My mother was an actress and my father made what he still called “motion pictures”—because when he was a boy pictures didn’t move. “Movie,” if you think about it, is an even quainter term. Did I mention that his first car was a horse and that he called helicopters “autogyros”? When we went to buy a “Victrola” he asked the young salesman if it came with “horns,” and after a moment the answer was, “Yeah man, you can listen to anything you want!”

Given what my parents did, they watched the Oscars professionally, so I did, too: I was in charge of moving the aerial when the picture turned into a zebra. But even as a tabula rasa I questioned the attraction of the Oscars—much as I did of cigarettes—and stopped watching them soon after they were first televised. And this was in the days of high-quality dramas such as On the Waterfront, Marty, and A Man for All Seasons, and epics such as The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia, all of which won Best Picture.

Even then there was a great odeur of self-congratulation putrefying into spectacle. Yes, we go to movies (or rather, movies come to us), which are important. We also go to dentists, who are important, but did the American Dental Association televise the award of its gold medal to Martha Somerman, D.D.S.,

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