False Dichotomies is a continuing column that unfairly pits two things against one another to determine, definitively, which is better.
This week: watching the entire Oscar telecast vs. spending a year in prison for a crime you did not commit
You are in small, dark room. You have no idea how long you’ve been there. You have become completely disassociated from your own experience. If you feel anything at all amidst the vast ennui, it is a vague sense that you have been somehow wronged. Two possibilities account for your present condition: You are spending a year in prison for a crime you did not commit, or you are watching the entire three-hour telecast of the Academy Awards. Indeed, at first glance, these two experiences might seem virtually indistinguishable in their intense existential alienation. But which is better? Let’s find out!
“Watching the Oscars” and “being unjustly imprisoned” are both incredibly taxing events. Each will test your psychological limits. But only one will make you a better person for it. It is not the Oscars, which simply refine your “falling asleep on the couch alone” and “drooling” abilities. No, a year in prison will be exceedingly generous to your character. You’ll procure the notoriously hard-to-procure “street cred,” as well as a cache of real-world skills, like the ability to make a shank out of semen and toilet paper. Moreover, because you were wrongly imprisoned, you will be filled with self-righteous indignation, and, by extension, “purpose,” and, by extension, a catchy nickname like “The Cyclone,” and, by extension, well-compensated speaking engagements and book tours, and, by extension, a Hollywood film of your story (minus your recent ventures into shameless profiteering) which will be narrated, with the gravest of solemnity, by Morgan Freeman, and ultimately nominated for an Oscar in its own right. Advantage: prison
This Sunday brings the Oscar telecast, in which at least 30 million sofanauts worldwide will blast off on a three-hour mission to malaise. Such popularity is perhaps the modern age’s best example of what Frederic Jameson called “strange compensatory decorative exhilaration.” That is, of media-addled minds totally unable to distinguish between the important and the trivial. Yes, our generation is exceedingly distracted and lost. We tune into the Oscars and tune out. We half-watch and half-hope. Will Celebrity X cry? Will he/she blow an acceptance speech? Or make a grave error in garment selection? We hope that someone, somehow, will fuck-up and incarnate our own sense of collective unease. And when some sad individual inevitably does, we are vaguely assuaged. We can turn off the buzzing box, and crawl into empty beds, with empty heads, drifting off amidst the total silence around us and within us.
Prison is, likewise, a perpetual void of mind-flaying stupidity. Discourse is largely confined to boasts, threats, vague ominous gestures and overt ominous gestures. After spending a year in prison, you’ll basically need to read math textbooks forever just to get the taste out of your head. Even worse is all the boredom-induced posturing, like that tough dude who always sits in a clearly very uncomfortable position, but is going to prove that he is super comfortable by staying in that uncomfortable position as long as he can.
Nobody wins. Advantage: neither
Snacks! Damn. Here we go. “Oscar Parties” may be decorous dances of social desperation but they are also the place where appetizer platters go to die. Mozza sticks, fish sticks, fish fries. Poppers, slammers, jammers. Wings, thighs, ribs, McRibs. Hamhocks, jowls, pig knuckles. Collard greens, mustard greens, green beans, navy beans. Perogies, perogy pizza, perogy pizza pockets. Ho-hos, ding-dongs, Li’l Debbies, Suzy Q’s. Hot dogs, corn dogs, hamburgers on hot dug buns. Hamburgers on bread. Strips, nuggets, chunks, bites, bits. Cheese balls, date squares. Stuffed-crust pizza, stuffed mushrooms, stuff. Yop, pop, popcorn, popcorn chicken. Beer dip, cheese dip, beer-cheese dip. Beer pizza.
If chasing existential despair with something a little less “straight to the hips” is more your style, however, then prison is the place to be. Indeed, it is attended by no such horn of plenty, no such cornucopia. Snacking means stealing ketchup packets during lunch and smuggling them back to your cell. This ketchup is then put inside an old sock and left to sit for weeks. The fermented ketchup — “prison hooch” — is then consumed — “cheers” — conjuring all manner of cruel ecstasies and visions. Advantage: the Oscars
The Oscars have Dame Judi Dench, Toni Collette, Sir Ian Holm and Helen Mirren. Prison has Boy George, Phil Spector, O.J. Simpson and Lil’ Wayne. Advantage: prison
Much like in Highlander, in “False Dichotomies” there can only be one. But unlike Highlander there will be no diminishing sequels and/or syndicated TV series. This is definitive. Thus, your clear choice is spending a year in prison for a crime you did not commit. You heard it here first.