Hollywood's night of nights, the 90th annual Academy Awards was a masterpiece of carefully staged political correctness as everybody who was anybody and everybody who hoped to be somebody tried to outdo each other with striking demonstrations of solidarity with victims of sexual harassment, gun violence, racial prejudice and every other real or imagined bit of awfulness. Why, you could just feel the love.
In fact, the ceremony had everything that the film industry could ever hope for – well, almost everything because Americans tuned out in their millions.
The Oscars drew a miserable 26.5 million viewers according to the ratings agency Nielsen which has records that go back to 1974. It was the worst viewing audience ever and the awards ceremony is traditionally the most-watched TV event in the USA after the Super Bowl – America's football grand final – which reported a viewing audience of 103.4 million back in February. Only 19.8 million of the Oscars' viewers were in the critical 18 – 49 demographic.
For an industry which lives on popularity and public acceptance, this unprecedented slump of 20 per cent from the 33 million viewers in 2017, was a catastrophe. Even the Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony, hardly a ratings success ever and considered as an appeal to a somewhat niche market, scored 27.8 million viewers and outranked the Oscars. Only four years ago, the Oscars TV audience was nearly 44 million.
The slide in the viewing audience coincides with the awards ceremony becoming more a celebration of all that is politically correct and less of a celebration of great movies and the people who make them.
For the second time, late night TV host Jimmy Kimmel hosted the ceremony. Last year his patter was a non-stop tirade against President Donald Trump and a strident advocacy for various left-wing causes such as amnesty for illegal immigrants, gun control and taxpayer-subsidised health care. This year, he did a rerun of his 2017 act.
Ahead of this year's ceremony, Kimmel said he had no regrets about what he said and did last year nor, for that matter, what he does nightly on his TV show even if it turns off countless conservative viewers. This crusader for all that is good and decent is of the view that, "It is almost necessary now to trash Trump. I don't think you can go too far."
"A lot of people are going with this line of reasoning where they say, people in show business shouldn't speak out about politics. And yet they elected Donald Trump the president of the United States. So I think that argument has pretty well jumped out of the window," he said in an interview. If you found that side-splittingly hilarious then you would have loved his turn as Master of Ceremonies. Millions of Americans must have at least felt grateful of this warning because they didn't tune in.
The odds of Mr Kimmel being asked back in 2019 are not good.
But if the choice of host was less than inspired if ratings were judged important, then even the nominated movies were less than wildly popular. Seven of the nine nominees averaged just $47 million at the box office which means only about 5 million Americans saw each one. Not exactly wildly popular. It served to remind everybody that it was twenty years since Titanic swept up eleven Oscars, host Billy Crystal was actually funny and 57.25 million Americans tuned in.
Lots of lots of self-described stars wore orange lapel badges demanding sweeping gun control while protected by ten-foot high barricades and gates, Police helicopters buzzing overhead, five hundred Los Angeles heavily armed police officers, FBI agents and fire fighters as well as armed private security guards inside and outside the theatre. Road closures prevented people breaching the perimeter. When you have an army protecting you then you don't really need your own gun, do you?
But there was another reason the stars didn't need guns themselves.
Every Oscar nominee receives a free bag of goodies from generous sponsors and in the past these bags have included expensive jewellery, exotic perfumes, vouchers to upmarket clothing outlets and similar amusing little trifles. This year the bags included pepper spray, a testing kit to determine if a drink had been spiked and body alarms which is hardly festive and joyous.
The security systems company Sabre which provided these trinkets said they were included to help people "by inspiring self-empowerment". Nobody seemed to think it odd that Oscar nominees needed a personal armoury to defend themselves against other Oscar nominees but nowadays in Hollywood you just can't be too careful. It seems that Hollywood's A list doesn't see any need for a court system nowadays because all you need is an accusation for some poor slob to be branded a serial rapist. And woe betide anybody who doesn't agree and tries making excuses such as reminding everybody about the presumption of innocence.
More happily, the goodies bags also included a "24-karat gold facial" (no, I don't know what that is and don't actually care), a "conflict free diamond necklace" (does this mean that they are sustainably mined?) and a 12-night holiday in Tanzania (which isn't exactly the south of France but, hell, its free).
And proving that the Oscars remained true to its roots of providing lots of free publicity for anybody who provided freebies, when Best Actress winner Frances McDormand had her statuette briefly pinched and then returned to her, her publicist could announce, "After some brief time apart, Francis and her Oscar were happily reunited. They celebrated the reunion with a double cheeseburger from In-N-Out Burger."
It was only when I learned this that I felt safe to relax and know that nothing really important has changed at all. Such a relief!