During all the years I lived abroad, I continued to think carelessly of
Hollywood as a place not necessarily patriotic, but comfortably well
disposed to things American. The recent Academy Awards ceremony shook this
complacency down to the ground.

“American Beauty,” was the event’s top prize winner, its leading man
Kevin Spacey also carrying off the evening’s top acting award. The film
garnered five awards in all. Billed as being about a “dysfunctional”
American family, the movie involves wifely adultery (Annette Bening) — with
Spacey, on the male side, yearning for his daughter’s best chum, a
14-year-old cheerleader. The film describes a thoroughly empty life for
everyone, with of course drugs. In the climatic scene Spacey hurls a plate
of asparagus against the dining room wall. So all you lovers of asparagus
can see which way the wind is blowing.

In competition for the top prize was also “The Cider House Rules,” with
an impassioned plea for abortion by author John Irving in accepting the
award for best script from an adapted work. From the stage, Irving warmly
thanked Planned Parenthood, the Abortion Rights Action League, and NOW for
their support. You will recall that every opinion poll in the country
documents a public violently split on abortion. But for the high-minded
members of the Motion Picture Academy, objections to abortion are a mindless
obstacle that the thoughtful among us have cleared up a long time ago. Actor
Michael Caine won the award for best supporting actor for his role as a
loveable ether-sniffing abortionist.

But what threw the audience into ecstasies was the award of the ultimate
female prize to the totally unknown Hilary (single “l”) Swank as the
transvestite heroine in “Boys Don’t Cry.” Miss Swank plays the entire film
in drag, and if there is a torment or indignity known to humankind,
including rape and murder, Miss Swank suffers them in “Boys Don’t Cry.”
When her true sexual identity is discovered, she, fittingly, is murdered.
But in the view of The Advocate, “the National Gay & Lesbian Newsmagazine,”
it is the love of the film’s two ladies — one disguised as a man — that
“opens hearts of audiences everywhere.”

Hilary Swank, I am told, is now an outspoken advocate for “transgendered”
youth — by which she means girls who present themselves as boys, boys who
present themselves as girls, girls or boys who have had surgical operations
I’d rather not describe, and the whole gender bending shebang, or
megillah — this for Jewish transsexuals, who of course mustn’t be
left out. Most definitely not left out in the present cosmology are Sharon
Stone and Ellen DeGeneres — deeply in love with each other as portrayed in
“If These Walls Could Talk,” which recently heated up the nation’s
television screens.

“Hurricane,” a film based on the career of prizefighter Hurricane Carter,
was a strong favorite for an award his year until it was revealed, following
the film’s triumph at the Golden Globe awards, that Mr. Carter was a
criminal type who may have committed three murders. In “Hurricane” he was
transformed by imaginative screenwriters into what John Leo calls
“half-Jesus, half-Nelson Mandela” — the lifelong victim of white racism,
naturally. Similarly with Angelina Jolie, the neurotic heroine of “Girl,
Interrupted.” Confined in a mental institution of sorts in her film, she
won the Academy Award for best supporting actress. The film seems to be the
model for “Wonderland,” currently going head to head with “E.R.” on the
nation’s television screens.

It will be noticed that these award winners mark a distinct departure
from the romantic epics that have dominated Academy Awards until now. A
“new sensibility” having taken over the minds of the artistic element in
Hollywood, this year’s prizewinners seem to have emerged from America’s lower
depths: murderers, sexual deviants, social deviants, psychotics,
abortionists, criminals, other pariahs. All human beings and all families
are “dysfunctional,” prizewinning director of photography Conrad Hall told
the audience the night of the award ceremony. “It’s human to be that way,”
he added cheerfully, apparently under the impression that dysfunctionality
is the way ahead for us all.

As I write, American warships are cruising with their guns at the ready
in the Formosa Straits (where once, in a gunnery control tower, I cruised
myself). I can easily imagine at the cessation of Sino-American hostilities
the Pentagon ordering up a sociological study to determine the American
state of mind before engaging in combat. What would the study make of
“American Beauty”? With its wickedest character a gun-loving,
homosexual-hating, near-psychotic military man, and its only nominally
sympathetic character his drug dealer teenage son and homosexual neighbors.
Are these neighbors the “leaders of the free world,” or perchance headed
blindly toward a defeat which will crush their civilization?

Hilary Swank, after receiving an award for her performance as the
cross-dressing, lesbian heroine of “Boys Don’t Cry,” tearfully explained it
all. We should not only “accept our differences” but “celebrate our
diversity.” So there you have it. Not cohesion but diversity. The
platitude of the age.

In historical fact, great nations are built and sustain themselves
through shared beliefs, customs, language. There is no arguing about this
among scholars, and never has been. You want to send an infantry unit into
combat speaking 15 languages? It’s been tried, I suppose. But those who
tried it have disappeared in the dust of history.

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