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In Bed With Oscar 

Fametracker a lonely voice of dissent amid fawning awards Web sites

Wednesday, Mar 15 2000

It‘s Oscar season, and mainstream media coverage of the impending awards ceremony clings to its traditional preoccupations -- who’s the Best Picture front-runner (Cider House is neck and neck with American Beauty), who‘s bringing whom and wearing what (Jane Fonda, a surprise presenter, will be sporting Vera Wang). But what about the other America, composed of people who thought Stigmata was last year’s Best Picture, or who would like to rant about why snooze fests like The Green Mile got the nod over high-concept spectacles like Fight Club or The Matrix? Surely the Net must provide alternative Oscar coverage for the fringe element? Well, not quite. The truth is that Oscar casts such a long shadow that even oppositional coverage of the event tends to take place on the Academy‘s terms.

Case in point: the Oscar-related Internet scandal of the year, Harry Knowles’ attempt at bum-rushing the official Oscar nominations on February 15. Claiming to have received a secret list of nominees gleaned from the Price Waterhouse database by a comrade Knowles dubbed “Dr. Evil‘s Evil Lite Son,” Knowles posted a list on his Ain’t It Cool News site (www.aint-it-cool-news.com) the night before the official announcement. As it turned out, Knowles‘ “secret list” was a sham, and subsequent media scrutiny centered on whether Knowles himself was the hacker and which database he hacked. Roger Ebert claimed that Knowles had hacked into the publicity files of the official Oscar site at www.oscar.com. (The list of nominees, it turns out, is not stored in anyone’s computer.) Knowles, for his part, issued a mea culpa (available online at www.aint-it-cool-news.comdisplay. cgi?id=5266), disputing Ebert‘s charge of hacking -- and apologizing to the Academy for “getting them all tied up in this nonsense.” But the paltry debate deflected attention from the broader question: What was the social value Knowles attached to announcing the nominees a day ahead of time? So that people would have 41 days to mull them over instead of 40? This latest fiasco confirms what many people have been saying about Knowles ever since he made his transition from Internet mascot to minor Hollywood player (complete with cameo roles in dreadful movies like The Faculty) -- that he’s gone from alternative geek to mainstream imp, seemingly overnight.

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Elsewhere on the Net, other pseudo-edgy approaches to Oscar coverage also reveal a somewhat slavish adherence to the Academy‘s dictates. Take Screw Oscar!, (www.geocities. comViennaOpera1529screw-oscar), a site you might expect to be somewhat iconoclastic. Granted, the site does extend the traditional Oscar parameters by nominating Worst Picture (Wild Wild West is currently in the lead), Worst Actress (now a tie between Wild Wild West’s Salma Hayek and Denise Richards in The World Is Not Enough) and even Worst Oscar Winner of all time (Titanic has a slight lead over The English Patient). But when it comes to the affirmative categories of Best PictureActoretc., the would-be transgressive site basically rubber-stamps the Academy‘s choices, down to the last idiosyncratic detail (Tom Cruise in Magnolia for Best Supporting). Attention, Webmaster: You’re a fake Oscar site -- it‘s okay to buck the status quo. Nominate Keanu Reeves as Best Actor for The Matrix -- what do you have to lose?

Maybe because the principals are based in Toronto and have therefore achieved some sort of emotional independence from Hollywood, Fametracker: The Farmer’s Almanac of Celebrity Worth (http:207.198.80.234 index.html?home.asp&0) has fashioned a decidedly unflatulent take on Hollywood, the Oscars, and celebrity culture in general. Thus far, the site‘s Oscar coverage includes fake Oscar-nomination acceptance speeches by Meryl Streep (“I was pretty surprised that the Academy acknowledged my performance in Music of the Heart. Who knew that after-school specials were eligible for Oscars? At this point, I’ll bet I could get a Best Actress nomination for appearing in a snuff film! I am bulletproof!”) and Magnolia director P.T. Anderson (“Look, I‘ve already ripped off GoodFellas and Nashville and stolen half of David Mamet’s stable of actors. Does my next film have to be a shot-by-shot remake of Schindler‘s List for you to give me a damn Oscar?”).

Manned by a dedicated team of two editors and one designer, Fametracker is described by co-editor Tara Ariano as “a barnacle on the hull of pop culture.” Since going live last July, the site has received up to 300,000 ad impressions per month (an ad frame pops up every 30 seconds, thereby registering duration of both visit and revisits). Boasting theme sections such as “2 Stars 1 Slot” (which argues that Hollywood has room for only one aging sexpot -- Lena Olin or Lolita Davidovich), Fametracker can get away with its 80 percent critical20 percent laudatory take on celebrities because “We don’t especially care to get interviews, so it doesn‘t matter who we offend,” Ariano says. She laments the fact that more and more Web sites are adopting the mainstream media’s sycophantic relationship with Hollywood, rather than countering it.

“Look at Harry Knowles,” Ariano observes. “As soon as he started getting press, he stopped putting out bad reviews -- or, worse, he‘d put up a bad review and then change his mind.” For those seeking truly alternative Oscar coverage, Fametracker has a special Oscar-week issue in the works for March 20 through 24, featuring its own picks and alternate awards, as well as a very special Oscar-themed “Galaxy of Fame.”

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