It goes without saying that any fashionista worth her salt is going to be watching the Red Carpet arrivals at the Oscars. I admit it – I blew two hours I’ll never get back ogling the parade of stars making their unique entrances last Sunday afternoon. In terms of entertainment value, it never palls. It’s true that the level of syncophantitis Interviewers slather on Hollywood royalty is enough to make your back teeth rot, but that’s a mere side-bar. Imagine what it feels like to be the actor who runs the gamut of that blistering critique; enough to give you nightmares weeks in advance! There’s as much gladiatorial competition outside the theatre for accolades from the movers and shakers as there is inside for the little gold men honoring actual talent. Everyone is part of the unspoken rivalry to be the Best-Dressed, whether they are prepared to admit it or not.
Despite the massive machinery of Paris, New York or Milan fashion weeks replete with hordes of glitterati vying for front-row seats, the acid test of designer greatness is more often measured on the Red Carpet at the Oscars. Being creatively cutting-edge is one thing, but finding the starlet who will don your gown and showcase it before a broadcast audience of 36.6 million is another notch in the fame belt entirely. Whole careers have been launched for unknowns simply by some Hot Young Thing favoring their offering. Oscar night has become the most prestigious advertising platform for the domains of Couture, footwear designers, famous jewelry houses and accessory mavens in the entire world. Even the glam-squads surrounding the stars’ preparation have become famous in their own right.
But there’s a dark underbelly to all of this. Recently, I’ve drawn an uncanny, inescapable cultural parallel between the Oscars and the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31). It’s a poignantly piercing tale; highly apropos for our era.
There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
Lazarus was a diseased beggar that sat outside the gates of a rich man’s estate. In fact, Rich Man practically tripped over him on his way into the courtyard. It doesn’t sound like he got attention or mercy from this man of privilege, as he had to share scraps and whatever meagre comfort was going with the dogs. Finally, his extreme misery ended as he was comforted in Abraham’s bosom. Meanwhile, the Rich Man found himself in the torments of hell. Suddenly Lazarus became incredibly important to him!
Even Jesus acknowledged the inescapable blight of class distinction and economic disparity when He said “you will always have the poor with you” (Matt 26:11), but the wealthy and privileged don’t have to enjoy it quite so much. There's a malicious reveling present and unspoken that is heinous. Wall Street, Hollywood, and this fame-starved generation; take a beat, because Jesus is talking to you.
You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Revelation 3:17-18 NKJV
Preparations for the Oscars begin weeks in advance, as soon as nominations are announced. Rough estimates for the cost for this one day event run at about $40 million dollars, and generate a cool $130 million in revenue for the city. Meanwhile, literally blocks away, the homeless poor, runaways and the dispossessed dwell in the dark shadows beyond the brilliance of the spotlights, in cardboard shelters and battered tents; huddled around burning barrels. While Wolfgang Puck the great prepares his $1.8 million dollar extravaganza of luxury viands for the select few, the addicted scrounge in dumpsters for the scraps of the day. As the post-party frenzy swings into gear, the destitute hunt down shelter for the night in parks and abandoned buildings; literally stepped over by Hollywood Elite emerging from some hip, outré venue in the back-alleys of the city. Welcome to Lazarus and the Rich Man, all over again.
I’m not decrying the right for an industry to celebrate it’s brilliant and best. I’m not such a puritan that I can’t exalt in excellence, and celebrate some elements of pop culture. I’m not trying to be the moral arbiter for a generation (job already taken), but I am deeply disturbed by the growing bestiality. The discrepancy between the rich and poor is nothing less than breath-takingly outrageous, and it’s multiplying exponentially. The worst of it is the rich gain their affluence through the poverty of the poor. Fortunes are being made on human trafficking, organ harvesting, child labor, drug addiction and countless other forms of inhuman ravaging. And, unbelievably, it just seems to be getting more popular, more acceptable to accrue power this way. It is uncannily like the vicious days of Noah, right before the flood.
Best-Dressed. Do we really have a clue what we're talking about? Actually, it has very little to do with Haute Couture and the cut-throat orbit of the rich and famous. It’s about mercy, righteousness and the lovingkindness of God that covers what is naked, feeds what is starving, heals what is broken and breathes hope back into the despairing. The garments of righteousness are not to be underestimated, in this world or the one to come.
I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. Isaiah 61:10 NKJV
Photo by Bing