Oscars? Give me unfamous teachers any time

27th February 2009 at 00:00

Can you remember who won the Oscars last year? I can't. Can you remember your best teachers? Certainly. They came up with memorable, off-the-cuff speeches every day, tailoring their words to suit their listeners, sometimes in extremely difficult situations.

It has always annoyed me that actors get the biggest fuss at awards when they don't write the scripts. They spend a fortune trying to look nice. Then they pretend that tonight isn't about them and they couldn't have done it without ... blah blah blah.

Teachers know that it isn't about them: it's about their pupils. This is why they have something more lasting than fame - they have influence. Their words are remembered. "You've got to learn the rules before you can break them," my English teacher used to say. Somehow, she made punctuation sound cool.

By contrast, the gushing, air-brushed hypocrites who pretend to be humble are only famous for being able to speak other people's words. They usually make us yawn or cringe when they try to talk without a script.

Shakespeare would have found it hilarious that we give our actors prizes. Oscar winners should follow Hamlet's advice to actors: "O'erstep not the modesty of nature ... And let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them." Don't make such a big fuss, love. And keep to the script.

I like actors when they're acting. The skill it takes to re-calibrate every gesture so that you can become someone else and melt into a story - that's amazing, transporting, when it's done well. Oh, yes - I like actors.

I just can't stand stars. They shine at the expense of what they pretend to be serving: the story. They get in the way, and awards make this worse. Right now, I'd like to thank my Off button.

Oscar winners cry as if they've just saved the planet. I'd like to make them all read Chaucer's mysterious dream-poem, "The House of Fame". A talking eagle with golden feathers gives Chaucer a ride to the House of Fame, which towers above the earth, perched high on a mountain of ice. Coming closer, Chaucer sees the names of famous and successful people engraved in the ice mountain, bright in the sun. He can hardly read the names, though, because every single one of them is melting.

Chaucer could have written it for the awards season, with its high-wattage attempt to make us grovel before a line of essentially unimportant people. Like the hot sun on the ice, the spotlights that dazzle on the red carpet are the blaze of today's fame. Time passes and soon a fresh set of names is carved. As Chaucer says, each person is becoming "unfamous". What a chilling word that would seem to an Oscar winner.

Teachers reach far smaller audiences, but their influence lasts. It all comes down to personal connection. Those actors who move us do so through the stories that they bring to life. Prizes are irrelevant. If you loved a film, you're not going to love it any less just because it didn't win anything.

Awards are silly because flashbulbs don't make a memory. If you are not memorable, you will soon melt like ice in the sun; if you are, that's your prize.

Catherine Paver, Writer and part-time English teacher.

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