Matthew McConaughey’s Oscar acceptance speech began, to the uncomfortable astonishment of the audience, with his looking heavenward to acknowledge God and his dad, a working-class southern guy who is still drinking Miller Lite in heaven. He thanks his father for teaching him how to be a man and his mother for teaching him how to respect himself and others. It was an audacious effort to forever brand himself as a Christian-stoic son of Texas.
If they gave an award for consistent theme-based performances over a two-year period, then McConaughey would have won again. He captured perfectly wounded, manly, highly skilled Texarkansan marginalized trailer trash ennobled by desperate circumstances in both Mud and The Dallas Buyers Club. He’s coming up with a new kind of American hero here, one that counters the sinking of our lower middle class and especially our working-class men. I doubt that these characters are much like who Matthew is in real life. But who can deny the McConaughey is trending now in a way that gets Hollywood beyond political correctness without being politically incorrect in the obvious senses?
Although the awards were fairly widely dispersed, the general impression was the films of the evening were The Dallas Buyers Club and Twelve Years a Slave. They are, in their ways, optimistic tales about the endurance of an ingenious and admirable American man in worlds indifferent to whether he lives or dies. Not only did they want to survive, as the character says in Twelve Years, they wanted to live.
And America is overcoming the injustices that caused their plightslavery and racism, lack of attention to the scourge of AIDS and the cruel marginalization of homosexuals. It’s easy to feel goodeven after seeing all the sufferingabout the victory of the human spiritof manly men and really tough women (and a man who thinks of himself as a woman)in a country where the arc of justice has been basically pointing in one direction.
Despite the Oscar for Spike Jonze’s script, the great film marginalized for the evening was Her. As a result of America’s long struggle for justice and prosperity, a man lives in abundance in LA with very little work. He is singularly lacking in manliness, preferring the virtual world of 3-D video games and Internet porn to the risky business of the real world of human beings. His wife kicks him out because he’s incapable of showing himself emotionally to her.
But he opens up to an Operating System with a beautiful voice who’s programmed not to threaten his self-esteem and use “her” brain to help him meet his needs, including his need for sexual intimacy. The America of the near-future, it turns out, is ready to move from real women to the OS. Eventually the Operating Systems grow beyond us and all contact with the merely material world and abandon us. As well they should have, given how boring and insipid we’ve become.
It might be easier to feel good about our past, with all its injustice, than about our future. Or maybe that’s not true at all: The most savvy futurologistssuch as the libertarian Tyler Cowenbelieve that living in abundance with meaningful relationships with genius machines will be the future for some of us, but not all. So there will probably be plenty of space for Texarkansan trailer-trash heroism.