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Peter Gabriel’s Oscar Problem–And Ours

Stop The Presses!

While he once famously sang "Shock The Monkey," perhaps Peter Gabriel should start thinking of re-tooling that old hit with a new title: "Shock The Oscars."

The former Genesis lead singer and longtime solo artist announced today that he's bowing out of a scheduled performance at the upcoming Academy Awards show of his Oscar-nominated song "Down To Earth," from the animated Disney film Wall-E. The reason? The producers of the program have decided, in their ratings-conscious wisdom, that all the Best Song nominees should be presented in a medley, and that Gabriel's portion of that medley would clock in at exactly 65 seconds: no more, no less.

Maybe it was that "concessionary" five-second tack-on ("Hey, it's more than a minute!") that pushed his buttons, or simply the very notion of not being allowed to sing the song in its entirety. But Gabriel, who's up for his first Oscar at age 59, has taken it as an insult--and not just to himself, either. (Long known for his social activism, Gabriel, who says he will attend the February 22 ceremony, has suggested that South Africa's Soweto Gospel Choir perform in his place.) "The songwriters are a very small part of the filmmaking process, but we still work bloody hard," he said. "I'm an old fart and it's not going to do me any harm to make a protest."  

While "Down To Earth" is certainly no shoo-in--it's competing with two songs from the underground hit Slumdog Millionaire written by India's famous Bollywood songwriter A.R. Rahman--Gabriel's point is well taken, and especially well taken in this particular year. That's because there are only THREE songs nominated to begin with, which means that the most time that performances of all the nominated songs would probably take up in total would be maybe 12-15 minutes--this during a telecast that inevitably clocks in at somewhere between three-and-a-half and four full (and, invariably, excrutiatingly dull) hours.

You could look at this latest incident as just one more sour note to add to the loud chorus of boos that've been raining down on the Motion Picture Academy in recent years for its continued mishandling of the entire Best Song category. In the last two years, for example, Dreamgirls and then Enchanted each placed three songs among the five nominees, which caused such controversy that the Academy changed the eligibility rules to a limit of two songs from one film. But that's done little to stave off criticism, and not just because Slumdog placed two in this year's running. It's the entire process.

To qualify for an Oscar nod, a song must pass a secretive "scoring" system in which the Academy members designated to come up with the nominees rank each song on a scale of 1 to 10, factoring in things such as where the song appears in the film, and a song's relevance to the overall plot or theme of the movie. This year, of the 39 songs that reportedly were entered for consideration, only three of them averaged the 8.25 necessary to secure a nomination. (Apparently, a song heard only over closing credits is a big no-no for potential nominees, which explains why Bruce Springsteen's title song from The Wrestler didn't make it. )

Still, it doesn't seem too much to ask for the three little songs that have survived to get some respect from the Oscar program producers. After all, what's an extra 10 minutes when you're already wasting hours on end--especially since hearing a few beats may actually wake viewers up? 

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