How I Lost My Oscars Virginity
The entrance to the red carpet at this year’s Oscars.
Depending on your definition, I either lost my Oscars virginity 72 hours ago or 23 years ago. In terms of full-on Oscars penetration — a seat inside the ceremony itself — I was deflowered this past Sunday night. But less literally, it all went down when I was five years old. I couldn’t sleep and came downstairs to find my mother watching something on television. I sincerely remember this moment, asking her what she was watching to the response: “It’s a special show where they give out prizes to people in the movies.”
It was the year “Driving Miss Daisy” won best picture — coincidentally a win referenced constantly this year because it did so without a best director nomination, a feat that didn’t happen again until Michelle Obama read “Argo” from that envelope a few nights ago. I surely had no idea what “Driving Miss Daisy” even was, let alone the even less child-friendly films that it was competing against (“Born on the Fourth of July,” “My Left Foot”). But there was one movie nominated that night that I had most definitely seen: “The Little Mermaid.”
It’s kind of embarassing that one of the first memories I have of anything is a Paula Abdul-choreographed televised dance number involving lots of mermaid costumes and bad early ’90s hair, but here it lies in glorious YouTube salvaging:
“Under The Sea” ended up winning for best original song, and the film’s score won too. And my personal emotional investment in “The Little Mermaid” led me to nervously root for both as Dudley Moore and Paula Abdul (yep) read the nominees and then opened the envelope. And that was that. I’ve watched every Oscars ever since, the next dozen or so with disconcerting anticipation (back then they were on Mondays, and my mom would let me take the day off school because “I was too excited” — that’s actually what she’d write on my note the next day). There’d be an annual Oscar party my mother would host at our house, and I’d organize the pool which I’d almost always win (though in another mortifying memory, I hysterically cried when my aunt Audrey won the pool in 1992 because I’d picked “Bugsy” and she’d picked “The Silence of the Lambs”).
Eventually, magically even, this childhood obsession turned into a way to make a living. When I started working for Indiewire six years ago, my then-bosses Eugene Hernandez and Brian Brooks seemed impressed and/or frightened by my Oscar-related enthusiasm and made me the website’s resident prognosticator.
By that time I’d admittedly become a lot more jaded when it came to the big O. I was in the middle of a university degree where I double majored in cinema studies and sexual diversity studies when “Crash” beat “Brokeback Mountain.” Heightened levels of film snobbery mixed with an even more elevated sensitivity toward institutionalized homophobia of any kind did not go over well that night. I even vowed to never watch the Oscars again. And though a year later I predictably didn’t keep that vow, I became of two minds when it came to the Academy Awards: One that held the same innocent enthusiasm of my five year-old self that simply loved the pageantry and emotion of a big ol’ fashioned awards show, and another very different, much more critical mind that felt embarrassed to have such a connection to an event that was so political, so unrepresentative of the “best,” and so reinforcing of the status quo when it came to gender, race and sexuality.
All that being said, I can’t say I haven’t loved being Indiewire’s Oscar guy most of the time. Making lists and predictions that people actually read and following all the ups and downs of the awards season rollercoaster. It’s incredibly fun, and moreover — I started getting paid for something that had always been my hobby, and isn’t that the dream? But there was always a creeping guilt underneath it that came on full-force toward the end of every awards season, where by the time Oscar night actually rolled around I wondered if five year old Oscar geek Peter had officially been murdered by crabby college kid Peter.
But this year, a phone call from my editor Dana Harris changed my tune. We had two tickets to the actual ceremony, and one was mine if I wanted it. In that instant, I could feel five year old Oscar geek Peter coming back from the grave and effectively telling that crabby college kid that this was not his moment to steal. I guess there’s no cure for jadedness like being invited to the ball. And in all seriousness, it’s nice to have been able to feel like it was okay not to take this too seriously for once. To just let it be fun. Because, really, it’s the Oscars. It is pageantry and emotion. It’s a show. One I had an actual ticket to!
By Peter Knegt