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What I learned from the MTV Movie Awards 2003...

posted by Paul on 6/17/03

The MTV Movie awards are an annual event in backslapping and rewarding mainstream movies with dubious plaudits. As an alternative to the Oscars, it distinguishes itself as a fresher ceremony. It's less staid, formal and self-serious than the Academy Awards. Essentially, it's an exercise in hipness. Many of the previous recipients have been five-minute wonders and it's the only Movie awards show that will openly invite Paul Walker and Chris Klein. More in tune with the tastes of "Joe Public" (whiny teenagers), MTV presents its awards as irreverent. Anyone who watches MTV for more than five minutes will know that the company isn't ashamed of self-congratulation. Barely a week goes by without some mention of how MTV has rocked the vote or revolutionized the cultural landscape. That said, with categories as meaningful as "Best Screen Kiss", the MTV awards are voted by people who list "Save the Last Dance" as their "bestest" movie ever.

Every year, I learn something from the MTV awards. Namely, it's who's seen as the "next big thing" or who's seen as the new teen God. This is invaluable information. I like to know, since MTV's clearly got their finger on the pop culture pulse, just who's hip. In previous years, I've discovered that the TRL crowd love Jim Carrey, Will Smith and Julia Stiles. It would be fair on my part not to applaud MTV for honoring movies that aren't about mental, physical and emotional handicaps. For instance, MTV's viewers handing "The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers" the best movie nod is, in my opinion, a fairer reflection of the movie-going consensus than, say, expecting us to believe "The Hours" is the year's best movie. One is an epic masterpiece, the other is exceptionally well-made but overtly pretentious.

This year's show taught me a few things as well:

1) Popular Music is running out of ideas: While Eminem and the rap market are flourishing, you can't help but feel that the whole genre is becoming a little passe. I think we all accept that the glory days of Snoop and Dre are gone. Most rappers aren't plucked from the ghettoes any more. The dream is over, the reality being that most "gangster" rappers are more puppets of PR than poets of the street. Eminem is a very clever artist, but he's not the real deal. His angst is, at best, exaggerated and ,at worst, flagrantly acted. Like Avril Lavigne, Eminem is tapping into the cynical market. That's the market that has become jaded by society and the forcefeeding of sugary pop and righteous morals. Eminem, a wily guy, knows that he wouldn't sell as many records if he said "you know, this society that has helped make me a multi-millionaire pop culture giant is fair". He plays on people's feelings of injustice and societal unrest, while he rakes in their millions. Society sucks, rappers tell us why it sucks and they all get high on our incomes.

It has been said before, but there is an absolute dearth of talented performers out there. Eminem is unique, but his 50 Cent protege is a two-bit thug and woeful commercial whore. He's there for nothing but the money. The guy's lack of talent and "glare at the camera" cluelessness is blatant. MTV is supposed to showcase the cream of the musical crop, yet most of the performers at the Movie awards were cheap cash-ins. 50 Cent is riding on Eminem's coattails, Pink is trying to sell butch-lesbian angst and Tatu are fake lesbians. Sure, few performers are out just for the love of it, but today's commercial market is shameless. Pink's mole-ridden face used to promote Pop. Now, of all a sudden she's an angsty rock chick. Yet, there was no logical progression. These people just leech off whatever genre is a hit at the time and look less credible each time they magically "evolve".

2) Paul Walker is not the new Keanu. Ashton Kutcher is cool- "The Fast and The Furious" may have been this generation's "Point Break", but thematic comparisons end there. It was, after all, supposed to launch Paul Walker, but its roaring success had little to do with him. Vin Diesel was launched by his Bodhi-like guru role and macho posturing, but Paul Walker doesn't look like he's ever going to achieve Keanu Reeves' level of fame. Judging by his screen outings thus far, that's not entirely a bad thing. Walker may look the part, but he's just another beach bod who got lucky. As his colorless awards showing underlines, he shines..until he opens his mouth. Keanu, meanwhile, will never capture a serious acting award, but he's a likeable presence and an appealingly charismatic actor. Walker lacks "it" and, while hardly atrocious, he's pretty forgettable and indistinguishable from the slew of good-looking teen idols who rode the "Scream" gravy train.

By contrast, MTV's sweetheart Ashton Kutcher has carved a niche for himself as something of a pop culture hero. With his goofball charm and irreverent humor, Kutcher has risen above the likes of Ryan Philippe in the "chiselled teen idol" role. Moreover, he has mastered the fine art of taking his career seriously but not showing that he takes it too seriously. While the likes of Josh Hartnett desperately tell the world they want to be taken seriously as actors, Kutcher is steadily climbing the ranks. Still lacking a major breakout movie hit, his "Punked" show has given him tremendous exposure and a level of credibility. As such, he's more of a household name than the majority of his posturing contemporaries.

The audience reaction to Kutcher was thunderous. And he seems to swing in the right circles, "punking" Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears, two stars who are bound to attract media attention. Dating one of the most written about (negative publicity or otherwise) won't hamper his public profile. To add a final twist, it would be wrong just to pass Kutcher off as another dumb flavor of the month. The guy has a degree in Biochemistry and his goofball persona underlines his shrewdness. The industry is all about making money and Kutcher seems to have his persona geared to the MTV demographic. In other words, audiences tend to respond better to people playing dumb, as opposed to dumb people. And Kutcher can play jock as well as anyone.

3) MTV is constantly pushing jailbait... I find the fairly recent descent into overt "pedo" marketing rather disturbing. Before Britney, it was considered extremely unsavory to oogle young girls. These days, it's open-season, and Lesbian chic and teenage promiscuity is the rage. The music industry is consistently forcing underage performers on the masses. It's alarming and just a little unsettling how many young girls are dolled up, ordered to "act sexy" and propelled to stardom. Certainly, the popular media has always enjoyed objectifying women and sex will continue to sell. Far from it being an exploitative game, many female performers have made their names selling their sexuality. And more power to them. However, one has to draw the line at the exploitation of young girls.

I'm by no means a prude, but I think it's wrong how the underage are vamped up to appeal to the pervs. The majority find pedophilia abhorrent, and the media destroys anyone who is prone to such tendencies. Strangely, though, the likes of the Olsen twins are thrust unto the scene. That has nothing to do with talent. The main selling point is their age. I'm not really sure what message is being sent out by this. Perhaps, it's that lusting after underage girls isn't so bad. It's not a case that these young girls are underage and are given a platform. That's quite wholesome, to be fair. Rather, the girls are made to dress older and play on their sexuality. The same mentality is prevalent on the internet. Teen sex is consistently promoted to shocking degrees, and it's the only thing I'm really against (along with pedophilia, and cruelty to children and animals). It might seem like innocent fun to us desensitized net users (once you've seen those "hilarious" accident videos, you'll know what I mean) , but how would you feel if some forty year old was lusting after your teen daugther?

Tatu, on the other hand, are a different story. They're just a fad, riding on the lipstick lesbian bandwagon. I have no moral objection to such tomfoolery. They're not underage, they're not really lesbian and they're fully aware of what they're doing. If anything, their problem is that the whole act is too transparent. It's the same problem that persists on WWE programming. The PR people have mistaken the hetero man's desire to see hot women frolicking with each other as some sort of mini-genre. So, they think that "hot lesbian action" will sell on its own. In reality, it's too obvious and limited. And it's been done to death. The idea has been beaten into the ground; the more Tatu cavort on stage, the less the public will care. The reason that Britney had such a long shelf life was because she pleaded innocence while being blatantly raunchy. Tatu's performance at the MTV awards was a show-stopper, but running around and squealing "you're not gonna get us!" while Colin Farrell is in the room is a dangerous move. I'll enjoy these one-trick ponies while their fifteen minutes of fame draws to its close.

While, I'm at this, I might as well get something clear. On a daily basis, my email box is besieged by "Watch teen babes suck horses at the farmyard!!11" pitches. I really must have offended a LOT of readers with my articles, because I seem to be signed up for every dodgy email list known to man. Moreover, a lot of people seem to think that I need to enlarge my penis, earn a diploma and get an unsecured credit card. Plus, lots of Nigerians keep offering me millions of dollars. It's too much! Please, if you want to do something nice for me, just offer to send me a nice gift. If you want to get back at me, send me poorly spelled hate mail.

4) Justin Timberlake? Movie plugs? While I do concede that Justin Timberlake is a very good pop performer, I do wonder why he's so successful. I admit that it comes across as bitter if we write about a celebrity in a negative way. Yet Justin is, how should I say, drippy. I don't know. He has the asexuality of Michael Jackson and the dance moves down pat, but I really don't think he has the charisma. On the night, he was consistently shown up by Seann William Scott, who was infinitely more humorous, self-referential and in tune. Like Kutcher, Scott has the charm and he's a guy. His whole act is a smarter version of Stifler and a less hyperactive Jim Carrey.

Through much of the show, Timberlake looked lost. He does know how to perform, but his whiny, pitchy voice grates on the nerves. What's even more grating is that most of his sentences are punctuated by "dawg", "bro" and "man". I will write this only once:


His media darling image exists, because he knows how to work the media and he's inoffensive. He's always nice but there's nothing controversial about him. He's bland pop and far removed from the dynamism of Robbie Williams. No-one likes to see their teen idols turn all teary eyed on "Punked", so I don't know how long of a shelf life JT has. Of course, like any pop strumpet, Justin is trying to dip his hand in every pie (no innuendo intended). No longer are pop stars just happy to be pop stars. They all want to be movie stars, tv gods and advertising icons. Such greed can only lead to overexposure and early demise.

Sure, the current crop of pop stars are savvy, but none are content just to excel at their craft. The money is there, Eminem exceeded expectations in his debut and Beyonce has screen presence. Yet, I'd personally prefer my movie stars to be just that. Movie STARS. I know that a lot of pop stars can act well, but I wish they stayed pop stars. I also wish that movie stars wouldn't make pop videos. What is J-Lo anyway? Now JT is desperate to wet his beak in the movie industry. Presenting a movie awards show is a clever way of staying over with the MTV crowd and schmoozing with Hollywood types, but JT got where he is because he's a good pop star - squeaky clean, polished and dedicated. I personally have zero desire to watch him follow his NSync cronies into bad movies. And I think a "Crossroads"-style foray will only damage him. What sort of movie role can he play anyway? He doesn't have the voice, presence or guise to play on anything beyond his persona. And Hollywood is brimming with inoffensive teen idols.

The other thing that struck me about the MTV awards was the problem that has plagued television and award shows for years. Few people are really there to honor their work. It's not so much about achievement, as hawking your new project. As such, most of the presenters were lined up because they appeared in a new movie together: "I'd like to present the award for Best Actress. Go see my new movie!" It's the same with talk shows. The host's objective: Tell a few jokes, do a monologue and awkwardly interview a celebrity and squeeze in enough product placement to sate their ego. I'd honestly prefer if celebrities genuinely appeared on talk shows just to talk. You know, discuss their careers and exhibit some sort of insight? I'd also prefer if they appeared on award shows to pay homage to quality movies/music/tv.

It's an impossible dream, I suppose. Sponsored by Pepsi.

AOL IM: paulwdfans

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