with the same dignity and respect of the ones who came before and built this incredible immigrant nation,” he proclaimed.
Conservative pundits, of course, reacted in an uproar. While most of the backlash was either laced with racism or misogyny, Fox News contributor and former actress Stacy Dash’s provided the most interesting reaction.
“Arquette needs to do her history. In 1963, [President] Kennedy passed an equal pay wall,” she explained on Fox & Friends. “I was appalled; I couldn’t believe it. I miss the glamor, the elegance, the class, the majesty of the Oscars […] It just seems to be going away.”
Dash’s commentary, in general, should be taken with a grain of salt, but this reaction reveals the pervasiveness of the most anti-democratic phenomenon currently infecting our nation — neoliberalism.
As political theorist Wendy Brown notes in “American Nightmare: Neoliberalism, Neoconservatism, and De-Democratization,” neoliberalism — not to be confused with progressive liberalism — is the reigning ideology in America, which builds its core ideals from free market capitalism. This ideology has effectively depoliticized every aspect of life, taking societal issues from public, communal deliberation and relegating them to the private, individual sphere to be navigated by individuals in “rational, market” terms.
As a result of this marketization, politics are also professionalized. That is, you must have a political science degree, hold a job with a policy think tank or be an insider in Washington, or political issues are not to be discussed by you, this ideology suggests.
For instance, the Oscars — a celebration of an artistic medium that has, since its inception, been used to wage social critiques and highlight injustices — are, according to neoliberals like Dash, apolitical.
And celebrities should not discuss politics anyways because, well, they simply don’t have the credentials — they “need to do their history,” so neoliberals tell us.
But despite what neoliberalism suggests, all life is political — even for those who don’t have the credentials, and especially for those most marginalized in our country: Black people, Latinos and women. Unfortunately, they can’t just opt-out of their identities that aren’t affirmed by our culture — whether in the economic sphere, the criminal justice system or by the social construct of borders — for a few hours of “glamor,” “majesty” and “class.”
In fact, we should not only listen to the actors who used the most prized minutes in their industry to shed light on injustices; we should also welcome this type of activism into every aspect of life. This is the only way we can fully eradicate racism, sexism and xenophobia.