The Insufferable Self-Seriousness of the Golden Globes

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The Globes are supposed to be fun. What happened?

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The Golden Globes had a bad case of Oscar-itis this year. Or, as it's more commonly known, taking yourself too seriously. And unofficial launch to Hollywood's six-week awards season, culminating in the Academy Awards, the Globes are supposed to be relatively loose and light.

The 69th version wasn't, but not because host Ricky Gervais didn't try to set a raucous bawdy tone. Hosting for a third time despite last year's kerfuffle over some of his rough jokes, Gervais started his opening monologue with an awful quip about Jodie Foster, then gave an analogy. The Globes are to the Oscars," Gervais said, "as Kim Kardashian is to Kate Middleton. A bit louder, a bit drunker and more easily bought."

The tepid, awkward laughter was a bad sign, suggesting that the film and TV stars gathered in the Beverly Hilton ballroom were in no mood to laugh at themselves. Over the next three hours, they proved as much in a broadcast that grew ever more pompous as the night went on.

Things started well enough. When Christopher Plummer won a best supporting actor award for his role in Beginners, he gave a moving yet lilting and entertaining acceptance speech The trouble began when Laura Dern won for lead actress in a TV comedy series. Beating out the likes of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, Dern won for her role as downward spiraling executive Amy Jellicoe in HBO's little-watched Enlightened. Dern is a fine dramatic actress, but has never been especially funny. Even putting her in the same category as lifelong sketch and improv vets like Fey and Poehler is an insult. Her show Enlightened is odd, disturbing, compelling in a creepy way. But it's not a comedy. Not even a black one. Not, at least, if you subscribe to the idea that comedy is supposed to be make you laugh. But that didn't stop Dern from gushing like she just won the Nobel prize, and it only got worse when Kate Winslet won for Mildred Pierce. Are we really to believe that this two-time Oscar winner Kate Winseltt was totally overcome over a Golden Globe? Madonna was light enough later in the broadcast as a presenter, getting in a good dig at Gervais. But her speech for winning the relatively minor Best Original Song had a sweeping valedictory tone, like a reworked version of the Oscar acceptance for Evita she never got to give.

There's nothing wrong with actually being overcome with emotion. Seeing someone get choked up is one of the reasons we watch award shows. But there is no award show convention more grating than fake humility—the winner who pretends to be shocked and unprepared. An actress we won't name even dared to began her speech last night with "Um... Um.. Um...," clearly trying to appear humble and stunned, but succeeding only in looking unprofessional and unprepared. In the silence, you could hear viewers across the country reaching for the remote control. Or what of Michelle Williams, who won for My Week With Marilyn, then demonstrated her humility by bragging about what a great mom she is? "I consider myself a mother first and an actress second," Williams said, meaning she's not only a movie star—she does it in her spare time.

Martin Scorcese's speech was an exception. After winning Best Director for Hugo, he told simple story of wanting to make a film for his 12-year-old daughter. The Modern Family writers at least tried something new—a bilingual acceptance speech, as translated by Sofia Vergera. George Clooney, who won for The Descendents, was one of the rare winners to strike a casual tone, perhaps as result of having having been ruthlessly lampooned by South Park in the past.

Most of the night, though, was the same kind of gasbaggery that Parker and Stone slammed. And it peaked during the ceremony honoring Morgan Freeman with this year's Cecil B. DeMille Award. Sidney Poitier and Helen Mirren presented Freeman the award, informing us that "His quest for the the truth in the human spirit has illuminated us all." Really. Even in Nurse Betty? Freeman is a fine actor, and acting is a worthy profession. But the stentorian reverence was a bit much, as though Freeman was actually the first African-American president, rather than just the first to play one.

The same sense of exaggerated social impact was evident when Octavia Spencer won for The Help. The young lady was clearly moved by the win. Her quote from Martin Luther King was lovely and appropriate, given the holiday. But something still seemed amiss when Spencer mentioned the problems of domestic workers today. The connection between a film about the racially segregated South and issues faced by today's often undocumented immigrant workers seemed tenuous at best. It's certainly hard to see The Help triggering some massive change in the way today's domestic workers are treated, any more than Shawshank Redemption set off a huge wave of prison reform.

Octavia Spencer, though, was at least genuine. Most of the night, and most of the speeches, felt like Meryl Streep's version. Streep, winning Best Actress for playing Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, proved she deserved the win as soon as her name was called, giving a masterful portrayal of someone who is surprised to win an award, despite being the favorite to win. Then Streep too gave a gushing, effusive speech, acting like a breathless ingenue who is terrified of forgetting to thank someone important when the only real worry the screen legend has is finding shelf space for yet another statue.

An awful lot of awards will be handed out in Hollywood over the next several weeks. Many will come with speeches explaining why the winners are so important. It would have been nice if, for one night, we could have just had a little fun.

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Hampton Stevens is a writer based in Kansas City, Missouri. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, ESPN the Magazine, Playboy, Gawker, Maxim, and many more publications.

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