Wednesday March 26 an article by Mac VerStandig was printed in the Arts Etc. section. In it he criticized Michael Moore for his political grandstanding on Oscar night. In case you?re unfamiliar, Michael Moore used his 45 seconds of stage time to criticize Bush. Moore called him a ?fictional? president and said ?Shame on you Mr. Bush!? Moore was booed and cheered in about equal measure by the audience as he shambled off stage.

Mr. VerStandig feels that the Academy Awards are not the forum for political speech. He makes the specious point that the First Amendment guarantees you freedom of speech, but not the guarantee of an audience.

Excuse me? First of all, that doesn?t make any sense. Second of all, when did political speech during an award ceremony become unconstitutional?

Let?s put this into perspective.

The Academy Awards are the yearly ceremony honoring the members of the Academy of Motion Pictures. This is a self-congratulatory, masturbatory event where the best and brightest of Hollywood come to congratulate themselves and make bitchy comments about peoples outfits. Really, Oscars are no more important than an Employee of the Month award at your local mechanic.

No one, absolutely no one, can argue that the Oscars mean anything. They are just awards. Simply put, about one thousand people have participated in a film industry version of ?Are You Hot?? This is meaningless fluff, done primarily to sell more movie tickets.

The Oscars don?t even have a distinguished history of political neutrality. Famously Marlon Brando refused to accept his Academy Award for Best Actor in ?The Godfather.? Brando sent a woman to decry the portrayal of Native Americans in American cinema in his place. Granted, it turned out the woman wasn?t Native American but that is not the point. The Oscars are not hallowed ground. There are plenty of famous stories of actors being bombed out of their minds during their acceptance speech. Being high on stage isn?t a political statement but it certainly lowers the Oscars? reputation.

The second Michael Moore took the stage, you knew he was going to say something critical of Bush. He takes every opportunity he has to sound off on the current administration, and you couldn?t have bet me any money that he wouldn?t speak out. It?s Michael Moore?s prerogative and right to use the largest forum he?s got to make his views known.

The fact is in a time of war there is almost no place that is not appropriate for political speech. It is not the role of celebrities to tow the line and act meekly. You don?t have to listen to celebrities, but they don?t need to be quiet.

I caught the end of the Miss USA pageant on NBC the other night. The runner-up, Miss Texas, was asked whether or not celebrities had any business criticizing the war. She said they did not, and that they should stand behind the President and support our troops.

Hearing this mindless, terrifying acquiescence coming out of the stunningly white mouth of a beauty queen chilled me to the bone. I don?t expect anyone in a beauty pageant to have deep political convictions. Yet, to blindly follow our leaders and tell fellow celebrities to shut up is simply un-American.

You don?t have to listen to celebrities. You don?t have to listen to me. But you should listen to anyone who tells you that no discussion is better than an open forum. More than those that cry for dissent, those that call for mindless obedience need to be watched.

As a caveat, I was the film critic for the Badger Herald for two years. I love the movies. I?m seeing ?Talk to Her? by Pedro Almovadar tonight, which won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. My criticism of the Academy Awards goes only into the perspective you need to give them. They are fine trivia questions, and generally a fairly good guide to movies. Just remember, for every ?Pulp Fiction? that wins awards, there is a ?Titanic? lurking about. The best movies are rarely up for awards, and the best talents rarely acknowledged.

To make the statement that the Academy Awards are not the place for political expression pays undue deference to what is essentially an enormous PR stunt.

Who cares if a celebrity spouts off on Oscar night? Isn?t that a lot more entertaining than listening to a litany of lawyers and thanks to their agents and hairstylists? I?d take a night of off-the-cuff remarks and political grandstanding over stultifying speeches and boring platitudes any time.