Ah Oscars night. The night that Chris Rock took Hollywood to task over its lack of diversity. The night that Leonardo DiCaprio finally took home a little golden statue and then used his acceptance speech to shine the spotlight on climate change. But more infamously, this year's Oscars may be remembered for one British belter's clumsy and factually inaccurate acceptance speech.
I'm sure you already know the facts being that you're a pop culture maven and have already read piece after piece on Buzzfeed or The New York Times. But in case you missed it, here's the quick and dirty version. In what many considered to be an upset win over Lady Gaga's sexual abuse survivor anthem, "'Til It Happens To You", Sam Smith won the little golden man for his Bond song, "Writing's On The Wall". In his thank you speech, Smith sorta kinda quoted Sir Ian McKellan by saying that no openly gay person had ever won an Oscar. He was thrilled to win and be a representative for the LGBT community and all that jazz. Turns out, he's not the first openly gay person to win an Oscar. Nor the 2nd, 4th, or 10th. He's not even the first openly gay person to win the Best Song Oscar. And Sir Ian McKellan-he was referring to the Best Actor category specifically; not the entire awards spectrum. News reporters, both online and in person, have taken the opportunity to rake ol' Sammy over the coals for his glaring error. Previous openly gay Oscar winner Dustin Lance Black publicly fueded with Smith over the mistake via Twitter. The whole situation has turned into quite the drama with Smith announcing he's taking a sabbatical from Twitter in the wake of the social media firestorm his comments have caused. Phew! (That was a bit longer than quick and dirty.)
So what does it all mean? Well, for starters, this is one of those very public instances that perpetuates stereotypes about millennials. We live in a day and age where everyone feels they have their finger on the pulse of news. If they've Googled it, then it's simply true and can't be contested. Gone are the days where we poured over textbook after textbook and research documents and carefully assembled investigative journalism pieces to form an opinion. We all just trust that Johnny No Name sitting in his basement in South Dakota is an expert on gay Oscar winners because it's on the Internet. Perhaps Smith only took mere seconds to Google some history and took what he could find from the top 5 results. Or maybe Google could have actually helped him find the right answer (or at least some more factual information than what was spoken). Because we're all Internet smart now, relying more on Wikipedia than actual encyclopedias, we know in all certainty that everything we've read is truth. Even if it's very, very wrong. And this "Google It" culture, as I like to call it, has given us all the confidence to proudly proclaim ourselves experts on topics we've never researched and quote facts or "news" amongst our friends in public. The information super highway has pumped a lot of wind into our sails, but my friends, simply Googling something ain't enough.
During Smith's post-win press conference, one bold reporter used her time in the spotlight to inform Mr. Smith that he in fact was not the first openly gay person to win an Oscar. He mockingly uttered an obscene exclamation in faux shock and declared himself the second openly gay person to win an Oscar. Even on Twitter, before his cell phone keyboard was silenced, he tried to redirect his followers and trolls away from the factual mistake stating that whether he was 2nd, 4th, or 100th, he was using his speech as a time to show the LGBT community in a positive light. Not once, in the first 24 hours after he was blasted for the mistake, did he take responsibility for the inaccuracy and admit he was wrong. He was so defensive and even flippant about the mistake that he felt his mocking tone or his deflection was appropriate. A little humility goes a long way, but the dissipating interest in working to learn the truth about things made him feel comfortable not knowing. And made him feel justified in not caring about knowing.
A lot of older generations frown upon millennials because our generation as a whole seems more occupied with social media and sensation than real news. We're more concerned with reading about or aspiring to change things instead of actually taking action that leads to change. When millennial celebrities like Sam Smith flaunt their ignorance about history in such a public way and show absolutely no desire to course correct, it really doesn't help our case at all. If we want to change the perception about our generation, we need to start reading, researching, and contributing. So we don't all look like a bunch of nincompoops.
To learn more about accurately researching topics, visit your local library.