At Tacoma’s annual red-carpet party on Sunday, Oscars watchers were left as befuddled as the rest of the world’s movie lovers when the night’s final award was presented, then reversed like a plot twist in an M. Night Shayamalan flick. (“I see shocked people.”)
A low murmur went up during the live telecast at Tacoma’s Theater on the Square, a buzz of confusion as the announced winners were quickly banished to the back of the stage at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.
Instead of the year’s best picture, “La La Land” had suddenly become a never-more-apt description of movie industry wackiness.
While the debacle unfolded, a discombobulated Grand Cinema staff member watching from the theater lobby in Tacoma blurted out “WHAT!?” She ultimately went home happy, as did all fans of the actual best-picture winner, “Moonlight.”
If Tacoma is anything like the rest of the country, conspiracy theories were probably already forming in people’s fertile imaginations.
Speculation flew faster than the speed of Twitter. The mix-up couldn’t be a mistake; it simply had to be a sinister switcheroo, a machiavellian display of Hollywood hanky panky.
Consider some of the ideas that started burning up the Twitterverse:
Some cynics suspected Academy Awards producers might’ve sabotaged their own show in a desperate grab for publicity after years of declining ratings.
Other conjecture swirled around Russian hackers or powerful actors like Leonardo DiCaprio and Emma Stone exerting influence on the proceedings.
My own arched eyebrows are pointed directly at Warren Beatty, the award presenter at the center of the historic blunder, along with his former “Bonnie and Clyde” co-star Faye Dunaway.
Beatty’s 2016 comeback film, “Rules Don’t Apply,” wasn’t nominated for a single Oscar, to say nothing of him being snubbed way back in 1990 for his groundbreaking role as Dick Tracy.
Could it be that Bonnie and Clyde were at it again, only this time they were trying to rob deserving winners of their little gold statues?
Of course, an official explanation has been given that involves duplicate sealed award results carried in two briefcases on opposite sides of the Dolby Theatre stage.
PricewaterhouseCooper, the accounting nerds responsible for Oscar balloting, have apologized that Beatty and Dunaway were mistakenly handed one of the envelopes for the best-actress winner, which read “Emma Stone, ‘La La Land.’ ”
Perhaps there are still a handful of naifs left in America who believe plausible explanations like this.
Face it, the Oscars whoopsydaisy is just the latest reminder that we live in a new age of flim flam and flimsy conspiracy theories — some serious, some satirical, some hard to tell the difference.
The mood is fueled by social media, the assault on reputable news sources and the suspension of rational thinking. It has only grown more prevalent under Donald Trump, first a bombastic campaigner and now U.S. fabulist in chief.
Trump previously engaged in loose “birther” talk questioning his predecessor’s national ancestry. He made nonsensical claims that “thousands and thousands” of Muslims were seen celebrating the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
As president, he has made false boasts about a historic inauguration day crowd and held fast to the canard that millions of fraudulent votes were cast against him in November.
Just this week, he cooked up the idea that President Obama fomented an insurrection of leaks in the federal bureaucracy.
“I think that President Obama is behind it because his people are certainly behind it,” Trump said in a Monday interview with “Fox and Friends.”
And so it goes.
It took but a few clumsy moments to change the course of Oscars history last weekend.
It took but a few astonishing months to change our national identity: from the land of the free to la la land.
Matt Misterek is editorial page editor at The News Tribune. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.