Meryl Streep shamelessly celebrates her OScars last month. Photo: Getty
The other day I held an Academy Award and it’s true: they’re really heavy. As I felt its heft sink into my hands, I thought, “Well, at least now I know what to expect when they hand me my own one.”
Here’s the back-story: the producer Jon Landau was visiting town to present some footage from the upcoming 3D conversion of his and James Cameron’s Titanic (spoiler alert: it looks AMAZING). In his introductory speech, he mentioned he had a special surprise for those of us who stuck around after the 45-minute screening. Immediately we were abuzz: were Kate and Leo going to do commando rolls out of the Hoyts dunnies? Was James Cameron in disguise as an usher? Was I going to bring shame upon Eywa by asking Landau a question in Na’vi?
As it turned out, the surprise was that – in a rather unassuming carry-on bag – he’d brought his Best Picture Oscar for Titanic with him, and we could all have our photos taken with it. There were some “Oh, is that all...” mumbles, and a few people made a hasty exit. I, on the other hand, began vibrating with excitement. Why? Because to continue on from my opening sentence, I don’t want to be one of those people who gets up on stage and goes “Gee whiz, it’s really heavy!”
Kate Winslet overtly ecstatic over her Oscar win in 2008. Photo: Getty
I’ll give you a moment to lean back in your chair and laugh. I know that’s what you’re doing, because that’s what most Australians would do. What are you, up yourself?
Here on Prisoner Island, we’re taught to be unassuming and humble; we have it drilled into us that anyone who attempts to rise above the taciturn lot is a bit of a wanker.
When we filled out our profiles for the Year 12 yearbook back in 1999, along with the usual “hilarious” quotes we had to complete the following sentence: “In 20 years time, I will...”
A few people said “...be dead”, and props to Farand who decided he would “...have a mad house, a mad car, and a mad bitch”, but I said something along the lines of “...be accepting my Best Original Screenplay Oscar.”
Since then, it’s been something of a constant in my internal monologue; with 30 on the horizon, one day I sat down and said, quite matter of factly, “Well, I have 30-40 years to win an Oscar. That’s doable.”
The Oscar itself is, more or less, symbolic; it’s there as a placeholder for some form of creative and professional fulfilment on a grand scale. And yet why do we find that sort of self-confidence so problematic here in Australia?
For the last few years, I’ve visited the United States each year for work. If there’s one thing you really notice about Americans – even in this GFC-infected slump – it’s their unerring enthusiasm. And said enthusiasm is particularly applicable to people’s life goals and career dreams, no matter what the end result may be. You could say “I want to be a mid-level chartered accountant” and Joe Average American would respond, “Right on, that’s awesome!”
As Ricky Gervais put it , “They don’t hide their hopes and fears. They applaud ambition and openly reward success. Brits are more comfortable with life’s losers. We embrace the underdog until it’s no longer the underdog [...] Americans are brought up to believe they can be the next president of the United States. Brits are told, ‘it won’t happen for you’.”
Maybe, if what Gervais says is true, our reticence is a hangover from our colonial past (and there’s definitely been plenty of discussion along those lines).
Certainly, we’re wary of those who’ve made it; as Greg Norman once said, “In America, if you buy a nice car someone is likely to walk up and say, 'Hey man, nice car!' whereas the same person in Australia might run his keys down the side of it."
However, I’m not sure whether this phenomenon could be chalked down to “tall poppy syndrome”, since we’re talking about the anticipation of success (besides, anyone who’d care to look at my bank balance would be unlikely to declare me a tall poppy).
We have such a complicated relationship with success, particularly when viewed through the prism of perceived acceptance by Hollywood. Each awards season our media crows about “Our” Oscar nominees, only to then spend a few days moping when we are “robbed” or “snubbed” by the eventual non-Strayan winners. “Well,” such commentary suggests, “it was nice of them to let us play in the big sandpit for a while.”
In fact, I’m not sure I have any answers, which is where I turn to you: do you think Australians are loath to reach for the stars?
I’ll leave you with something cultural critic Peter Craven said last year , which I found particularly resonant: “Our true terror is not cultural imperialism but cultural excellence. We need the best actors and directors working on our screens and stages. Why are we so scared that we won't measure up?”
If you need me, I’ll be setting my adjustable hand-barbells to “Oscar” weight.