Chris Rock's selection as host is a sign of the Academy Awards Ceremony's dilemma. The producers of the show want it to be controversial enough to draw viewers but not so controversial that it offends them. The producers realize that the single memorable moment which could never be scripted or rehearsed is what people will be discussing around the water coolers, replaying on the morning shows, and writing about on blogs. Although they know they cannot artificially manufacture this memorable moment, they are eager to establish the proper atmospheric conditions that will yield the freak occurrence that promises to lure people back next year to watch another celebrity train wreck. Rock, the edgy and over-the-top comedian, seems to have just the right resume.
Don't misunderstand me; I have no criticism of Rock as host. In fact, he did just what was needed. He punctured the bloated pretentiousness of Hollywood with his skewering comedy. Rock was a sort of "people's host" who poked a little fun at the celebrities for all of us fine folk in "fly-over land" (Hollywood's derogatory term for everything between New York City and Los Angeles). Rock took aim with his man-on-the-street interviews, his "Who is Jude Law?" bit, and his pre-show advice for self-important actors and their acceptance speeches ("Don't thank God," Rock said. "God's busy working on the tsunami, so leave him alone.")
Rock, like the best comedians, says what the people are thinking even if no one else will say it. For the last few years the celebrities have been cajoling and chastising the rest of the nation and the world. Now Chris Rock is turning some of that back on the stars. For a comedian known for being crude and over-the-top he showed remarkable wisdom. As he said in one post-show interview, he did not take an unfair swipe at anyone who was down. ("It's just a joke. Jude Law probably made a scillion dollars this year. I would never hit a person that's down. Jude Law's fine. I'll go and see another Jude Law movie; maybe he'll put me in one of his movies.")
I hope all the celebrities have the grace to laugh at themselves. Whether we work in Hollywood or Holyoke, not taking ourselves too seriously is a sign of maturity. It keeps us from being too easily offended which often leads to other problems for everyone. It also gives us perspective so that we understand what is really important and deserving of reverence. Unfortunately, there are some, like Sean Penn, who seem to have a compromised sense of humor.