Safeguarding the Oscars a full-time job

They are ubiquitous. They are also vaguely ominous, hovering in the background at events with their dark suits and earplugs, badges pinned to their lapels.

They are the Soldiers of Security, and since 9/11, they have become a fixture in our lives. Indeed, at next Sunday’s Oscar ceremony, they will be in the forefront as they go through their bizarre rituals, which take as much time and trouble as the event itself.

But here’s the main thing we’ve all learned about the Soldiers of Security — they’re clueless. And we’re all clueless for putting up with them.

Mind you, we don’t really know who they are. Talking heads identified only as “security consultants” are always intoning opinions on TV newscasts. The Soldiers of Security make us take our shoes off at airports, scrutinize our fluids, keep us waiting at the chilly entrances of office buildings, monitor our phone calls, examine our library cards and otherwise intrude upon our lives.

If you apply for a low-level education grant funded in part by the government, security will examine your financial and medical records and interview your doctors, according to a report last week in the New York Times.

But the ultimate metaphor for “security” remains the Oscars, where events unfold as follows: As the stream of limos approaches the Kodak Theater, they are lined up (it’s a long line) and IDs are checked. Once it’s ascertained that the limo is carrying say, Brad Pitt, its trunk and engine hood are popped, lest his driver had hidden a bomb in Brad’s car.

As the limo approaches Hollywood Boulevard, where screaming mobs line the street, the windows of the limos are rolled down in case Pitt, despite the ID checks, was really someone else. This means that protestors and fans can now yell not only at the cars, but directly at the stars themselves.

There are further checks at the red carpet and at the entrance to the theater, again on the assumption that the folks ID’d at the start of the process have been magically morphed into alien creatures.

The geniuses from the LAPD who designed this arcane procedure two years ago (that’s when the Academy invited them in) will boast that no “incident” has occurred at recent Academy Awards. They’ll change the subject, however, when it”s pointed out that no “incident” has occurred at any other award show or at the BAFTAs (the British Oscars), where tickets and IDs are checked only once and there is no limo ritual whatsoever.

To be sure, no one will ever question the Oscar procedures, or the airport ones either, nor will anyone challenge the credentials of the “security experts” on TV who keep implying darkly that our state of alert should turn from yellow to red (even Homeland Security finally got embarrassed about its color scheme).

That’s because “security” is a law unto itself. And at the Oscars if you give “them” a skeptical look, they’ll pop your trunk a second time and send you to the back of the line.

Yes, we all know there are terrorists out there. And we all appreciate those who genuinely provide safeguards.

But isn’t it time we stop being intimidated by our own Soldiers of Security and draw some reasonable limits on both their authority and their intrusiveness?

Redefining steady Eddie

To talent agents, the career of a movie star is an exercise in brand management. Once you establish the brand, you nurture and protect it and avoid deviating from its basic contours.

So along comes Eddie Murphy, cavalierly busting the rules of branding. Twenty years ago, the”Beverly Hills Cop” films made him a star. The vibes were still good a decade later with “The Nutty Professor.”

Then he not only pushed the envelope, he tore it open. Eddie Murphy as “Pluto Nash” in a sci-fi comedy? Not a chance. Eddie Murphy in an espionage caper in “I Spy?” A loser.

Not only was Murphy making bad choices, he also was giving the gossipists ammunition to attack “the brand” on a personal level. He was being a bad boy.

Now, at age 46, Murphy is defying the brand once again. “Dreamgirls” was a big risk, but it reminded everyone he can act, and he’s got an Oscar nomination to prove it. “Norbit” on the other hand, demonstrates that if he stays within the limits of broad comedy (and offends the film critics), he can open a movie bigtime — $34 million on the first weekend.

It seems Murphy can teach some lessons on when to break the rules, and how to end up on top.

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