Noah Stepro

Noah Stepro

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The Zeitgeist of the Oscars

I think the cultural monuments of celebration in our time, Culture Making Celebrations (Oscars, etc.), Sports Championships (Super Bowl, Olympics and such), Political Victories, and Holiday Festus all speak clearly and loudly to what we value as a society. This has historically been true as we have seen these celebrations and the values the exemplify change over time. Pre-modern Worship Ceremonies typically highlighted fertility and agricultural production; The Roman Circuses and Gladiator Battles promoted the cultural of warrior strength and patriarchy; The Saint’s Days of Old Europe highlighted piety and community (and often ironically debauchery). So what message is heralded from Hollywood last night?


I think there a many…some good, some bad. But perhaps the loudest voice was the ghost of Ponce de Leon harkening us back to the fountain of eternal youth. Nothing is celebrated quite like perpetual agelessness. To be honest this was my first thought after seeing Gravity. I could not believe how good Sandra Bullock looked at 49 – good for her, she looks healthy and agile. But my reaction should be telling because it was what was echoed throughout the celebri-verse for weeks surrounding the film. Botox, surgery, crash diets, and Photoshop are nothing new to the visually heavy industries but the extremes we have gone to promote false vision of beauty are becoming disturbing.


Absolutely nothing displayed this fetish more than the presentation of Best Actor category by Kim Novak. The 81-year-old actress most famous for her role in Vertigo nervously clung to the arm of her co-presenter as she approached the stage. It was clear this once popular sex symbol had undergone some zealous plastic surgery in an attempt to blend into the sex-sheen of Tinsel Town. Needless to say 81-year-old+sexpot+rhinoplasty+narcisistic audience=epic fail. Most of Hollywood turned on Novak like a sickly runt in the coupe…plucking the few remaining feathers of dignity she had until they were healthy and better by comparison. Film critique Farrah Nehme sums up the situation so well:

So let’s say — just as a hypothetical for-instance — you are an 81-year-old star whose last movie was in 1991 and who hasn’t been to the Oscars in many a long year. Not that you were ever nominated for one in the first place; you were, after all, a sex symbol for most of your career. As the evening approaches, the anxiety sets in. Harsh lights, you think. High-definition cameras. And a public that remembers you chiefly as the ice goddess whose beauty once drove James Stewart to the brink of madness.

And even back then, when you were 25 years old, you worried constantly that no matter how you looked, it wasn’t good enough.

 kim novak oscars reuters

It seems the zeitgeist, the ghost of our age reverberating out of Los Angeles and embraced by large sections of our world is: “Your Body Isn’t Good Enough”. Most of us are not quite as self-obsessed as Hollywood because we can’t afford to be – plastic surgery, personal trainers and expensive skin care are out of our reach…but we all have a choice in our death! Take the issue of creamation…That is right, cremation speaks to how we view our bodies. Cremation in America has risen from 3.5% in 1960 to 45% today…and we are projected to grow 10% in the next ten years. I see this as reflecting two trends:

  1. We are moving from a physical religious/ethical history – Christianity/Judaism to an esoteric, dualism of body/spirit. We have this in the Western Tradition in the Greeks, particularly Plato, but it is in the Eastern religions where the body is seen as something weak, imperfect and unspiritual. As we embrace a theology that is “spiritual-but-not-religious” we devalue the importance of our physical bodies.
  2. This devaluing is reflected in our obsession with beauty and youth. That might sound contradictory, but the mantra chanted is be as young and beautiful as you can (even though you will never live up to your own beauty – i.e. actresses and models saying they wished they looked as good as they do in ads and movies) until you die…then burn the body.

Traditionally in Western culture to burn the body was a curse…because the body is seen as an important component of life, not just a disposable vessel that is actually in the way of finding your “true self”. Now, I’m not actually opposed to cremation, I have friends and relatives who have been cremated and depending on how poor my surviving relatives are, I might be too. It is interesting however, to see the rise of this trend follow the rise of plastic surgery, image altering and visual media.

Eventually, might we twist, alter and distort our bodies until there is nothing let that resembles or original form?


What do you think?

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