TV: “You Can See Real People Die On It!”

So that happened.

There is a point in any awards show when it is too much. It doesn’t matter really whether things are good or bad—things tonight have been pretty good-to-great, actually—your brain inevitably just needs to go on walkabout. Then, when you come back, you may not understand what’s happening. Like, Don Cheadle talking about Jack Ruby assassinating Lee Harvey Oswald before Carrie Underwood sings a Beatles song.

Here’s what I think happened:

In every awards show, the producers grudgingly include five minutes of broccoli to try (and fail) to even out the three hours of orgiastic expense-and-privilege candy. The Academy Awards is particularly leaden about this—a somber voiceover about movies that cheer cancer patients, movies that educate (“Documentaries!—They’re Movies Too!”), movies based on real things that happened. For TV, this is somewhat easier: TV news! Public interest! The civics lesson for one hour before the fun fiction starts and wedged between the ads for penis medication and swabs that reduce vaginal odor.

So there was poor Don Cheadle talking about history and JFK’s brains being scattered across the Dealey Plaza asphalt, and his little boy saluting the coffin, and Martin Luther King, and Walter Cronkite taking off his glasses for the first time to confirm the flash that the president was dead for… I guess this reason? To celebrate television’s power to move us with the great and indelible events of history? And, like a lot of TV news, it got it—well, not necessarily wrong, but reality-optional. Did you know that after JFK’s death the entire nation was plunged into inescapable sorrow, rescued only by four mop-topped Liverpudlians on the Ed Sullivan Show? Me neither.

And then Don threw it to Carrie Underwood, who sang “Yesterday,” a single that wasn’t released until 1965.

Which, okay. It was pretty. “Yesterday” is always pretty, and Carrie Underwood seemed like she was giving it her best. And it’s not a long song. But what it has to do with TV and what it’s meant to make you think about is anyone’s guess. A few things it makes you think are: that Paul McCartney is still alive and performing and that, if you can’t get him to do it for you live, maybe you should pick something else. And also maybe don’t try to link it to the Civil Rights Movement or someone using a 6.5 × 52 mm Italian Carcano M91/38 bolt-action rifle to spray the president’s mind across a small swatch of Texas.

But don’t blame Don. It wasn’t his fault.