Conservatives have Ben Affleck’s back now, for some reason

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Today's tabloids, Jan. 14, 2013. ()
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Each day, the New York tabloids vie to sell readers at the newsstands on outrageous headlines, dramatic photography, and, occasionally, great reporting. Who is today's winner?

OBJECT OF THEIR AFFLECKTION: There wasn't much disagreement about whether the Motion Picture Academy really "snubbed" Ben Affleck by excluding him from the "Best Director" nominations. Though I never quite get the "snub" thing. Argo was nominated for Best Picture, after all. Does that make Affleck's exclusion from the Director category more or less of a "snub"?

But there's been little successful analysis or explanation of what must have been going through voters' minds when they delivered a five-nominee category, with two of the nominations longshots in early predictions (Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild) and one of them a maybe at best (Silver Linings Playbook). There have been attempts, but most insiders just throw up their hands about Affleck's exclusion and the exclusion of Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty.

The one explanation that I hadn't heard before I saw the papers this morning is the one coming out of the New York Post today: that the Academy snubbed Argo because of its politics. Not that it was political in the first place, but that its politics were conservative. But never mind: the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has righted the wrong!

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"As he accepted the [Golden Globe award], he didn’t mention the Oscar snub — which some have attributed to bias against the conservative perspective of the film."

I had to look pretty hard to find the "some" there, and in fact I didn't. Almost every report listed "politics" broadly as a reason that both films might have been given a wide berth: in the case of Zero Dark Thirty because of some statements made by politicians about the movie's apparent position on the effectiveness of torture and aggressive interrogation methods in gathering intelligence, and in the case of Argo, not even that level of depth is really countenanced anywhere.

Some of the reactions to Argo from right about after it came out that analyzed the movie's politics. One, from The American Conservative, gives the film high marks, which on its own could be a reason to call it "conservative-friendly" and therefore "liberal-unfriendly," if you want to be ridiculously simplistic about it. Another, from the opposite wing, depicts the film critically as a jingoistic conservative flag-waver.

But the thing that never made sense to me is why an aversion to the politics of the film would manifest itself in the "Best Director" category instead of "Best Picture." Affleck won the Golden Globe equivalent of both; he's nominated for the latter by the Academy. Does the Post believe Academy voters would be swayed by politics to deprive Affleck of the "Best Director" nomination but not to deprive the whole film of "Best Picture"?

Still, the Post relies on this take for its angle on the awards. "TAKE THAT, OSCAR!" reads the big black text next to a picture of a quizzical-looking Affleck in a monkey-suit. "Big victory for snubbed Ben."

I think that George Clooney, who produced the film, and Affleck will both be surprised, pleasantly or otherwise, at the newfound rooting interest of the Post in their conservative political agenda.

Along the left, a tall drink of Jennifer Lopez, who was a guest at the ceremony and at Harvey Weinstein's after party and presented an award, but was not really one of the relevant figures in the awards. Unless, that is, the rest of your front page is Ben Affleck, and you have an extremely long memory. In that case you might think that dredging up the whole Bennifer era might sell copies.

The News predictably takes up the awards too, with a spattering of silhouetted photos of some of the big winners—Hugh Jackman, Jodie Foster, Anne Hathaway, Quentin Tarantino and Jennifer Lawrence—superimposed somewhat randomly over a backdrop that looks like grass? Or foliage? There are a bunch of round red stickers all over reading "BEST & WORST DRESSED," "WINNERS AND SHOCKERS," "FUNNIEST JOKES." And the whole thing is crammed into a quarter-page square with the headline "THEY'RE GOLDEN." Of course, it's easy to tell people you will have lots of pictures and highlights inside; they assume you will. But don't you have to pick an actual story to lead?

PROMOTIONAL CONSIDERATION: Unfortunately there wouldn't have been room, since the News has to report on itself so much today. About a month in, the newspaper's campaign to have people clip out and mail a little slip of paper from the tabloid to add their names to a petition to ban assault weapons, the News announces today, has been a giant success. "126,952" is the biggest headline on the page. "Amazing reader response to News petition for ban on assault weapons."

The surprisingly long article has lots of pictures of public figures filling out their slips, and quotes from the reporter's boss about how wonderful the campaign was. It's half the page. And then there's this: If you buy the newspaper for seven straight days, and cut out the bar code on the spine, and paste it to another page in the paper in the right place, and cut it out and send it in, you are entered into a contest to win $50,000.

At this point, I half expect one of those rub-on tattoos or a piece of thin, hard, chalky gum to start falling out of my Daily News each morning. I will be extremely curious to know how this does, although one reason contests are such good promotions is that as long as there's a winner, the promotion looks like a success. Never mind how many people you got to buy seven consecutive issues, and the impact it has on the newsstand.

OBSERVATIONS: Of course, there are days like this, when one of the papers is trying to get other business done aside from selling that day's issue with a provocative cover. Today's one of those, where it doesn't seem like a contest. The front page of the News isn't trying to grab your eyeballs; it's getting some work done for Popular Community Bank, the sponsor of the contest, and for its reader-response campaign, which is really about positioning the paper and reminding local elected officials that they have a readership that matters for their message. So even though the Post is kind of a mess, this round is a bye.

WINNER: New York Post.