If you're still feeling horribly uncomfortable for the La La Land crew that had to hand over their accidental Oscar last night, there's a very good explanation for it: You're sensitive. And you might be insecure.
Empathy is the trait that allows us to intuit what others are feeling, and caring about people who are not you is crucial to being a decent human being. But if you’re too empathetic, it’s practically a handicap — and it’s a sign you care a little too much what others think of you, explains NYC-based therapist Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW, editor of the anthology How Does That Make You Feel? True Confessions from Both Sides of the Couch. “As humans, we make things about us,” she says, explaining that when we see a person experiencing something, of course we think about what it must feel like to be them. So that explains why I wanted to weep into my coffee this morning for the people who won the biggest Oscar last night but then immediately lost it.
I hadn't even seen La La Land nor Moonlight (because motherhood, but that’s a different story), so I had absolutely no skin in the game. But no matter: My cheeks are burning right now just thinking about them standing on that stage, living out Hollywood’s worst stress dream right in front of every single one of us. I can envision a lifetime of working and wishing, being realized in the form of a golden statue — and then taken away in an instant, because, oops, Warren Beatty had the wrong envelope. And that is devastating. To some of us, at least. Faye Dunaway was backstage munching cashews moments after it all went down. Oh, to have such a depleted reserve of fucks.
Jimmy Kimmel, our host for the evening, could have written that whole debacle himself. He often appeals to the less empathic viewer through skits on his show. Think about "Lie Witness News," where he tricks innocent bystanders into talking about, for example, bands that don’t exist. (Neil Patrick Harrassment? He makes "very entertaining" music.) The made-up band names crack me up, on purely a pun-enjoyment level, but that’s when I stop laughing and start imagining myself in front of his mic: What’s to say I wouldn’t also get carried away by being plopped on live TV and proceed to blather on about a fictional band? Or that I haven't already done that exact thing at a dinner party in Brooklyn? It’s so embarrassing, I can’t stand to watch.
“We’re always putting ourselves in other people’s shoes, and we would do better to be sure our shoes fit okay,” Amatenstein says. “If you are that open walking wound, noticing every sad slight...you really kind of have to learn how to protect yourself more.” Lighten up and take a joke, in other words.
I didn’t just see that woman whose face was Flaming Cheetos red the whole time. I was her.
German offers a word for this discomfort — fremdschämen — which translates to feeling shame or embarrassment for someone else. Less heart-wrenching than seeing someone’s almost-Oscar ripped from their hands, it's the perfect way to describe what happened about an hour before that. Jimmy Kimmel conned an unsuspecting bunch of tourists into waltzing into the Dolby Theatre in their comfy sneakers and daypacks, right in front of the very stars they idolize enough to ride around on a bus all day looking for them. Ouch.
I didn’t just see that woman whose face was Flaming Cheetos red the whole time. I was her, and how dare they? I was also the couple whose upcoming nuptials became a gag for Kimmel to cling to, delivering punchline after punchline at their expense. I was also Jennifer Aniston, who had to give those people her sunglasses. What if that was her favorite pair? She brought them to the Oscars, you guys. Or what if they were loaners she had to give back at the end of the night? Someone’s gonna be in trouble now. I will probably lose four minutes of sleep over that person next week.
Whether it was a premeditated prank, like that was, or an accident, like the La La Land Letdown, it leaves me tumbling around in my head with everyone else’s feelings: the sweats-wearers feeling misled. The soaring glee and stomach-pit angst of the Best Picture Win-No-Loss. And the “but it was supposed to be our moment” disappointment of the people behind Moonlight, who deserved all of that time in the spotlight — and more headlines about the meaning of their achievement (rather than the gaffe that got in its way) than they’ll get.
I feel all of those things even though I went to sleep about an hour before their award went awry last night. I watched the clip one time this morning then promptly put my phone away for a couple of hours — my mind crowded with all of Los Angeles, plus Ariadna Gutierrez, the woman Steve Harvey accidentally crowned as Miss Universe back in 2015. She’s old news to most, but sometimes I visit her in my wonderings on a random day: What is she up to now? Like, is she okay?
If you do, too, Amatenstein warns you may need to take a closer look at what failures and shames you’re afraid of in your own life. If a three-minute break from script at the Oscars sent your brain pin-balling, too, you are extremely attuned to the emotions of others. Congratulations and I’m sorry. “If you’re a walking empathetic, you’ll never have a peaceful moment,” Amatenstein says. To which I’d add: especially during awards season.