February 24, 2005
Memo to Oscar: Just Say ‘No’ to Swag
The contrast was just too much. On one channel, I watched as tens of thousands of people struggled to survive the devastating impact of the tsunami that left more than 250,000 dead and countless others injured and homeless, and on another channel, presenters at last month's Golden Globe Awards leaving the ceremonies with their "travel-themed" gift baskets worth $37,890 each.
The Golden Globes took place exactly three weeks after the tsunami struck Southeast Asia, creating the largest natural disaster in our lifetime. The gifts, which were contained in a custom wicker ottoman, included:
• An Australian wine adventure package with first-class Qantas airfare and accommodations at Rosemount Estate, where guests will create their own wine (value $16,000).
• A sitting with portrait photographer Judy Host ($5,000).
• Ehrlooms diamond pendant ($2,700).
• Sports Club L.A. six-month bicoastal membership ($2,250)
• Brite Smile teeth whitening ($1,100).
• Missoni shawl ($900).
• Chopard watch ($865)
• Janet Lee luxury pet carrier ($400).
This tradition continued at this year's Grammys, where each presenter and performer received a $35,000 basket.
Gift baskets have become a cottage industry. They are a part of every major Hollywood event. I have never understood this concept. These people are already blessed with so much. They are pampered and catered to at every turn. Why do they need these extravagant presents? Why do people who need it the least receive the most?
The companies that donate the goodies for the baskets do so because they see it as a great advertisement and endorsement for their products.
Where will it stop?
In 2002, the Academy Awards baskets were worth $20,000 -- each. In 2004, they were estimated at $100,000 each and contained more than 50 items, including a seven-day cruise to the Mediterranean or Caribbean and a 43-inch, high-definition Samsung TV, coupled with one year of Voom HD satellite service. The baskets were given to approximately 100 presenters, performers and other select individuals.
The perks actually begin as soon as the Oscar nominations are announced. For example, Estee Lauder gave each of this year's 20 nominees in the acting categories a Michael Kors leather bag filled with such goodies as: Manolo Blahnik sandals, a personalized Loro Piana cashmere blanket, Baccarat crystal and La Grande Dame Veuve Clicquot champagne. They were also invited to a private spa in the penthouse of the Regent Beverly Wilshire (value $15,000).
Victoria's Secret gifted the five best-actress nominees with a pair of black lace panties that have a little something extra -- a removable 7.2-carat diamond and pink sapphire brooch. The lingerie comes in a pink leather clutch, with another sapphire-and-diamond piece, a detachable four-leaf clover ($15,000).
The full contents of this year's Academy Awards basket is being kept under wraps until this Sunday's show. However, a few gifts have been revealed: a red leather case filled with Shu Uemura cosmetics, including mink eyelashes; and Kay Unger cashmere pajamas. It's amazing to realize that just one basket could probably pay for a child's four-year college education.
I would love to see one of the award shows step forward and set a precedent by discontinuing the gift basket extravaganza and instead, have the various companies honor the presenters by making monetary donations to their favorite charitable causes.
Because of the magnitude of the tsunami disaster, it would have been most appropriate to not distribute any baskets at the Golden Globes, Grammys or Oscars this year. However, because these groups decided to proceed, it would have great meaning if each recipient would make a matching monetary donation equivalent to the value of their basket to tsunami relief or another charity of their choice.
Another option would be for them to sign the basket, and then put it up for online auction, with the proceeds going to tsunami relief or another favorite charity. It would be wonderful to see these ideas become an ongoing tradition at all award shows, whenever gift baskets are distributed. (Kudos to the presenters at the Critics' Choice Awards for auctioning their baskets to aid tsunami charities.)
Celebrities have tremendous influence in our culture. Turning gift baskets into charitable contributions is an opportunity to be a role model and teach everyone, especially our children, about gratitude and the importance of helping others.
One organization is already a shining example of these lessons: Clothes Off Our Back. which was conceived by a group of actors, including "Malcolm in the Middle" star Jane Kaczmarek; her husband, Bradley Whitford of "The West Wing"; and his co-star, Janel Moloney. The project encourages celebrities to donate the gowns, tuxedos and accessories that they wear at award shows to an online auction (www.clothesoffourback.org). They have given $350,000 to various children's charities in the past three years.
They raised $130,000 following the Golden Globes in support of the UNICEF Tsunami Fund. The highest bid was $31,000 for "Desperate Housewives" star Teri Hatcher's gown. Their Grammy auction, which is taking place online until March 1, includes dresses donated by such celebrities as Beyonce.
They will continue their fundraising efforts with the Oscars. Kaczmarek described the group's purpose so eloquently: "The idea behind the auction is all about what you can do to give back."
It is a sentiment all of us can take to heart, especially at this time. As Maurice Sendak once said, "There must be more to life than having everything."
Gloria Baran develops social action and community service programs for children, including a variety of tzedakah projects for Camp Ramah.